Ventas: the best restaurants to discover traditional cuisine in Malaga
Ventas are rural restaurants you can find dotted alongside country roads in Andalusia. The name VENTA comes from the Spanish word VENDER- to sell. Originally, these establishments were basically the local shop for the countryside peasants. These days, most are restaurants with some of them selling local products to go as well.
Don’t expect fancy, innovative dishes. Think comfort food. Expect quantity over quality and at a very reasonable price. The type of meals you can expect to try are best described as generous, hefty and filling that will leave you fit to burst! Obviously then, a Venta is the perfect place to stop for lunch after a long bike ride in the mountains and regain your strength.
And for any Vegans or Vegetarians reading, sorry but better pack a picnic. The Venta’s menus are very much meat-based. Well, at best, vegetarians can order ‘un revuelto de esparrago’ scrambled eggs with asparagus- but ALWAYS tell them ‘sin jamón, sin carne’ (without ham or meat)- just in case they decide to sprinkle some jamón in there!
Montes de Malaga
The spectacular Montes of Malaga is just a 15-minute bike ride from the centre of Malaga. With over 5000 hectares of natural space and infinite cycling and hiking trails, it is one of the reasons why I chose to live in Malaga. Rent one of our KONA trekking bikes to discover them for yourself!
The A-7000 road leading up to the Montes of Malaga- the old highway- has approximately 12 ventas along the way. A cycle up to the natural park of the Montes of Malaga is obligatory for every cyclist visiting Malaga. And, of course, eating local cuisine at one of the Ventas is all part of the experience.
When to visit the Ventas
The mountain restaurants are open year-round. During summer months, they are less busy as the locals head for the beaches. Therefore, the official Venta ‘season’ is from Autumn to Spring. Anyhow, whenever you decide to go, you are guaranteed to enjoy fresh air, peace and quite and, of course, great food!
During the summer months, you can enjoy the home-cooked specialities on the terraces of the Ventas. Alternatively, during the cooler months, savour the traditional flavours in the rustic interior of the Ventas. Some even have working fire-places lit during winter months. If there is one particular Venta that you really want to try on a weekend, then we highly recommend calling ahead to reserve a table during Venta season.
Some typical dishes of the Venta’s traditional cuisine
Plato de los Montes
The ´dish of the mountains´is the quintessential dish of the Montes of Malaga. I like to describe it as a Spanish-style English breakfast. A typical plato de los montes contains chorizo, pork loin, blood sausage, fried potatoes, fried green peppers and a fried egg.
Back in the days this dish was the food of choice for the ‘muleteers’.These were men that rode their donkeys through the mountains. Now it’s the dish of champions who ride their bikes there instead!
Crumbs! I bet you never considered breadcrumbs to be a culinary speciality. But yes- here in the Montes of Malaga it is! Moistened breadcrumbs are fried in oil or animal fat with garlic (lots!) and small pieces of chorizo, black pudding, jamón. Each Venta has their own version. Some prepare it with no meat at all- basically a dish of breadcrumbs and garlic. Whenever I order migas, I always ask for a fried egg on top. That’s the best!
Lomo con Manteca
The first time I ever went mountain biking with a group of Malagueño cyclists, they took me to a Venta for a quick snack. That not so light snack was lomo con manteca- pork with lard. If you visit the Central market of Malaga, you will see huge bowls covered with an orange substance. That substance is coloured lard on top of roast pork loin. My first instinct was to scrape off the lard. This was met with cries of consternation and I was forced to slather the lard back on to the pork.
I know- it sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, but it really is absolutely delicious! And washed down with a glass of the local sweet wine- even better!
Platos de Cuchara
Literally, Dishes of Spoon, meaning dishes that you eat with a spoon. These local traditional stews are the perfect food on a winter day. Here are just a few choices of many:
Lentejas (lentils): a soupy dish of red lentils with chorizo and black pudding.
Puchero: a very typical local stew made with chickpeas and chicken.
Berza Malagueña: similar to puchero this traditional dish also contains vegetables.
Callos: not my personal favourite but a very popular dish that contains tripe and offal.
Gazpachuelo: a typical fish soup of Andalusia. It is white in colour due to its mayonnaise base. I know, sounds strange, but it is to die for!
Porra- also known as Porra Antequerana or Salmorejo: is a thick cold soup served in summer months. Think thick gazpacho, served with chopped egg, tuna and/ or Spanish cured ham.
Where to try all this wonderful traditional cuisine
Here are a few of my favourite Ventas. I haven’t included the hours as what appears on Google is not always correct. So if you reach one and it is closed, just keep on pedalling. It won’t be long before you reach another one! You can find the location by clicking on the name of each Venta.
Halfway up the A-7000 you will come across two Ventas side by side: Venta El Mijeño and Venta El Boticario. La Venta Mijeño offers gluten-free local dishes. Check out its rustic interior with barrels of the local sweet wine lining the wall. And if you are lucky enough to get a table on the terrace, you will enjoy breathtaking views over the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
Just across the road from these two Ventas is the entrance to off-road trails in the Montes. Great for cycling and hiking!
I like to stop at this Venta for a coffee and to gather my mental and physical strength before embarking on the last very steep stretch up to La Fuente de la Reina. The views over the montes and to the sea from the rustic salon at the back of the Venta are amazing. They also sell local products both culinary and artisanal.
Christmas Day at a Venta
On Christmas Day at la Venta de Detalle, they have a Verdiales Festival. The verdiales are folk music groups from the Montes of Malaga that have their origins in Phoenician Times. Free servings of paella are given during the fiesta. But if you are there not on Christmas day, then we recommend trying the chicken paella anyhow or the delicious puchero croquettes or the fish gazpachuelo with a broken egg.
Bar Fuente de la Reina
If you are trying our LA REINA bike route, then this is your reward when you get to the top. In what used to be an old kiosk, which has been in Montes the Málaga for half a century, you can taste rabbit with garlic, venison in chestnut sauce or vegetarian dishes, among other local food. From Venta la Reina you can also easily access off-road trails in Montes de Málaga on your bike. Don’t forget to fill up your water bottles at the majestic fountain next to the Venta: la Fuente de la Reina.
Just a few metres up the montes road to the summit is Puerto de Leon, sitting at 900 metres altitude. Make sure to take a selfie with the sign and your bike to prove that you were there! Then just a couple of metres more to reach the Venta of the same name. From the dining room at the back, enjoy incredible panoramic views along with friendly service from the family that run the place and serve excellent home-cooked food.
Their specialities are migas, callos, berza, goat in almond sauce and, of course, the famous plato de los montes.
This is one of the oldest ventas in the Montes. The perfect place to try traditional cuisine! An Irish family were the original owner, hence the name Galwey. Delicious traditional dishes like wild pig in almond sauce, good coffee, amazing tiramisu and spectacular mountain views from both the side terrace and the salon, that is Venta Galwey.
This venta is just besides the exit from the road A-7000 to the MA-166. The MA- 166 road leads to the ancient Moorish village of Comares. Well worth a visit and such a great bike ride to get there too! Enjoy panoramic views over the Mediterranean Sea, Vélez-Málaga and the Axarquia region.
Just before you leave (or enter) Málaga from the road A-7000, near the viaduct that goes over the A7, you will find venta and hotel La Minilla. La Minilla has got quite a stylish and modern terrace, unlike most other ventas. The Malagueños love to dress up and go here to enjoy an elaborate lunch on Saturdays and Sundays with their loved ones.
Their menu may be defined as traditional cuisine with a touch of Asian. Think octopus with a kimchi mayonnaise, or loin with a sauce of miso. All very tasty!
Ventorillo Santa Clara
No spot left at La Manilla? Try Ventorillo Santa Clara- right next door! Here you can enjoy traditional Spanish cuisine done really well. For example, they serve delicious monk fish and lamb shoulder, but it is said that most frequent customers come for their amazing fritters and their well prepared custard. Also try a bottle of one of their fantastic wines!
Venta el Tunel
In between Málaga and Casabermeja, close to highway A45, you can find Venta el Tunel. If you do our bike route north to the botanical gardens, then this is a perfect stop. Venta el Tunel is well-known for its arroces, or rice dishes.
The owners have been running the business for more than 20 years and are the third generation of the family. Some of the ten employees at the venta have been employed there for almost 30 years. A classic place!
Hopefully you will get the chance to try some traditional cuisine at one of these local restaurants while enjoying your cycling in Malaga. If you have any others you think we should add to the list, we’d love to hear from you.
Bon appetit! Or as we say in Spanish ¡Buen provecho!