The Azhar Coast was the last area of Spain to be populated by the Moors (who were her for 500 consecutive years) and some of that Moorish influence survives in the spices used in food – most notably the paprika and saffron used in the chorizos and the famous Valencian paellas.
Fruit and vegetables have also been grown here since the Moors and the area is probably more renowned for producing oranges and other citrus fruits.
Alcossebre is, however, very much a summer town – where Spanish families come to wind down on the coast away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As such, it is mainly serviced by small supermarkets in each of the ‘urbanisations’. There’s a larger Spar supermarket in the centre of town but the only organic produce we found on sale there was some soya milk.
Delightfully, there’s an open market (a mercadillo) every week close to the harbour and it was here that we found an abundance of fruit and veg (and some patatas fritatas from a take away van for the boys).
It being only our second day, we have still to find our Spanish voices and hang back from the stalls, observing the system for purchase. This is one of those markets where you make your request directly to the stall holder who carefully makes the selection for you. This, of course, is the most difficult modus operandii when you have limited language skills – and I can promise you our Spanish is very limited … and at this stage of the trip stuck somewhere in our boots rather than our mouths.
I make my selection of stall, opting for a medium outfit run by a husband and wife team out of a small white van. I figure they’re more likely to run a family business and although probably not the farmers of the produce, I suppose (with no grounds) that they’re closer in the distribution chain than some of the larger stalls.
Before I go in, I make my decision on what to buy. No sooner have I joined my end of the queue, serviced by the husband, than a neatly coiffured elderly Spanish lady jumps in front of me saying “it’s okay if I go in front of you, isn’t it? Seeing as how you’re obviously so very unaccomplished at this lark”. Well, I think that’s what she says: she says it very rapidly and in Spanish or Valencian.
I give way politely and resolve to be served next in line. Almost immediately a gaggle of Spanish ladies all talking to each other at once jump ahead of me in the queue, whilst the first lady tells them I’m next. I smile nervously and actually feel myself close to tears as they start to physically shove me out of the way.
The tears are rapidly dissipated as the stallholder comes straight to me and asks what I’d like. I start to speak to him in French and some sort of foreign English I adopt when speaking to non-English speakers. He’s laughing at me with his eyes. The Spanish ladies are watching and laughing and muttering to each other. I’m not entirely sure they’re friendly. I’m scared but determined…
The other problem we have is that at home we rarely weigh our fruit and veg. They come supplied in a box and I take what I get. I can’t remember the last time I weighed any fruit and veg. So now I have to specify quantities of fruit and veg – none of which I can remember the Spanish name for – and I really have no idea. How many cherries to buy? At home, they come in paper bags or sometimes plastic trays. On reflection, I’d guess 250g would be about right, but when I’m faced with the stallholder and his laughing eyes and feel the eyes of the Spanish ladies on my back, I lose any ability to guess what weight I need and indicate a couple of handfuls. And so on it goes until I have a full bag of green and red produce. And how much does it all cost? Less than 6Euros!
Martin is despatched to have a go at another stall to buy some strawberries – the smell is delectable – and a punnet of figs. He selects a French speaking vendor and survives without incident. Another couple of Euros spent and we go off to select some olives, which are so cheap we nearly return for more – but we’re here for less than a week and I fear even we can’t eat that many olives.
It may not be organic, but it is fantastically cheap and smealls and tastes like fruit and veg used to, before it was frozen and air freighted half way across the world.
Next comes Antonio’s. Our house swapper Maria, and the Bilbao ladies have told us the only place in town to buy meats and cheese is at Antonio’s, “as in, Banderas”…
This delicatessan is a delight. It’s only small but it’s an Aladin’s cave, with the famous Spanish hams hanging from ceiling, hoofs and all, and the shelves lined with bottle upon bottle of libation.
Martin asks Antonio for some local cheese and is presented with some goats quesa, resplendant in a green mould coating and a smell worthy of French cheese.
Ruaridh selects some salchichios – chorizo type sausages and I choose an oregano flavoured cheese round. Together with some tapenades – tomato and chorizo, we head home, but not before we’ve visited the bakers next door for some sweet treats .
Nothing organic yet, but plenty of local delights – most of which hasn’t been tortured through over processing. That’s how the Spanish do food. They take fresh, quality ingredients which they don’t mess around too much with. There’s definitely something Organikal that.
Pssst ... Don't forget to sign up to news from Organikal - it's like a backstage pass to our organic lifestyle, including exclusive content, sneak previews and special offers. Complete the form below and receive your free Divine Spa PDF instantly.