In Praise Of El Tangay

The very first restaurant that we ate at in Frigiliana, a few months short of thirty years ago, was El Tangay. To this day I do not know what a tangay is, but no matter. It was a family run restaurant in the new part of the village, and there was no written menu. Instead, the proprietor stood at your table, pad and pencil in hand and listed (in Spanish and English, for example: “sopa, soup”) what was on offer; it never varied either in variety or in quality, and arrived at the table in the kind of quantities that you would have needed to fuel up for a day out in the campo working on your terraces. There were very few places to eat in the village in those days, and they all tended to offer a couple of meat dishes, one of fish, some shellfish - all cooked with lots of oil and an abundance of garlic, a large platter of salad and a pile of chips. Oh, and there was also usually chorizo and tortilla, the famous Spanish omelette made with potatoes. May I just digress at this point to say that the pronunciation of ‘z’ as ‘ts’ is a feature of German and Italian, but not of Spanish. The Spanish ‘z’ is pronounced ‘th’ as in ‘thirst’. By the same token, the Spanish ‘ch’ is pronounced like the English ‘ch’ and not like the throat-clearing German ‘ch’ nor the Italian ‘ck’. So the combination which grates on my ear whenever I hear it, ‘choritso’ could not exist in any of the three languages; being a Spanish word for a Spanish variety of sausage, it is correctly pronounced ‘choritho’. There, that’s got that off my chest. There have been many changes in Frigiliana over the past thirty years, not least in the variety of cuisines that we can now experience in the village. We have a Polish restaurant, an Italian pizzeria, and a German run one and a not very successful Indian. We have what might be called ‘modern Mediterranean, and a Middle East-leaning restaurant, and we have restaurants offering the kind of fare that you would encounter in a modern British restaurant, as well as those offering menus on the ‘pub grub’ to ‘gastro pub’ spectrum. And, of course, you have a selection of Spanish restaurants. But the Spanish restaurants have by and large modified what they offer to suit the palates of the expat, the visitor and the tourist. Not so El Tangay. The proprietor is long gone to his rest, and the restaurant is run by the generation below him. But the menu is the same, apart from one or two additional dishes. You may now have your albondigas with an almond sauce or with the traditional, tomato sauce. The choto, previously only cooked al ajillo, is now also offered with an almond sauce. But these and other additions to the menu have the same pedigree as the other items that have always been served; they are the food that the people of Frigiliana and the surrounding countryside have eaten in their own homes as everyday food for decades, if not centuries. The soup that we had on that very first visit is an excellent example. A huge, steaming tureen of chicken stock filled with equal proportions of white cabbage and chickpeas, together with bits of chicken, ham and black pudding, onions and a little yellow food colouring to give it a golden hue. We had that soup again two weeks ago when twenty one of us gathered there for a meal. Indeed, I’m convinced that - thirty years apart or not - it is the same soup. I don’t believe that the cauldron in the kitchen is ever empty at the end of the night, and so I have a picture of the first person into the kitchen in a morning going to the cauldron, replenishing it and putting it on to simmer ready for the day. We also had a selection of the main course dishes brought to the table for sharing out, salad, and chips, all of which were constantly replenished until eventually the organiser of the evening had to stagger into the kitchen and surrender on behalf of all of use. And still all that cost only 15€ per head. If you come to the village, you must put El Tangay on your ‘must do’ list, only be aware that it is Spanish in its hours as well; you will not get lunch before two o’clock, nor dinner before nine. But it’s worth working up the appetite for.

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