Almadraba Tuna Tapas Crawl
What's all this 'Almadraba' talk?
Almadraba is something quite special. It refers to the catching of the blue-fin tuna fish that arrive to this area of coastline every May from the depths of the Atlantic to spawn. The insides of this spectacular fish are a rich red, the kind you will see at a good sushi restaurant, which makes sense as Japan imports 80% of all Almadraba Tuna. It’s the blubber they build up in the freezing Atlantic that is king because it’s so full of flavour, bursting with natural omega oils and resulting in a melt in the mouth qulity. Think of it like the cherished fat of the Iberian Pig (or Pata Negra) whose purely acorn diet and organic lifestyle gives the meat a delightful nutty essence.
The word Almadraba refers to the technique used to fish the tuna. This fishing method is said to be the oldest in the world, invented by the Phoenicians and still used today. The Almadraba is a colossal network of nets designed to only catch the larger blue-fin tuna as they head towards the Med and leaving smaller fish to pass freely. It's a sustainable process that aims to give the tuna a stress-free end (I would say as much as possible - you can never be certain). However there is a strict quota and laws are abided by since this fish is innate to this part of the world. Once caught, the fish must be frozen at -60°C to maintain its freshness. What I love is that every inch of the tuna is cherished. You can try some really funky tuna tapas in Zahara de los Atúnes, Barbate, Conil & Tarifa, the coastal towns that mark the tuna capital of Spain.
It doesn't take long to realise that Tuna is a BIG deal in Zahara (there’s a huge steel monument of a tuna in the town’s centre). This was the 8th consecutive Ruta de Atún (Tuna Route) with 39 different tapas bars participating. There is a healthy competitive vibe in the air as each bar tries to attract as many passers-by and receive the honourable ‘Almadraba Tuna Tapas of the Year’ award.
We were given a map from the tourist office that lists every tapas bar on the route and where it can be located within 6 different colour zones. Our aim: conquer at least one bar in each zone. With each restaurant submitting their own dish that celebrates the Almadraba tuna in some way (sometimes it’s best not to know which part of the fish), the only decision you have to make is which one to eat at. It’s phenomenal, and this was the first time I really appreciated the thought process that chefs go through when trying to deliver that mindblowing, ‘oh my,’ experience through the sight, taste, feel and smell of their tapas. In the end, they only have a few mouthfuls to deliver something special. We conquered eight bars, sampled eight completely different styles and takes on blue-fin tuna, and washed each one down with a crisp sherry, sweet vermouth or refreshing caña. Here’s a few from my journey on Zahara’s 2016 Ruta de Atún. I will do my very best to describe just how out of this world it was:
Stop No.2 - Restaurante La Botica (Green Zone)
Rare tuna loin surrounded by an abundance of colour. There’s the purple red cabbage mayonnaise (red cabbage an ingredient that we saw repeated a fair bit on the route) and the striking salmorejo (chilled soup traditionally made from a base of tomate, bread, garlic and olive oil). This time from mango and carrot.
This was a real clean, fresh celebration of the beautiful tuna with the kind of presentation many of you might have seen in a fancy restaurant. However, we were devouring it outside on the street surrounded by locals. What really made this place memorable was meeting the chef herself, admittedly a friend of Annie’s, a very friendly lady but more timid than the average Andalucian. But her pride in her tuna offering was clearly there.
Stop No.5 – Restaurante Ramón Pipi (Yellow Zone)
I began to scan through the pictures of the tapas on offer and noticed a Tuna burger topped with a Padrón pepper (my absolute fave) so made way for Ramón Pipi’s. I wanted something that was more familiar but unique with its use of the Almadraba Tuna. This did not disappoint.
The tapas was simple: Hamburguesa de Atún that sat on a cracker, upon which lay a slice of cabbage and the mini padrón with some curried mayonnaise. Simple, fresh, with a good chunk of the fine tuna: happy days.
Stop No.6 – Bermut (Yellow Zone)
Tapas: Taconazo (literally - the ultimate Taco)
It’s safe to say the Yellow Zone was our favourite. Despite our initial objective, our temptations were getting the better of us and when we heard of a spot doing tuna tacos served with vermouth, it was a done deal. I loved Bermut because it offered a real street food vibe, and with their signature tapas being a taco, added a Latin theme to the tour. It was chilled as we drunk our cold vermouth on the street and were served some awesome tacos on a rack with that greaseproof paper you see at a good old diner.
Boy the taco was good. A crispy corn one stuffed to the brim with raw tuna, onions, guacamole, homemade spicy tomato salsa and garnished with black sesame seeds. Another ingenious way of using this prized tuna combined with flavours inspired from abroad.
Final Stop – La Sal (Orange Zone)
Tapas: #t d’atún
Now, in order to fulfil our aim of trying a tapas from each of the 6 zones, we had to complete a bar in the orange one, down in Atlanterra. What we thought was a 15 minute walk became a trek (Annie attempted to hitchhike at one point so we could make it before it closed). We did make it (the lengths we go for food) and entered the most formal of all the settings we had sat in. This was La Sal, which we later learnt won the prize for the best tapas on the route. It was quite a place to end this fantastic journey of discovery (of tuna).
There was no messing about here. We downed a bottle of ice cold water and were presented with what I describe as a plastic petri dish with 6 compartments filled with sand from the beaches of Zahara in another pocket underneath. Each compartment had a different cut of tuna that was served in a unique way everytime. We were told to eat each bite in a specific order, which going from bottom left to top right, tasted like this:
Tuna Tataki, Tuna Tartar, Tuna Loin, Tuna Loin incased in seaweed, Tuna roe in red wine and finally a BELGIAN CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE FILLED WITH SMOKED TUNA.
I’m exhausted. Buenas noches!