Plaza de las Vacas is a scrubby square next to the castle, about a ten minute walk north east from the Hotel Salymar. Map here.
I’ve walked past the castle several times without realising. It’s been made so featureless that it’s virtually unnoticeable.
There are a few tapas bars around the square and a very famous music venue nearby…
Venta de Vargas (Intermediate B), Plaza Juan Vargas (no number), www.ventadevargas.es
Since opening in 1921, Venta de Vargas has become a legendary place in the history of Flamenco. Local boy and the most famous Flamenco singer of all time, Camarón, first sang here in 1959 when he was only 8 years old. His 2006 album is named after the venue and this video was shot there.
There were no flamenco shows when I was in town unfortunately but I still came to sample their traditional Andalusian cuisine.
I had the Croquetas de la Tia Maria which are actually made from leftover Puchero, a local stew (B).
Also a plate of Gambas Blancas Cocidas (€19 for 250g, about a dozen prawns) which were fine but I’ve had better (B). With a couple of glasses of mediocre Rioja Crianza, the bill came to €30.
So, average food, but still a good place to come if you can get tickets for the show. Check the website for info.
This next little bar is one of my favourite places in town…
Peña La Bandurria aka Guichi de Guerra (Elementary A) Plaza de Las Vacas, no number (north side of the square, midblock)
This tiny place is what’s known as a ‘gúichi’. a wine tavern where you can drink vermouth on tap and nibble on charcuterie and cheese. Why its nickname is ‘Güichi of War’ I don’t know as it seems a very friendly place.
It’s oozing with atmosphere with hams hanging from the ceiling, pungent cheeses sitting on the back bar and ancient paraphernalia hanging off the walls. On both my visits there were several people wedged in chatting with the owner, an old chap whose father opened the bar many moons ago.
To go with my glass of wine, I tried the powerful ‘Emborrao’ goats cheese (B+), one of twelve cheeses on sale, with Picos (small breadsticks).
This amusing poster on the wall tickled me (sorry about the blurry pic). It lists health problems and their remedies, all of which are different types of alcohol!
A good place to practice your Spanish should you be feeling sociable. Good luck understanding the accent!
Bar Leon (Elementary C+) Plaza de las Vacas, no number (east side of the square)
One evening I decided to try another local speciality, the Tortillita de Camarones, where tiny prawns are mixed into a chickpea batter (with wheat flour, chives, parsley, salt and water) and deep-fried. The chickpea element is a Genoese influence according to my research.
They were okay (B) but not ‘the best ever’ as one reviewer claimed. I wasn’t feeling the atmosphere so I barhopped to the next place below as soon as I finished eating.
El 15 (Elementary B), Plaza de Las Vacas, no number, (north east corner of the square)
Next stop was this marisqueria two doors down from the above. I came here at the suggestion of the waitress in El Real to try yet another local delicacy, Cañaillas, or sea snails. They are so popular here that Los Cañaillas is also a nickname for the local people! They were fine but nothing mind blowing (B).
There are a couple more bars in the square that I didn’t get to try.
This next place is a stonesthrow from the Hotel Salymar but I include it here as it’s on the way back from Plaza de las Vacas should you still be peckish.
Freidor El Deán (Elementary B), 57 Calle Real
This fish frying establishment is 200 years old so I thought it’d be a good place to try another local speciality ‘Bienmesabe’, or Cazon en Adobo, which is dogfish (a small shark) that has been marinated in vinegar, battered and deep fried. Sadly I wasn’t keen (C) as I found the vinegar overbearing and the flavor of the fish not to my liking, so it’s probably an acquired taste.
The shop sells other fried foods though so it’s still a good place to get fed quickly as it’s handy for the hotel.
So as you can see, there’s lots of culture in San Fernando if you’re prepared to dig it out. Please see my other posts for more places to eat and stuff to see.