For an outsider flipping guidebooks (swiping in our case) and capturing countless images, the Andalucían city of Seville is a perfect destination. It offers the visitor traditional grammar of conflicts, chronicles of rise and fall, and images of an eventful past. A city which balances romanticism with rationalization, it has the frantic pace of a Flamenco performance, and the soothing influence of a symphony orchestra. But above all it has some of Spain’s most innovative tapas, served with a distinctive Sevillan flair.
Seville offers its visitors a delightful array of Iberian ham and sausages, seafood, and vegetables, with preparations aligned to most aspects of Mediterranean cuisine. Some bars experiment with fusion , while others stick to the basics of home-cooking. And with almost 3000 tapas bars, finding the right place to eat at Seville might end up being an experiment in chaos. Although one can be safely assured, that the outcome will not be disappointing.
Over the duration of our stay, our experiments were guided by conversations, guidebooks, blogs, the Queen of Tapas herself (more on her later), and my own distinct sense of intuition.
Chance encounter with Bodega Santa Cruz
While walking down the narrow lanes circling the cathedral, we came across Bodega Santa Cruz. A small crowded place with little space for seating was hardly welcoming, but we entered looking for a quick drink. The bar looked in need for some repair, and definitely a thorough cleanup. I ordered 3 cañas (small servings of beer, mostly Estrella Damm or Mahou) along with a plate of Jamón and Patatas Alioli. I had my struggles with Jamón throughout the trip and this place was no different. But the Patatas Alioli was perfect and a welcome break from its fried cousin Patatas Bravas. A simple recipe of boiled potatoes, garlic mayonnaise, and few simple herbs did its trick. A simple place with simple food, and complex conversations, Bodega Santa Cruz is something one shouldn’t miss at Seville.
Lonely Planet suckers visit Vineria San Telmo
Vineria San Telmo shows up as one of the top places on Lonely Planet. Given we were so engrossed in swiping pages, we finally thought of giving Lonely Planet’s food recommendations a chance.
The first dish was their famous skyscraper tapas- Tomatoes, Aubergine, Goat Cheese, and Smoked Salmon. The seasoning was minimal and the Goat cheese slightly tangy. The salmon was fresh, tomatoes juicy and the aubergines mildly cooked. I loved this preparation. In fact I realized during my trip that Aubergines featured heavily in cooking across Spain. They would have possibly arrived here in the age of the Moors, as it was introduced by Arabs to most of the world.
Another dish which we ordered at Vineria was this tapas of fried mushrooms with caramelized onions. This reminded me of the Mushrooms Amrita prepares with caramelized onions, although in a different format. These were mildly spiced and the mushrooms were crunchier. A lovely dish.
We also had creamy bulgur wheat with wild mushrooms & truffle oil and a cheese cake to top it all. At the end of the meal, I felt that buying the Lonely Planet and believing in its recommendation was totally worth it.
Lunch with The Queen of Tapas
I first came to know about Shawn (@sevillatapas) on Kalyan’s blog . I checked her blog and loved the amazing details she had shared on the Tapas bars of Seville. So I contacted her on Twitter and we decided to meetup for Lunch at La Azotea.
Shawn is from Canada but has made Seville her home. She conducts food walks for tourists and is also an English teacher. After hardly 10 minutes of meeting her, I could recognize her unconditional love for tapas and the city of Seville, all this along with a warm and friendly smile.
La Azotea was our first closed door meal after sometime, as we had mostly enjoyed our meals sitting outside (with sprinklers providing relief in the really hot summer). Although on a hot afternoon, sitting in A/C was much relaxing. Given I was travelling with two vegetarians, it was finally good to have Shawn for company. And the first dish we ordered was Tuna.
Two large fillets of Tuna (we ordered Ración- double the tapas serving) were neatly cooked with soy sauce and plated with a refreshing salad.
Both my friends ordered couple of huge servings of vegetarian dishes which I didn’t bother tasting, but they looked really good.
And then came the desserts, out of which the Ginger and Orange Custard with mint ice cream was one of the best ones we had during our trip.
La Azotea was a good experience but talking to Shawn was even better. She gave us an insight into the eating habits of locals and tourists, her preferences of the best tapas bars, and finally a set of recommendations on where to go next.
And the best place of them all
Our visit to Catalina was accidental. We had planned to visit the Vineria San Telmo and when we reached there in afternoon, it was closed. But Catalina next door was open. We sat and as usual first ordered our three glasses of beer.
At the bar was a young lady, with noticeable spectacles, tightly pulled back hair, and a firm demeanour. She walked us through the menu and we ordered quite a few gems.
Our first meal here comprised of the Aubergine, Cheese, Paprika special; Rice with Wild Mushrooms and Truffle Oil, and Crema Catalina. The first one was something which we got used to during our stay at Seville, but this aubergine was better cooked and suited my taste. Rice with wild mushrooms had a risotto like texture and was my favourite rice dish on the trip (beating the most famous rice dish in Spain- Paella by quite some distance). Crema Catalina tasted brilliant in its simplicity and later influenced me to pick up a liquor with the same flavours.
Our second meal at Catalina consisted of quite a few of Mojitos. Of what I remember later was the taste of nice Chorizo sausage. And yes we tried their version on the tower dish (aubergine, goat cheese, veggie combo), again different from two earlier preparations, with a strong sweet sour taste.
By the way I also tried Gazpacho at Seville for the first time. I had never tried it earlier so I ordered some fried squids as backup. After the first few sips I started paying more attention to the squids. This cold soup didn’t cut any ice with me.
Of all the places I visited in Spain, Seville was the place I loved the most, and I will always recall Seville as a place where we had our first good meals in Spain.