The star product among gastronomic purchases in Elche is, undoubtedly, dates freshly picked from the palm grove. The harvest season runs from October to January and, during this time, it is possible to buy fresh dates in certain shops that are connected, in the most part, to the families of the palm farmers themselves, who lovingly tend to the cultivation and care of the date palms.
Sale of dates
On Calle Porta de la Morera, there are two traditional shops: El Cor d´Elx, at number 25, which, in addition to fresh dates, also sells miniatures and decorative objects made from hand-woven white palm leaves; and the stall located in the Huerto del Cura garden, at number 49 on this same central thoroughfare, which sells fresh dates in season, as well as other typical Elche products such as pan de higo (a cake made with dried figs pressed with almonds), pan de dátil (a cake made with pitted dates and almonds) and woven white palm leaves.
Also found in the heart of the city, at number 2, Plaza Rei Jaume I, is the “Francisco Serrano Valero” workshop (open from October until the Saturday before Palm Sunday), where, in addition to fresh dates, pomegranates, almonds, pan de higo, pan de dátil and other traditional products, you can buy woven white palm crafts that are hand-made on the premises.
Dates are also available at stalls on the ground floor of the Mercado Central (Central Market) and at farmers’ street markets, among other places.
Other products derived from this same excellent raw ingredient are date liqueur and one of the most famous tapas dishes in the city: delicias de Elche (fried dates, stuffed with almond and wrapped in bacon).
White palm leaves
Every year, some 150,000 white palms come from Elche Palm Grove for the Palm Sunday procession, which reaches an extraordinary magnitude in the city of Elche. In the days leading up to the procession, white-palm street markets are set up in Plaça de Baix (City Hall), Plaza de Barcelona, Plaza de Madrid, the Mercado del Pla and on Calle Doctor Gregorio Marañón (in the Altabix district).
Since the 1990s, every year, thousands of palms are also transported to the US for Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the most important Jewish celebrations. This ritual demands some very specific conditions and, therefore, a US rabbi comes to Elche to check the palms to be transported.
The pomegranate is a delicious fruit with countless properties that was introduced to Spain by the Moors. The Elche variety is known as the Mollar and is one of the world’s most valued varieties. Very popular products include pomegranate juice, on sale in many shops (the companies Granavida, http://www.granavida.com/, and Vital Grana, www.vitalgrana.com, sell pomegranate juice on-line, along with other products), and pomegranate ice-cream, which is made at the Hotel Huerto del Cura, Hotel Milenio and Dátil de Oro restaurant, among other places.
In addition to dates and pomegranates, an infinity of traditional Mediterranean crops are carefully cultivated in the Elche countryside, such as oranges, almonds, olives, loquats, figs and lemons.
Mercado Central (Central Market)
The natural place to make these gastronomic purchases is the popular Mercado Central, offering a welcoming atmosphere, where you can buy fresh, often home-grown, products. Butchers’ stalls and delicatessens, as well a colourful selection of fruit and vegetables from the Elche countryside, and delicacies from the nearby sea in Santa Pola.
Outside, the traditional Gambín shop offers a wide range of preserves, pulses, and salted meat and fish.
Cake shops and ice-cream parlours
Dotted around the city centre are a number of traditional bakeries and cake shops, where the best of Elche confectionery and cakes is produced, in particular: sardine, vegetable or stuffed cocas (flat breads); millefeuilles; tortada de Elche (a cake made with almonds from the region, a must-have for all special occasions); and brazos de gitano (sponge cakes covered with jam, custard or cream, then rolled up and decorated with icing sugar, chocolate, meringue or cream).
Equally special are the home-made ice-creams available at parlours such as Illice (with its traditional mambos), La Nova Ibense, which has outdoor seating areas at La Glorieta, and, nearby, a more recent but high-quality parlour called Gelato Italiano, which can be found on Calle Aureliano Ibarra. There are also shops (Llaollao and Smöoy, on Calle Hospital and Calle Troneta) that mix together multiple varieties of frozen yoghurt using different creams and fruits.
Shops such as La Alacena del Flare (at Plaza de las Flores), the Tienda Gourmet (gourmet shop) in El Corte Inglés (Elche’s city shopping centre), the Almórida butcher’s shop/delicatessen (at Almórida, 15) and Oleoteca (at Alvado, 15) prepare culinary delights for all delicatessen lovers. At Oleoteca, there are also body creams and beauty products made with olive oil.
Arte Ibérico (at Poeta Miguel Hernández, 63) sells excellent quality hams, cold meats and cheeses, together with wines, oils, salted fish and preserves.
Also in Elche you can buy fish that has been brought directly from the Santa Pola fish market, including red mullet, hake, red and white prawns, monkfish, gilthead bream, octopus, squid and sardine, among others.
Farmers’ street markets
Street markets where farmers sell their crops directly are a very good option for buying fruit, vegetables and other products that have been freshly picked from the Elche countryside, as well as for buying natural honey and cheeses (Caprillice produces goats’ cheeses). As well as offering fresh products, these markets also have the added advantage of providing excellent value for money. There are certain products that are particularly well-known, one of which is the Carrizales melon, which is grown in the Parc Natural Agrari Els Carrissals (Carrizales Agricultural Natural Park) and is famous for being one of the world’s best melon varieties.
These markets take place every morning of the week in different areas of the city:
Monday: San Crispín (calle Diego Pascual Oliver).
Tuesday: Les Portes Encarnades (calle Arquitecto Verde).
Wednesday: Altabix (calle Alginet).
Thursday: Cementerio Viejo (calle Diego Fuentes Serrano).
Friday: Casablanca (calle Anacla).
Saturday: San Antón (calle Francisco Pérez Campillo and Pepico Vaello Fernández).
These markets can also be found in some of the villages or rural districts surrounding Elche (times given are approximate):
La Marina: Tuesday – 08.30-14.00.
El Altet: Thursday – 16.30-21.00.
Torrellano: Friday – 08.30-14.00.
La Hoya: Friday – 08.30-14.00.
Arenales del Sol: Tuesday and Friday (18.00-23.00, June to mid-September).
On those Sundays when there is not a football match taking place, the car park at the Martínez Valero stadium hosts a large market from 09.00 until 14.00, where there is a range of food outlets, fruit, vegetables, salted fish and meat, clothes, shoes, cosmetics and gardening products available.
School Museum of Pusol
Many of the excellent agricultural products from the Elche countryside are available in the small shop that the Asociación Alimentos de Elche (Elche Food Association) has set up in the reception of the School Museum of Pusol, which is located in the rural district of the same name. Here, you can buy the best food souvenirs in Elche: pomegranate juice and jam; date, cream, nougat and herb liqueurs; red, rosé and sweet wines; dried tomatoes and tomatoes in oil, and olive oil from the mill.
Bodegas Faelo is a family-run business that brings together the experience of four generations of vine-growers in the rural district of Matola. In 2000, they made the leap from traditional processes and domestic wine-tasting towards technological innovations and introduction in to the market, a goal they managed to achieve in 2005 with their aged red wine, La Dama. In addition, they also sell a rosé wine, L’Alba (made with grapes harvested in the early hours of daybreak), a Muscat wine, Palma Blanca, and their most recent addition, a white wine called L’Alba del Mar. Only a limited quantity of numbered bottles are produced per vintage.
There are three options for guided tours to these wineries, which are located at a hundred-year-old house in the Elche countryside and known colloquially as faenetes (typical Elche country houses):tasting session of three wines and local products; a lunch visit, with a tasting session of three wines, appetisers, grilled lamb and cold meats from the region; and a lunch visit with paella (for which it is important to provide advance notice of your visit). For an additional charge, the wineries also offer the option of having the services of a translator.
In the first two weeks of September, the small Matola winery comes alive with the hand-harvesting and traditional treading of the grapes (in which visitors can take part) in the afollaor, a wooden vessel used for treading grapes, while wearing esparto grass sandals, just as grandfather Faelo, founder of the vine-growing family, used to do. What was once a very hard task, which ends with the manual pressing of the grapes, has today been transformed into a shared celebration, with the opportunity to have a free picaeta (small tasting session) of wines and traditional cuisine.
Telephone + 34 655 856 898
Liqueurs and orujos (liquors distilled from grape pressings) from the SYS (Salas y Sirvent) distillery have become customary products around Elche dining tables since the company was founded in the city in 1945. The products offered by the SYS distillery range from Anís SYS (aniseed-flavoured) to the exquisite Cantueso Oro (cantueso is a wild thyme-like plant with digestive properties), and include the herb liqueur known as Cabaset (the custom of picking herbs from the surrounding mountains is very widespread in Elche), as well as date, cream and nougat-flavoured liqueurs.
Located among the olive trees on Partida de Alzabares Alto (number 137), the Candela oil mill continues to use the traditional extraction system, working with hydraulic presses and pressing mats. The oil acquires its flavour through a 100% natural process. The oil can be purchased at the oil mill itself (+34 965 45 39 62), at the Dialprix supermarket in the rural district of Las Bayas or at Frutas Amorós on Calle Filet de Fora (number 86).
Carrying on the olive-oil producing tradition of the Baix Vinalopó region, the El Tendre oil mill has been producing this “liquid gold of the Mediterranean” since 1839. They maintain the traditional spirit of olive oil producers, but use innovative mechanised systems. Their oils can be found in shops in the city centre, such as El Cor d´Elx (at Porta de la Morera, 25), in the Mercado Central and at the street markets. They can also be purchased at the oil mill itself, which is located on Partida de Alzabares Alto (number 233) – telephone: +34 965 45 23 39.
A real breakthrough in superior Elche crops, Huerto de Elche Gourmet sells products on-line (http://www.huertogourmet.com/), such as citrus fruits recovered from the verge of oblivion, and the recent additions of dried flowers and citrus fruit powders, intended for use in cocktail making.
Other products to be mentioned are the jams and marmalades, compotes and jellies that are hand-made with raw ingredients from their own orchard, using traditional varieties from the Elche countryside that have all but disappeared, such as the citron and bergamot. Other foreign products that have been adapted to Elche soil, such as the Australian citrus caviar fruit, the Chinese Buddha’s hand fruit or the Japanese yuzu fruit, form the basis of a more exotic product offering.
When in season, they also sell fresh dates, which are used to make a delicious date cream.