The ‘Ruta del Atun’ dates back over 3000 years, all the way to the Phoenicians who set up nets along the Strait of Gibraltar, known as the almadraba, as the tuna migrate to warmer water in the May & June, they were caught for food and fuel.
Today the traditions continue, with celebrations of the tuna harvest celebrated along the main fishing ports of the Cadiz coastline. I had never, until this year, had the chance to visit as I was away, but this year I decided it was time I stopped by and experienced what the ‘Ruta del Atun’ was all about.
We travelled from Gibraltar, 1 hour and 30 minutes to Zahara de los Atunes, a fitting name, is the first of the rutas, kicking off the season in a quaint seaside town. I’d never been here before and to be honest very impressed with the town. Beautifully picturesque and very clean.
The ruta de tapa in Zahara was a culmination of 38 restaurants, each competing with each other for the prize of best tuna tapa. As you show up in the town, locate the tourist information office and grab yourself a map.
Each restaurant prepares a tuna tapa in the most aesthetically pleasing way I have seen to date, each plate a work of art, but not just in looks but also in flavours. My advice is to head over early, restaurants begin to fill up around 2pm and you will be lucky to find a space without having to wait.
I managed to try 4 different dishes, each more creative than the last. The first, based on the Almadraba ships, had an Italian background, starting with a layer of coconut cream on the bottom, with foccacia bread on top and finished with fresh sashimi style tuna chunks and tiny prawns.
Secondly we stopped by ZoKo, a quirky vibrant place, which served up tuna croquette style, but with savoury dips of creamed aubergines and aioli.
Thirdly, and the most cutest was the tuna sashimi washing-line. So charmingly presented you don’t really want to eat it, but let’s not kid ourselves. The dish was served with dried olives as ‘soil’ and a pot of what seemed like a frothy wasabi based mayonnaise.
At around 5pm, restaurants take a break, leaving the bars to overflow with visitors chatting the afternoon away or listening and dancing to the live entertainment along the street. However, if you’re looking for a little architectural culture, just wander the town. You can find beauty around every corner, a mixture of old Arabic architecture and Spanish style buildings.
One thing is important to remember, Tuna are becoming endangered due to unsustainable overfishing in parts of the world. The almadraba, meaning to fight or strike, is a sustainable source of fishing. Only tuna are caught, and only the biggest of them are kept; the rest are returned to the ocean to mature and reproduce. There is no or minimum waste, and no over-fishing.
And with restrictions and strict quotas on how much can be caught, it is not in the fishermen’s interests to exceed it.