Andalusian food, as with Spanish food in general, is salty. Perhaps the
Spaniards have taken too seriously the epigram of their seventh-century
encyclopedist Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636): Nihil enim utilius sale et
sole (Nothing is more useful than salt and sun).
A great deal of what we know about the historical roots of Andalusian
cuisine is found in the works of the historian Professor É. Levi-Provencal who
used Arabic hisba literature to study the early Hispano-Muslim cuisine of
the ninth to twelfth centuries. Arabic poetry of the time also gives us some
information. In the Kitab fadalat al-khiwan fi tayyibat al-taâm
waâl-alwan, a late eleventh-century cookery work by Ibn Razin al-Tujibi
there are recipes for oven-baked bread, migas de cabeza de ternero
(pieces of calves head), sopas de leveadura (yeast soup), rosquillas
rellenas de miel (honey-stuffed sweet fritters), bocaditos del cadi
(the qadi's [magistrate] tidbits); alcorzas rellas (stuffed sugar icing),
mantecadas (a kind of cake), almojabanas (cake made of cheese and
flour, a kind of cruller), alcuzcuz (couscous), fideos (a pasta),
guiso de carne de animales salvajes (a dish of wild game), gallina
asada (roast chicken), tortillas de berenjenas (eggplant omelette),
and guiso de lentejas (dish of lentils).
Another commentator on Spanish gastronomy, Professor Solé Sabarís, has
divided Andalusia into four culinary zones. The zone of meat and game is the
Sierra Morena, the tip of the Iberica chain. The zone of wine and olives is in
the Subbéticas chain. The zone of cereals, sugar, and oranges is in the Bética
depression of the Guadalquivir valley. The zone of fish is between the third and
fourth depression of the Guadalquivir valley.
Although Andalusia is an arid land, the people are gay, enjoying life
with a devil-may-care attitude, whereas the northerners are sedate and business
like. Andalusian cuisine is not a cerebral and complex food as it often is in
the Basque country or in Catalonia; rather food is prepared in Andalusia with
the same abandon and simplicity with which people live their lives.
The three most important native ingredients in Andalusia are olive oil,
garlic, and wine. The most widely used herbs are thyme, rosemary, fennel,
oregano, bay leaf, plenty of parsley, and, in areas where there was a
significant Muslim presence, mint. Politically, Andalusia comprises eight
administrative provinces, each with its own distinctive character, fitting into
the four culinary zones. The culinary identity of each is dictated by geography,
of course, but mostly by the degree to which Muslim cooks were in charge of the
historic kitchen. Folklorists say that many Andalusian dishes traveled north to
France when Eugenie married Napoleon III in the nineteenth century.
The Andalusian kitchen owes a lot not only to the Arabs and geography,
but also to the weather and the lack of firewood. Homes did not have indoor
ovens because it was too hot and most cooking was stove-top. Kitchens usually
had a poyo, a stone counter surfaced with tiles, running along one wall
with inset hornillas or burners and an ash box underneath, there being no
chimney to take smoke away. Very little firewood existed so fuel sources often
consisted of olive pits, dried grape twigs, or picón, a pencil-sized
charcoal made by smoldering bush branches which burns relatively free of smoke.
Andalusian preparations simmered on these dying fires for long periods of