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Tarifa in Spain (the food and the kiteboarding)

There was a moment when I wondered what Jen and I were doing in Tarifa in Spain. That moment came when I was waist deep in a salt water lagoon by the side of the motorway trying to stop my kite from crashing into the road. My hands were bloody from a combination of the salt and friction on the kitesurfing bar. I then turned round to see Jen crying with frustration at being smashed repeatedly into the 2ft deep water by her kite. Oh, and it was raining, in June in Southern Spain (unheard of).

Then we drove back to Tarifa and began to eat and it all became right.

If you haven’t heard of Tarifa I wouldn’t be too surprised. It is right at the Southern tip of Spain, in Andalucia, and is a small frontier beach town which lives for kiteboarding. On a clear day you look straight across to North Africa and on a windy day you can barely stand up. It is not Seville, it is not renowned for its tapas, but just like any Andalucian or even Spanish town great food isn’t hard to find.

I am typing this in Gibraltar airport and the difference between an average Spanish town and Great Britain is all the more evident. 200m from here there is a rinky dink border which you can walk over and then go into any bar and get a beer or fino for 1.50 euro, a small plate of tapa or a ración of jamon serrano. Our local food scene mainly comprises of what you can buy in Gibraltar airport – pre made pies and Walkers crisps. Whilst there are hodges and podges of good local food in Great Britain (and immigration has done wonders for cities like London) our food does not have the omnipresent quality that you can find in Spain (or France).

We spent eight days in Tarifa with some trips out to the surrounding towns in Andalucia (for later posts) and this post has some pictures of the food we ate and recollections of where we went in and around Tarifa. Importantly these aren’t really suggestions on where you should go if you find yourself in Tarifa as, well, Spain doesn’t work like that. Just go to where feels good, where the crowds and voices jostle and you can’t really be disappointed.

First, El Otro Melli in Plaza St Martin. This was consistently busy the first two times we tried to go so when we finally managed to get a table we were expectant. We ordered some jamon serrano which we gobbled down with joy. Jamon serrano can be found all over Spain but Andalucia is rightly famous for its efforts (though I am sure I remember that when I lived in Salamanca that they believed theirs was the best as well…). What we were served at El Otro Melli were perfect slivers of fat and cured meat. I have to disclaim that the picture isn’t mine and is, instead, Jen’s as she is quite protective of it.

Our favourite tapas bar to drown our pain from learning kiteboarding was El Frances on Calle de Sancho IV. Cold glasses of sherry could be had for 1 euro 30 and they did excellent tapas of stewed and fatted meat. The second picture above is chicharones, or beef cooked in lard, with homemade crisps as a side. Under it is a patatas bravas which came fried to perfection on each of our repeated visits. It’s basically the Spanish version of dirty chips with mayonnaise and refreshingly they don’t bother with the nonsense of triple cooking which we obsessed by in Great Britain.

There is another cluster of tapas restaurants in Tarifa towards the city walls. There we had great meals at El Pasejo and Los Melli. The third picture is of the tortillitas de camarones which seemed to be a speciality of the area. Basically lightly fried, flat shrimp fritters. When done well, incredibly light and tasty. Like everything our equivalent snack – Scampi Flavour Fries by Smiths – are not. El Melli also specialised in little bocadillos (or sandwiches) for a couple of euros which came with an assortment of fillings which we forgot to take pictures of.

The other place I would recommend involves the Spanish military. Apparently the reason Tarifa and the Costa de Luz wasn’t ruined by the invasion of British in the 70s and 80s like the Costa de Sol was because the Spanish military have encampments along the coast and foreigners are not allowed to buy land. On our second day we stumbled across one of these whilst trying to find a secluded beach and got turned around sharply.

However, if you know the codeword (tengo una reservación a la restaurante El Mirlo) you are allowed to drive straight through the military base and get drunk and eat resplendent seafood looking out over where the Atlantic and Mediterranean join. We did that. Unfortunately the picture of the fish we have for our main didn’t capture how simple, how immaculately cooked and how good this restaurant is (therefore below is a picture of our starter). El Mirlo may have Coca Cola sponsored tables, require a key for the loo, necessitate outwitting the Spanish military and dodging horses as you hike down to the beach afterwards but it was one of our best meals in Spain.

Finally, a mention of where we stayed. If you are a guy and want to try kiteboarding and need to bribe your girlfriend to accompany you with a cute designer hotel run by a couple (Marta and Bjorn) who take it as their personal mission to ensure you have a great time I can not recommend El Koala in the city centre highly enough (here). Around 100 euros a night and even I got tearful as we had to say goodbye.

PS upcoming posts on Seville and Hacienda Benazuzu and its El Bulli themed food will be coming up on here in the next couple of days if you stop back (or you can click here).

Jen on our roof terrace at El Koala


  1. The Grubworm

    One of the things about Spain (and France, and Italy, and coastal Croatia) is that good food is not only plentiful, but seems to effortless. In the UK, even the simple food has the feeling of plenty of work going into it behind the scenes. In Spain, it just doesn't seem like it's hard work at all.

    And yes, a note of the hotel has been duly taken.

  2. Mr Noodles

    This reminds me why I like Spanish food so much! Sometimes the blogosphere can get a bit too 'London' so I'm looking forward to the rest of your posts on Spain.

  3. Tom

    I also think it is interesting who prepares it in Spain, you get people who haven't got any culinary training but can cook (at the very least what is on the menu) very well. Without stress and repeatedly.

    Mr Noodles – well just done the El Bulli one! The photos nearly killed me : )

  4. Hi! This post is lovely. I go to Tarifa regularly – every summer – and Los Mellis and El otro Melli are two of my favourite places for great tapas. Just thought I would add that as from last year the Guardia Civil has lifted the restrictions on access to the beach below El Mirlo. They’ve removed the barrier, and everyone is welcome. However, over at El Mirlo they charge you a steep fee – 3 euros if I remember correctly – for a place to park. This is deducted off your meal if you decide to eat there.

    • Glad you like it – I absolutely adored Tarifa. The vibe is just beautiful and I would love to go there this summer. Unfortunately it is a touch too far from Hong Kong. When I come back to London I will definitely be back though!

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