The cheerful chiringuitos of Malaga, Spain

Time generally passes slowly in Andalucia, which is perhaps why so many people flock to the pastoral hills and shimmering shores of this southern most region of Spain for rest and relaxation in the seemingly endless sunshine. The blazing summer sun inches unhurriedly across the sky with the pace that for many has come to symbolise the pace of life itself in Andalucia. Yet, on the coast you can pass the long days with surprising swiftness and ease at one of Spain’s little lauded guilty pleasures, the chiringuito.

Balneario del Carmen

A chiringuito in its most basic form is simply a beach bar with food, and these can be found dotted all along the entire Spanish coastline. However, Andalucía is particularly famous for these cozy little watering holes, parked tantalisingly right on the sand before the sea, serving up the freshest of seafood and the coldest of beer in the most relaxed of atmospheres.

One thing you won’t find served up at these unpretentious attractions is attitude. It’s a “come as you are” approach, where sardines and other fish fresh from the sea are roasted on cane sticks over open fires built in old, beached fishing boats and served simply with salt, pepper and lemon. They’ll have shellfish you’ve probably never heard of, and the classic fritura Malagueña is not Spanish for fish and chips, but an assortment of fresh seafood delectably battered more thinly and lightly than tempura. If the summer heat has you rather less hungry than all that, no one minds if you just watch the tide change with a tinto de verano (summer red wine), similar to sangria except that the locals actually drink it.

Of course, some chiringuitos are better than others (the smell of recycled frying oil will tip you off to a bad one), but for the most part it’s usually a pretty safe gamble. The roadside establishments are best for a drink but not dining, where the prices are higher and the effort less genuine; and don’t go on a Monday if you want the freshest seafood; the fishermen never haul a catch on Sunday. If you’re not sure about the look or feel of one chiringuito, meander along the beach to the next one. There will be plenty of time under the slow Andalucian summer sun.

As a guide, here are five of the finest, mostly near the city of Malaga itself.

Espeto de Sardinas

1. Rocamar

Rocamar is the classic chiringuito, with a comfortable open air dining room overlooking the sea, a bustling service and pride in its presentation. This one is well known for the freshness of the seafood and the quality of the preparation, which, let’s face it, is most important, no? Its position on the western end of the port area with a wide sandy strand near the centre of the city and across the street from the popular Huelin Park and Abadia Gardens makes it a stopping point with much more to offer.

Paseo Maritimo Antonio Machado, 29002, Malaga

2. Vicen-Playa

At the furthest western edge of Malaga proper, where the famous Guadalhorce river meets the Mediterranean, this little spot has a faithful following of locals in the know and has been proudly served from this location for more than 50 years. The wine list is better than most, and you won’t find any tourist trap menu items; it’s genuine, authentic and delicious.

Calle Pacifico 201, 29004, Malaga

Chiringuito

3. El Balneario – Baños del Carmen

El Balneario de los Baños del Carmen, as it is known by its full name, celebrates its 97th anniversary this July. An historic mainstay built initially on a privileged and beautiful spot on the sea at the eastern edge of central Malaga, El Balneario has developed into something of a chiringuito deluxe. Building on its reputation across the 20th century with atmosphere and a service oriented focus, the kitchen has evolved beyond the standard, humble chiringuito to present finer dining rooted in tradition. Still, even for a drink at sunset, you can’t go wrong at this one.

Calle Bolivia 26, 29018, Malaga

4. El Tintero

While El Tintero enjoys the same gentle, salty sea breezes and sandy beachfront as the others on this list, it may not feel quite so relaxing and tranquil. Here you find a cacophony of excited conversation and crowded society outshouted by the servers exiting the kitchen with piping hot delectables. It’s not necessary to order from the menu, though you may, as the waiters canvass the dining room with a never ending stream of popular dishes much like a Chinese dim-sum restaurant except that they continually shout out the delicacy on hand. It’s a memorable feast for all the senses.

Playa del Dedo S/N, 29018, Malaga

5. Berebere

As a contrast to the other sites on this list, Berebere is technically more of a beach club than a chiringuito, with its parasol shaded beach beds with cocktail service. It is also situated a good 20 minutes further east of the city of Malaga in the more traditional fishing town of Torre del Mar. The vibe is a little more Marbella than the sleepy town that Berebere actually resides in, and the “Weekend Beach” music festival that sets up along side of the establishment quickly emerged as one of the premiere festivals on the costa del sol with some 40,000 party goers this July.

Paseo Maritimo de Pte, 29740, Torre del Mar, Malaga

Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.

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