The Magic of the Mercado

Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda.

All of them do a fine job of selling tins of beans. If you want to pay more, then you have Waitrose. If you don’t like pennies slipping through your fingers quite so fast, you can go to Lidl or Aldi.

But if you want colour, taste and a little exotica then the mercado in Mijas is for you. It has no car park, situated as it is right in the middle of the town surrounded and hemmed in on all four sides by houses and shops. You need to know where it is otherwise you’ll never find it. Its front entrance is on a street just about wide enough for a car to pass through. Just. One has to pass a tabac on the way. A tiny one room shop that sells, wait for it, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars. That’s it. Nothing else apart from the accoutrements and paraphernalia for smoking. One leaves one’s heart and lungs outside to enter into the gloom where the merchant of death will sell you merchandise at a fraction of the price in the UK. Seems like death comes cheaply in Andalucia.

The mercado has a portico type entrance, a bit like stepping up into the Roman forum. Like all buildings in Mijas its exterior is white, but once inside it is a proper covered market. Walk around clockwise or anticlockwise and you will find butchers, bakers, fishmongers and a shop a name for which I’ve no idea.

We are having fish for lunch.

A bright eyed bream beckons us. We buy prawns and sardines. Señor says the sardines are ‘obligado’ (free) as they are the last 4 of the morning. He guts and cleans the fish for us, all for about 7 euros.

The bream requires stuffing with garlic, onion and lemon. Wrap it in foil with seasoning and dabs of butter and bake for 20-25 minutes. Prawns are gutted and peeled and dipped lightly in flour before being pan fried while the sardines are done likewise. All is served with a fresh salad and a bottle of Cava. The sun warms the balcony and our bones as we sit outside…yes outside, to lunch. The smell of olive oil and garlic tickle the nose, the fizz tickles the senses, the bream does not disappoint. As the fish was being prepared and  before the Cava popped open, a bottle of Malaga’s finest red had to be tried. Not the whole bottle, mind you. We bought a 2013 Vega del Geva, Syrah Cabernet. at a local bar the other night. Those who know French wine well would have been fooled by its aroma. Suffice to say it was bleddy ‘ansum me bewdy.

There is no place for stress here. The sun, the sky, the food and the mountains all conspire to draw any last vestiges of worry or concern from your bones. Any lasting niggles in the blood get filtered out. Nerves are rolled flat and untangled, muscles are warmed up and released from tension. I can’t be arsed to be arsed anymore. The heart pumps slower, the lungs breath easier and chalfonts withdraw to a place far far away. This is a country for old men, and women. Blood diluted by Spanish wine flows more freely, garlic and herbs create a bed of comfort in the stomach and even farts smell sweeter. Thoughts are slower and revolve around wondering how to cook the next fish as the most taxing predicament. Heart valves pop to the rhythm of the corks from bottles of Cava while one’s footsteps are no quicker than those of the oat fed and aged donkeys in the town square. The smell of honey roasted almonds and Jasmin compete for the glory of one’s nose, only to be ousted by wafts of freshly ground coffee from myriad street cafes.

A bucket of drugs each day has been prescribed to keep this old carcass from an early appointment with eternity. But with each breath of Andalusian air and the strokes of the sun’s warmth, I’m convinced that the medications are only being enhanced. There is magic here. Pity they can’t sell it or prescribe it on the NHS.

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