|Quiet Street - Seville|
At precisely 9:38 p.m. last Friday night, I died and went to culinary heaven. On Saturday, it happened again around 1:15 p.m. and again at 8:45 p.m. This continued, twice a day, until lunch was completed on Tuesday. I have found that I base the success of the trip primarily on my dining experiences. I need to connect to the location and the culture and I find that if I do so, there has been some WOW factor in the food. We are happy if it is just one meal and we will remember it for years to come. Two meals? We are ecstatic. However, what happens if nearly every meal is incredible? Well, then you spend your non-eating hours planning how you can live in this wonderful place. That is exactly what happened in Seville, Spain.
See, you go to Paris and remember the Eiffel Tower or a particular painting at the Louvre. I go to Paris and remember the French restaurant where they had individual toasters at the table so you could toast your bread before you heaped a large piece of foie gras on the top. You go to Prague and remember the Charles Bridge; I go to Prague and remember having my first taste of Prague ham in a small restaurant next door to the American Embassy. You go to Venice and remember strolling along the canals. I go to Venice and remember the quaint restaurant right near the Rialto Bridge that had air conditioning and where I had my first proper Italian meal. I could go on and on...and on. Sure, I think back fondly and remember the views from the western tip of France. But, I also remember the grilled lobster drenched in warm cream. Even with the sour memory of our last trip to Burgundy, I still smile when I think that it was on this trip that we discovered Epoisses cheese.
Seville may have become my favorite European city. It has such a unique vibe. In the mornings, you find lots of activity...people out exercising or shopping or heading to work. Lunch doesn't begin until 1pm and could last an hour or two. By 4pm, no one is on the streets - nor will they be until 8pm or so when everything comes back to life until well past 11pm. Perhaps, it is the heat of the summer that drives everyone to take a daily siesta. In our four days there, we definitely adopted the Andalusian way of life.
|Plaza de Espana - Built for the World Expo|
|A view of the Cathedral from the Alcazar|
The food...let's discuss TAPAS. No one really knows the origins of Tapas, or small plates. It is derived from the Spanish word, "taper", which means "to cover". There are lots of legends surrounding the origins but here is one plausible one. One of the kings was concerned with the amount of alcohol his subjects were drinking and as a result, the loss of productivity. So, he decreed that bars had to serve little plates of food with each drink and the little plate fit like a lid on the top of the drink. The plate covered the wine...hence, TAPAS.
Tapas are huge in Seville. While in its simplest form, it could be a small plate of cheese or chorizo, we also sampled more complex and the most imaginative cooking that we have seen in years. We stumbled across this quite accidentally. As we travel through Europe and wanting to learn as much as we can in a short amount of time, we have begun to hire guides to take us on private walking tours. When researching possible tours of Seville, I came across an advertisement for a Tapas Walking Tour. What could be better...food and history?
We met our guide, Shawn, outside the cathedral of Seville at 1pm on Saturday. (Let me digress...the cathedral is spectacular! It is one of the largest in Europe and currently houses the remains of Christopher Columbus...really cool.) Anyway, Shawn is Canadian and moved to Seville twenty years ago. She is wild about the Andalusian culture and its food. Throughout the afternoon, she floored us with her tidbits of information, her selections of food and her passion. She goes the extra mile...even providing us with a list of recommended restaurants and responding throughout the weekend to my impromptu text messages asking for more information. Without a doubt, taking this tour was a highlight of the trip and enabled us to continue having an experience long after the tour was over.
|Now those are some legs!|
|Jamon Iberico de Bellota with Sherry|
Let me tell you about the food and show you some pictures. Some of the places we visited were quite old and belonging to generations of the same family. At our first place, sitting next to huge old wine barrels, we sampled chorizo made from wild boar, a carpaccio of salt cod and ham. Not just any jamon but Jamon Iberico de Bellota. This melts in your mouth like butter. The ham comes from black pigs, which have been allowed to free range for several years - they feast on acorns and the result is quite unique and flavorful. As a result, we had jamon at nearly every meal and I loaded up my backpack with vacuum sealed packages of it to take home.
Another Andalusian traditional tapa is pork cheeks. These are served in a deep rich sauce with a few slices of roasted potatoes. Pringas are small sandwiches served almost like a panini with a tender meat filling inside. Other places that we visited were more modern and the cooking was more adventurers. I "oohed and aahed" after tasting a small langoustine burger that was bursting with flavor. Hands down, our favorite place was a small restaurant called La Azotea. We liked it so much that we had two meals there and I could have dined there every day. The husband is Spanish and his wife is American and they have three restaurants around Seville. If you want tapas, then you sit at the bar. The menu card is small but they always have five to six additional specials that you could have as dinner or as smaller tapas portions. The idea is that your order one tapa per person to begin with and if you are a couple, then share the two. While you are eating, look around and see what others are getting and perhaps, you will want to order something else. At each place, we tended to get four items and spent about ninety minutes. I love the fact that after sampling several items we were satiated, we were never stuffed.
|Salt Cod Fritters|
|Baby Squid served with Migas|
|Forgot to take a picture before tasting! Filo with leeks, shrimp and cheese plus jamon...always jam on!|
|Salt Cod Carpaccio and a Pringa|
|Grilled Pork Tenderloin served atop Polenta|
|Langoustine Burger with a Quail Egg|
I have mentioned a few of the tapas that we tried, but here is a better listing:
- Bacon wrapped dates served with a sweet sherry reduction
- Shrimp salad (the salad consisting of crisp cabbage)
- Salt cod fritters
- Pork Cheeks
- Filo triangles filled with shrimp, cheese and leeks
- Grilled tuna
- Salt cod with two sauces; a basil hummus and an almond cream
- Bluefin Tuna served with a caramelized fig and a tomato cream
- Burrata and Mozzarella salad served with basil gummy bears and a scoop of lemon sorbet
- Salt Cod Carpaccio
- And always, always Jamon Iberico de Bellota
This was one of our best trips and while we did spend a lot of time eating, we did see carve out several hours a day for traditional sightseeing. The city is compact enough that we could walk to everything. Each day, we concentrated on one cultural visit, lunch, general walking around and absorbing, a siesta and finally dinner and people watching. Super cool trip!
Back at home, "Adios" to peas but "Hola" to zucchini! Not quite sure what I am going to do with them all. First night, we had zucchini carpaccio. Last night, we had stuffed zucchini. Dear Husband has indicated that he has had every zucchini dish every made - to include zucchini candy! My current goal...is to find one that he hasn't had. I will keep you posted.