My parents were probably just the kind of business Franco was going for when, aiming to turn the Costa del Sol into “the Florida of Europe,” he expanded Spain’s investment in the paradores, government-owned hotels meant to attract tourism to historic sites. There’s one inside the Alhambra and another in the castle atop Gibralfaro. The Parador of Malaga opened in 1948 and now features an arcaded stone facade, sprawling views, a swimming pool and, I hoped, a certain soup that would make this whole trip worthwhile.
The taste of success
Sweaty and breathless from the climb, I approached the hotel and crumpled into a chair beside an outdoor table set up near the edge of an overlook. As I scanned the menu, my heart sank. The lone soup listed — a gazpacho — was definitely not the one my father had raved about all these decades.
When the waitress came, I explained my plight: “Mi papá . . . hace 43 años . . . mejor sopa de su vida . . . con mariscos y crema y jerez.”
Before I could finish, she nodded and said, “Gazpachuelo malagueño.” It’s apparently a signature of the region and of the hotel, normally served only in the posh upstairs dining room. But she’d see whether they could make an exception for me, clad as I was in jeans and sneakers.
Fifteen minutes later, two waiters arrived. One carried a gleaming silver cloche, and when he lifted the lid it revealed a shallow white plate upon which were arranged a single clam, a mussel, a sliver of fish, a few chunks of potato and a slice of bread. The other server held a matching silver tureen, from which he ladled a pale yellow broth, scented with the caramelly aroma of sherry, which is produced a few provinces over in Jerez de la Frontera.
Gazpachuelo malagueño is like a Mediterranean version of clam chowder, only served at room temperature. The first taste was . . . underwhelming. I was tempted to ask for a salt shaker. With each spoonful, though, I grew to appreciate the subtleties of the flavor, the way the tender mussel’s briny burst played off the potato’s starch, and how beautifully the sweet-and-acid sherry balanced the rich stock. The soup’s creaminess, it turns out, doesn’t come from cream at all but from homemade mayonnaise, which is integrated into the seafood broth ever so carefully to avoid curdling.
Focus on food
It’s a fine soup, good enough that I asked for the recipe and have attempted it at home several times. But what made it the best soup of my dad’s life probably had more to do with being young and in love than with the soup itself. Food was just the catalyst that fixed the experience in his brain all these years.
It’s always been this way in my family, the memories inextricably bound up with food. Nobody can really recall whether we went to church on Easter, but everybody remembers the bright orange tub of Schuler’s cheese and the kielbasa that Grandma would bring from the Polish deli to serve at Easter brunch. Remembering my 30th birthday dinner party is like looking at an old photograph: the features of the people seated at the table are a little fuzzy, the creaminess of the seared scallop in sharp focus.
Sometimes I worry that there’s something mildly pathological about this — and maybe there is. But what matters is that a memory gets made, inaccurate or impressionistic though it may be. A simple thing such as soup can be remembered and passed down like an heirloom.
I hope that in 40 years, I’m telling my kids about the best soup I ever had in my life, and what a nice view the restaurant had of the Rock of Gibraltar.
Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro
Castillo de Gibralfaro
Gazpachuelo malagueño, about $14.
Kroth is a writer and Fulbright fellow based in Barcelona.