The Spanish English Muffin
Mollete Catalana in Málaga
There may be nothing quite as strangely comforting as the sounds of a Spanish café during its morning rush; the musical clink and clang of cups being purposely placed on saucers, the screech of the espresso machine, the low roar of back and forth regarding last night’s fútbol game, endless complaints about the weather. It is a truly glorious place to be in the morning. There is a stinging sense that this precise scene has taken place for thousands of days before you arrived, and will continue to take place for thousands more to come.
Nestled on the southern coast of Spain, Málaga is home to myriad cafés with morning scenes such as this one. And there may be no breakfast order more ‘malagueño’ than mollete catalana y mitad doble. Traditionally produced in Antequera, a picturesque town of whitewashed buildings in the mountains to the north of Málaga, a mollete is a round, white-bread product that is baked in a wood-fired oven. Sharing similarities with our version of the English muffin (but, oh, so much better), the mollete is a source of provincial pride amongst Antequeranos, as evidenced by the stash of historical mollete clippings that lives in the town’s ayuntamiento (town hall).
The variety of cuisine found within the country of Spain belies its size. The depth, freshness, and singularity of the country’s food products seem to have no end. And the mollete catalana is a quintessential example of how Spain’s exceptional products can come together to become something greater than its parts. A fresh mollete (baked that morning and delivered before daybreak) is halved, toasted, and filled with a puzzle-piece layer of recently sliced jamón Serrano and a generous smear of tomaca, Spain’s unexpectedly tasty pureed tomato that is commonly found in Catalan cuisine. How is a seemingly simple sandwich so absurdly delicious? The light crunch of the fresh, toasted mollete and the salty unctuousness of the jamón are perfectly complemented by the subtle sweetness of the tomato. Silence befalls those who partake.
And what would this delightful sandwich be without a hot (and ideally caffeinated) beverage at its side? If you have ever entered a café in Málaga, you have undoubtedly heard the phrase mitad doble. Strong espresso is mixed with an equal part of scalding, fresh milk (screeeeeech!!) and served up in a tall, narrow glass. The steaming coffee sits pleasantly next to the mollete catalana like an expectant friend. The ridiculous heat of the mitad encourages a good three or four bites of sandwich while waiting for the beverage to cool. Huddled, quiet sips follow mollete elimination as the mitad finally reaches imbibing-appropriate temperature. Crumpled napkins surround you like so many white flags; another victorious battle.
If it is true that you can glean much about a country’s culture from its cuisine, then it is true that Spaniards value their morning routine. They value the time to gather, the time to participate in something unchanged, something timeless. In a chaotic and often uncertain world, these culinary customs provide a great deal of certainty. If comfort food exists in Málaga, it exists in the form of a mollete catalana y mitad doble.