Dear reader I beg you please tell me if you know of a quality tapas bar in Granada that is a/ not packed with boisterous students (sorry…) or b/ not packed with carousing tourists (I know, mea culpa, I’m a travel-writer). If I go to Cordoba, no problem at all, I’m spoilt for tantalising choice; Seville, the birthplace of tapas? not bad either, though tourists are inevitably thick on the ground. But Granada??? it’s a tough call. And I have tried – (see my previous blog here).
I’ll admit it, this time we whizzed past Bodegas Espadafor, the lovely old tapas institution above. Dating from 1910, it still has plenty of aficionados (though typically it has no website – you’ll find it on the corner of Gran Vía de Colón 59). Poking my nose round the door I admired the stunning old school interior, with Andalucian cast-list of accessories present and correct: barrels, tiles, murals, bull-fighting posters, Moorish-style glass lamps, bottles…. Alas it was too early in the day, they were still on breakfasts, so on we went.
Cut to the tapas bewitching-hour, in Calle Navas (above). Here, allegedly the epicentre of Granadino gastro-joy, we found ourselves dodging an army of pushy restaurant hustlers. A bad sign, reminiscent of parts of Madrid’s famed Cava Baja. If they have to sell themselves, well that means their products don’t do it. In Granada’s Calle Navas, dozens of establishments sharpen their knives and refine their polylinguistic skills to lure in unsuspecting foreigners, either for basic sit-down lunch or for mediocre tapas. This is not the Spain we know and love.
No one needed to try that ploy outside the original Los Diamantes, a bar that has morphed into a small city-wide chain thanks to its popularity. You wouldn’t know the quality judging from its bland looks – but we all know that’s a blind alley. Still, the slim little venue was so crammed there was no way we could squeeze in, let alone get a tapa, so, again, on we went. Finally we opted for a calmer looking place, Nuevo Restaurante (love that irony – it dates from 1963, so nuevo!) where we had a delicious menu del dia for 12€ – white tablecloth and warm, professional waiters thrown in. And no hustlers outside. It just goes to show.
But it was later that I found my epiphany as we strolled along that classic, winding riverside path, the Carrera del Darro. Somehow old Arab baths are squeezed in beside monasteries and mansions – with the Alhambra towering high above to the right and the carmens and cypress trees of the Albaycin uphill to the left. Hard to beat.
It’s a delightful road that I’ve walked umpteen times, without ever discovering the sale of nuns’ biscuits – or dulces – signposted discreetly on a wall. So, pushing open the majestic Renaissance door of the Convento de Santa Catalina de Zafra*, we went straight to a little turnstile window, scanned the price-list of biscuits and rang the buzzer. Silence. Then came a reedy little voice – Ave Maria! Despite my total lack of religious upbringing, I found myself echoing Ave Maria! – more alto than soprano – before ordering our choice. The turnstile twirled and out came a neat cardboard box in a plastic bag, with a little gracias from our invisible emissary for our 6€. Talk about service.
Here’s the treasure, back at home. Note the judiciously placed pomegranate, symbol of Granada whose name derived from the magical fruit.
And the dulces are fantastic! Thick, buttery almond biscuits dusted in icing-sugar, they crumble deliciously when you get inside their waxed wrappings – a divine delight! Ave Maria!
*The Convento de Zafra dates from 1520 and apparently boasts a lovely church interior of Renaissance, Mudejar and Baroque, which can only be visited during Mass – Sundays at 9 a.m., weekdays at 1 p.m.