Well it had to happen sometime, and last week in Granada it did. I found myself miked up and stared at by two video cameras while ‘chatting’ with a celebrity – Michael Portillo – about Andalucian food. I’ve done newspaper interviews before and, in the distant past, radio, but this was the first time I was visually upfront, in this case for BBC Channel 5. It was fun – kind of.

Me – through the eye of a camera in a Granada restaurant

Centuries of Islamic Spain

Filming took place in Granada, the fount of all dreams of Al-Andalus, that Muslim kingdom that held sway over southern Spain for nearly eight centuries. In reality the emirate of Granada came to prominence towards the end of this period following the collapse of Cordoba, Seville and other major cities. Luckily the Alhambra and its beauteous Nazrid palaces were completed in the 14th c before Muslim Spain was trounced by the Catholic Castilians, in 1492.

Just one example of the astounding decoration of the Alhambra: muqarnas of sculpted plaster in the Nazrid palace

From then on it became a story of persecution and ethnic cleansing as first the Jews were expelled then the Moors (by then converted into Catholic moriscos) forced to flee south into the Alpujarra hills. In 1609 they were completely banished from Spain and spoken Arabic was outlawed. During that time pork was imposed as proof of Catholicism (it was forbidden for Jews and Muslims) – hence the subsequent Spanish addiction to jamon and many other piggy morsels.

For the love of pork…at the Mercado San Agustin

Back to the 21st century

So here I was with the TV broadcaster Michael Portillo, he of the trademark pink or yellow trousers and blue or bright green jackets… although as this was not one of his train journey shows he was dressed less flamboyantly. Together we toured the covered market of San Agustin, half of it closed for vacaciones, before moving on to one of the restaurants featured in my travel cookbook, Andaluz. For the background on the making of this book, read my post here

Chikito is a venerable restaurant that was called Cafe Alameda when the poet Garcia Lorca, composer De Falla and other inteligentsia hung out there in the 1920s; a bronze statue of Lorca now sits in one corner, a reminder of his tragic death in 1936 at the hands of Franco’s thugs.

Dissecting dishes and chat about Andalucian food with Michael Portillo

Since the 1970s, under new owners who renamed the restaurant, Chikito has retained a traditional interior, popular with locals. The dishes are delicious – some adventurous, others more classic. We started with a fabulous gazpacho (it was about 38° outside so the cooling effect was more than welcome) before cruising through a luscious remojon (a salad of fresh orange with bacalao and onion), snails (too small and picky), delicate baby broad beans with jamon (a great combo) and a delectable little dish of marinated sardines on a lush bed of avocado, spring onion and tomato. But rhe local wine we ordered turned out to be way too heavy at 14.5% – ouch.

That was it. CUT! Off came the mike, a few photos taken, and I was set free. Slightly more than 15 minutes.

Hard not to love this view of the Alhambra crowning a surprisingly green hilltop
The Albayzin – the original Moorish settlement in Granada facing the Alhambra

Despite the searing heat I loved catching up with this seductive city after a hiatus due to the pandemic. As always the Albayzin lured me with its narrow passages leading uphill past verdant carmenes (walled gardens). I also reveled in the sight of the Alhambra itself from the Paseo de los Tristes down below – what better place for an aperitivo and a tapa. Granada is changing, though, as the previous day I came across an unexpectedly exotic dish – a colourful, crunchy Hawaian poke which I gratefully consumed on the hot, steamy terrace of La Autentica Carmela. Tradition is clearly being chipped away.  

Bodegas Castañeda – great vermouth + a free tapa

Tapas!

But it was later that I found my joy at a tapas bar just a few streets up from the touristy Plaza Nueva. Tapas have captivated me ever since I researched and wrote New Tapas over 20 years ago, and I feel completely at home in any rowdy, old-fashioned bar. This one was Bodegas Castañeda on c/ Almireceros, an absolute classic filled with barrels, hams, bottles of wine, loud chat and a line-up of cheerful waiters in black aprons. And it dates from 1927! Free tapas are copious but I suggest avoiding the house cocktail, calicasas (a barman even advised me against it) – a killer mix of wine, vermouth, vodka & who knows what. I stuck safely to the vermouth – and survived to tell the tale.