Huelva has never tasted better
l Rocío, Matalascañas and Doñana have helped put Huelva on the map. The city is the sunniest provincial capital in Spain, though this part of Andalusia is also well known for its prawns and ham. While the region might go unnoticed by the tourists who are addicted to the Costa del Sol;, the Costa de la Luz has much to offer and one of its best attractions is the food. Small wonder that Huelva has been named ‘Spanish Gastronomy Capital 2017’. The local inhabitants are known as ‘onubenses’ but if you call them by that name, nobody will answer you. The people born in Huelva are ‘choqueros’, a term inherited from ‘choco’ (squid) –known as ‘sepia’ outside Andalusia–, the province’s star mollusc.
Huelva is ham and ham is La Sierra, with the Spanish denomination of origin in Jabugo, where famous meat acquires its premium quality. The most expensive ham in the world (each one costs €4,100) is exported from this region but there’s no need to worry, you can taste it at more affordable prices in the local villages. The Cinco Jotas ham cellar is located in Jabugo and is open to visitors. An excursion to here includes a tour of the cellar and a visit on foot or by horse around the pretty pastures, where the pigs roam freely, feeding on acorns. The visit ends with a tasting of 100% Iberian acorn-fed ham.
The prawn trail
The ‘prawn trail’ starts in Ayamonte and continues to Isla Cristina, an important fishing village. In August the Prawn Fair comes to Punta Umbría, the liveliest area in the region, with restaurants like ‘El Camarón’. You can also buy prawns in the fish markets and salting factories. The secret is to cook them for a short time.
Aracena is the capital of La Sierra and home to the Gruta de las Maravillas (Cave of Wonders): stalagmites and stalactites form the caverns that opened in 1914 as the first tourist caves in Europe. In Picos de Aroche Nature Park or villages with Islamic ruins, such as Almonaster la Real, you can also eat typical dishes: ham canapés with game or prey, or Iberian pork cheek with Pedro Ximénez sherry. In Fuenteheridos, Biarritz, there is an 18th-century ancestral home that offers accommodation and delicious ‘choquero’ dishes, where pork is always the protagonist.
If ham is the king, then prawns come a close second in this part of Spain. The sea is always present in the gastronomy, and turns squid, prawns and donax clams into the hallmark of villages such as Mazagón, Punta Umbría and El Portil. It is well worth visiting Isla Canela and Punta del Moral, a fishermen’s harbour where the prawns reach your plate almost as soon as they’re caught. Unsurprisingly, all the little bars here serve up fresh fish to their patrons.
In the city of Huelva, in restaurants like Portichuelo, Juan José and Paco Moreno stand out from the rest with traditional dishes: squid with broad beans and squid meatballs are just two of the more famous examples. La Pepa and Acánthum blend local produce with new flavours. The former specialises in rice dishes and cod; the latter has achieved the province’s first Michelin star, thanks to its modern dishes but ‘always from Huelva. Our roots.’ They go on to say that, ‘you can’t evolve unless there’s tradition’.
El Condado and Cuenca Minera are the two regions that are well known for their wines and vinegars. If you want to go to Riotinto, then you need to go through the mines tinted with hues of red and past the wine-coloured river, studied by the NASA because of its similarity (as regards certain minerals) to Mars. Ideal places for buying wine are La Palma and Moguer, the birthplace of the Nobel Prize winner, Juan Ramón Jiménez. The latter specialises in orange-flavoured wine, whereas its neighbouring village, Palos de la Frontera, flavours it with strawberries. The large strawberries produced in Palos carry the colours of a village that is famous for being the port from where Christopher Columbus set sail on the voyage that would end with the discovery of America. You can see replicas of his ships in the village, as well as the monastery where Columbus met the Catholic Monarchs.
In the Andévalo region, the menu is rounded out with game and a variety of cheeses, particularly sheep’s cheese. However, lard is the real star, the secret ingredient that makes dishes so tasty. You can try meat wrapped in lard and served cold in villages like Cabezas Rubias, Calaña and Valverde del Camino, which is also famous for making footwear. The highlight of this gastronomic tour of the province is the dessert: pastries from San Bartolomé de la Torre, candied egg yolks from Confitería Rufino, which opened in 1875 and sells homemade pastries (in Aracena) or milk buns from Confitería de la Victoria (in Moguer), which also dates back to the end of the 19th century.