Our drive to Ronda was uneventful in that there were no landslides, as we had been warned about, only gushing waterfalls where normally there would be no water. Still, the abnormally rainy winter Spain was experiencing provided for an unusually dramatic trip from the south. The road from Marbella took us on a curvy trip through a mountainous landscape that began lush, verdant and mist-laden before giving way to the rugged, craggy, starkly beautiful hills Spain is known for.
Ronda is a jaw-droppingly beautiful town, a centuries-old village resting high in the Andalusian hills, its inaccessibility serving as its preservation. I had been here before, in college, and coming back a decade later I was struck by one thing: Ronda was the same. And with the exception of, say electricity, modern plumbing and cars, it had been the same for a long, long time.
We ate dinner in a small restaurant that could have been a setting for a Pedro Almodovar movie. From our table we had a windowbox peek into the kitchen, a kitchen that was run by women. Women in a professional kitchen is not unheard of (although they are still outnumbered by men) but when they’re in their whites and chef’s hats, you might never know their gender. Not so these women. You could feel that these were strong Spanish women, dark hair pulled back under caps, favoring tank tops over chef coats and exchanging rapid-fire conversation with each other, personalities strong as the fire they cooked over, putting out some thoughtful Spanish cuisine that mixed modern and traditional.
The Ronda women’s food:
The most memorable dish was sauteed baby eels, served atop a runny egg and potatoes with a little bit of hot chile and roasted garlic. It was memorable, I admit, not because I loved it so much, but because sauteed baby eels completely freak me out. Around us in the tiny dining room (seven tables), the place had filled. I still marveled at how late Spaniards emerged for dinner. We had sat around 10pm, and now, at 11, plates of sizzling steak were being set down before a couple of big, boisterous parties. The room began to fill with the scent of meat and cigarettes, and we went home to our paladar.