An exciting new restaurant – well, really just a bar with food but none the less thrilling for all that – has opened in Farajan, two villages along from Cartajima in the Alto Genal. We try to keep up with local events but frankly there is so much going on in this unbelievably quiet valley that sometimes we miss important stuff. We are therefore endebted to recent guests for mentioning the “bars of Farajan”. Plural? we thought! Not possible. At the first opportunity we went to check out this hip new scene completely unprepared for what we found in Farajan.
But, before I reveal all, a minor historical diversion to set the scene.
Spain was invaded in 711 by Arabic forces from north Africa who installed themselves rather permanently in the Iberian peninsula. They remained here in the south until 1492 when they were ejected by the invading Christians. During the seven hundred years that Al-Andaluz was their home, these Islamic people created an unprecedented culture where the three main monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – coexisted harmoniously and intermingled their cuisines.
When the Arabs left, they took with them their kitchen culture with its exotic spices and innovative use of fruits and vegetables. Left behind in their erstwhile homeland was just a fading memory and a few staples such as rice and almonds. For the most part, the Spanish diet focussed on eating pork, a clear demonstration of ones Christian persuasion.
I keep my antenna tuned for relics of what was the dominant culture here for such an incredibly long time but the footsteps left by the Arab culture are faint. Discernable still in town planning, language, the look and traditions of the people, but not in the kitchen.
It gave me therefore inordinate pleasure to eat Moroccan food in a Spanish bar in the tiny Alto Genal village of Farajan. To sit in the new bar, eating the same food that would have been served hundreds of years ago to generations of Arab settlers made me smile happily. I no longer have to make the trek to Morocco for genuine Moroccan food! It is right here on my doorstep.
The new eatery, Bar Muñoz, is run by Alberto – Spanish – and Wafa – his Moroccan wife. The food they serve is a delightful mingling of their two cultures. Take for example Wafa’s albondigas. Meatballs are a common Spanish dish, served in either a simple sherry or tomato sauce but the inspiration came from the Arabic kitchen, where they were made with lamb rather than pork, and flavoured with subtle spices. The very name, albondigas, is a corruption of the Arabic al-búnduqa meaning hazelnuts and, by extension, small balls. Wafa has cleverly created a dish that the average Andalucian can recognise and eat without fear of the inquisition (holy to some). But these tasty little balls are redolent with the spices of her homeland – cumin and cinnamon and turmeric.
The delicately-flavoured couscous, served in a traditional tajine, the pastilla with its crispy outer layer and a sweet and salty filling, the rollo de verduras - utterly delicious and intriguing combination of a multitude of vegetables. It was impossible not to sample every Moroccan dish on the menu so I fear we were rather greedy.
As always, the meal ended with a chupito, made of acorns or bellota. Alberto told us it was very special and made by a local villager. Extra points if you spotted Alberto in the poster behind him!
Alberto and Wafa would like to invite all guests of Los Castanos to a drink with their meal. Try a tinto de verano – summer red wine – a cooling, refreshing, Spanish taste that goes well with the Moroccan food.