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Fusion cuisine: The Gibraltarian story

As the residents of Gibraltar prepare for the Calentita Food Festival in the main square, Casemates, over the weekend, we consider the local cuisine and where readers can find out more about it.

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Gibraltar is steadfastly British by sovereignty but that’s only part of the story. Genetically the people are a mix of European, British-before-we-became-European, Arab and no doubt a great deal else. This and the climate has led to a tremendous fusion of cuisines – fortunately the Web offers a huge amount of resources for people wanting to research it before trying it out.

Probably the definitive website on Gibraltarian cuisine is Mama Lotties, whose writer Justin Bautista wrote this piece on the origins of the local cooking for this hub last year. In the article he talks through the British, Genoese, Andalusian Spanish and Maltese influences that go to make up Gibraltarian tastes, while the website focuses on local recipes, often contributed by local people (anyone is welcome to write in and suggest one). Mama Lotties runs through the thick chick pea dish Callos, Jamon Serrano omelette and other local delicacies and it’s gone further afield as well. Purists wanting information on Gibraltarian-only food will have to go elsewhere. We concede that Gibraltar is a Mediterranean country but suggest that Italians may be scandalised at the inclusion of spaghetti Bolognese as a local delicacy, and there’s a clue about French onion soup in the title!

Other resources tend to mention the food almost as a side issue. The World Travel Guide obviously has a lot of ground to cover but offers spinach tortilla and callentito, the quiche-like national dish made from chick pea flower, an honourable mention, while the Everyculture site the same dish gets a mention as do the influences mentioned already plus Italian and Jewish elements.

The difficulty the peninsula faces in evolving its own distinctive style of food is of course that there isn’t any agriculture happening there, so fusions (which also include Portuguese for anyone collecting influences) are bound to happen. If you’re in the town on Saturday you’re likely to come across pasta dishes such as Rosto (penne in a tomato sauce with meat, mushroom and carrot) or Fideos Al Horno (a macaroni dish, never mind the fact that Fideos is Spanish for baked noodles).

So there’s a lot of information out there. The Calentita Food Fest on Saturday evening offers people actually on the Rock to test some of the food in person. This brings Gibraltar’s Spring Festival to an end every year and will be happening in the main square at Casemates; visitors can expect to sample a wide variety not only of Gibraltarian cuisine but also food from other countries, as well as enjoying a firework display and live music.

The one baffling thing about Gibraltarian cuisine is the lack of support it appears to have from the local restaurateurs. Improbable though it sounds, and in spite of TripAdvisor finding as many as 30 top restaurants in Gibraltar to talk about and recommend, not a single one (as far as we’re aware) specialises in the local fare. Nor are there any Michelin starred chefs working in the local establishments, although this could change anytime.

The food tends to be hearty and earthy, with influences from all over. Short of an actual Gib restaurant, the best way of trying it would probably be in someone on the Rock’s home if you’re in a position to be invited.

That was a hint, by the way… 

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.