In 1492CE, when the Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabella could finally claim the Reconquista complete, having conquered the Emirate of Granada, few would have considered the immense influence that Arabic cuisine would continue to have some 525 years later on Al-Andalus, i.e. modern Andalusia, the southernmost province in Spain.
Despite vicious and discriminatory treatment throughout the following centuries as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, Muslim and Jewish minority communities introduced the spices and colours of North African and Middle-Eastern cooking to the traditional Mediterranean diet of Andalusia. This has resulted in a fusion that is a fine testament to the tolerant times in Al-Andalus where Christian, Muslim, and Jewish people lived alongside one another in relative harmony before the oppressive first years of Catholic rule in Spain.
Hallmarks of this mixture of traditions include the addition of spices such as cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to many vegetable dishes, as well as the introduction of dried fruits (raisins, sultanas, and prunes) and nuts (such as pine nuts and almonds) to meat or fish.
Everywhere you look in Andalusia, whether it be in Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla, or elsewhere, there will be examples of this fusion visible in the architecture, music, dancing, and of course food of the place. Perhaps the perfect example of this blend of food culture, however, comes in the form of picada, a pounded paste of fried garlic and bread, hard-boiled egg yolks, toasted pine nuts/almonds, and olive oil.
This is not to say that the province’s only culinary successes are limited to occasions when East has met West: one cannot mention Andalusia without some nod to gazpacho or salmorejo, the two subtly different cold tomato soups, or some of the best sherries in the world from Jerez, or, lest we forget, the finest jamones ibericos de bellota and excellent fish and sea-food by the coasts.
If all this were not enough to get you booking your flights to Andalusia right this instant, it must be noted that Granada is one of the few cities in Spain to still nourish the classic tapas tradition of offering a free plate of food when you buy a drink!
Photograph: Robbie Tominey-Nevado