Recently, Holland America’s m.s. Prinsendam sailed from Lisbon bound for Athens and points around the world. Its first stop was Gibraltar, a small British possession wedged between Spain and Morocco, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea.
John Crone, in his book, Discover Gibraltar, describes Gibraltar’s beginnings 200 million years ago: “Africa and Europe collided and a massive lump of Jurassic limestone was forced up from the sea and flipped over.” This became Gibraltar, and such an ancient geologic devastation can have a lasting trickle-down effect. Throughout her strategic history, she was a small player in a powerfilled location, as countries tried to take her for their own. As late as 1942 and WW II, the entire Gibraltan civilian population was evacuated and over 30,000 British soldiers came in to defend north Africa from the Germans.
At a low point in their years of warring struggle, the Gibraltans popularized an Italian dish from Genoa called Calentita. When foods were scarce and times lean, they combined chickpea flour, water, olive oil and seasoning to make Calentita, a mush or dense flat bread depending if they boiled, fried or baked the mixture. To this day it is popular as a snack or small meal.
This small and frequently troubled parcel of land is now a British possession two and one-half-miles square surrounding a huge Rock. Back at the turn of the 19th century, Henry M. Field wrote, “Gibraltar is a curious composition of English-looking shops with Spanish proprietors; and at any time one can see sailors of every nation, in their flat caps and blue shirts, mingling with red-coated British soldiers, tall and solemn looking, Moors, in turbans, yellow slippers, and long white burnooses, Jews from Morocco, with fur caps, Zouave jackets, and baggy trousers, and European travelers, in monotonous clothing.” Today, it’s a little piece of the European continent populated mostly by Gibraltarians (of mixed Genoese, Jewish, Spanish and British ancestry), along with sizeable British and Moroccan minorities.
Visitors today find the huge Rock is home to tribes of small, amusing Barbary Apes highly capable of biting and stealing from those too curious. Inside this massive Rock there’s more tnhan 150 caves, one of which is a large concert hall in addition to 30 miles of military defense tunnels. A two-stop cable car for accesses the different levels. Below, Casemates Square, entrance to the city from the Spanish side, used to be the scene of bloody executions. Now, the Square has been restored to a town plaza with shops, glass-blowing artisans and outdoor cafes. It is also the entry point to their pedestrian mall, Main Street, famed for its duty-free discount shopping. It’s possible to drive from Spain into Gibraltar, then take a short ferry ride south to Morocco.
With such a bloody history and so many cultural influences, what can the restaurants of Gibraltar be serving? Indian, Maasai, Chinese and European such as Danish, Moroccan, Peking, Szechuan, English, French and Italian, Portguese and Jewish, these cuisines combine into a fusion of British, Mediterranean and Eastern flavors. Overlapping cultures collide at times, with hot beverages in particular. Here’s just some of their offerings:
Croquettes Pate with Red Onion Jam
and Mushroom pie
Bangers and Mash with Onion and Mustard Gravy
Bowl of Tripe
Banoffee Pie (bananas, cream and coffee flavor).
Hirira (lamb and bean dish)
Pinchitos (highly spiced meat on skewers)
Tajines (clay cookers, domed/pointed)
Cous-cous (beef, veggie, chicken or lamb)
Merguez Sausages, spicy meat
Nyama Kuku, (spicy, breaded chicken pieces)
Tandooris and Vindaloo, stews and curries
Pakoras (vegetables fried in light batter)
Chicken Tikka, spicy chicken served with a yogurt sauce.
Paninis (bread, flat)
Magret of Duck (duck with olives and cabbage)