FEW aromas arrest the senses more effectively than food cooking over an open fire. The smell of bacon and eggs wafting across a Highland campsite as the sun rises above the mountains; chicken sizzling on a seaside barbecue; goulash bubbling in a blackened pot as embers spark and crackle on a Hungarian hillside. This is food in the wild, as our ancestors cooked it; and it is food that has had its flavours enhanced by fire, smoke, dry wood and the elements . . .
Beneath a canopy of eucalyptus woodland near the town of Orgiva, in southern Andalucia, people are busy. Fires have been kindled from eucalyptus bark and olive wood. Pans are being heated. Flames are crackling, oil bubbling.
This is the town’s annual migas festival. Migas is a popular dish across large swathes of Spain and southern and middle America. And like all popular dishes it has its origins in basic, peasant cuisine and appears in many variations. In the same way that no two Lancashire hotpots or two Sunday roast dinners are the same – no two plates of migas are identical. Recipes vary from region to region, town to town, family to family.
Migas has constants, of course, and the constant in Andalucian migas is a bed of couscous fried with garlic in olive oil. Elsewhere, the constant is a bed of breadcrumbs fried with garlic in olive oil. Both are equally authentic and delicious.
On the couscous/breadcrumb base – or mixed in with it – go sausages, chorizo, morcilla (spicy black pudding) bacon, fried egg and fried peppers. This comprises a typical dish if you buy migas at a restaurant here in the Alpujarras. It’s a full English breakfast plus local additions, and pungent flavours of Spain and Morocco.
In other regions, preferred ingredients range from kale and grapes to sardines, anchovies and cod. Like the Sunday roast, you are conditioned to make migas how your mother made it. And because your mother had the migas touch, you adhere to family tradition.
We drift through a smoky haze beneath tall trees, our appetites sharpened by the sounds of sizzling oil and crackling wood, the aromas of peppers, garlic and onions frying, and cured meats roasting over flames.
Tonight we dine on migas accompanied by the local wine – food from the forests and the hearths of the peasants; flavours of Spain with hints of north Africa. It doesn’t come better than that.