Farida Zeynalova discovers culinary gems on a tapas tour of the Andalusian capital
After my first sip of Manzanilla sherry, I realise that tapas is more than just a hunger-fix for Sevillians. I’m perched on a stool at Bodega Santa Cruz, a zappy tapas bar and stomping ground for locals in the Jewish Quarter. Amid the jollity, I notice that no one is guzzling their food nor gulping down wine like I’m used to seeing in London. Tapas time is sedate and emphatically Spanish.
My guide arrives at our table, armed with pickles, jamón ibérico (cured Iberico ham), and a montadito de pringa — a classic local sandwich stuffed with pork, chicken, ham, chorizo and bacon — and begins telling me of the many interpretations of the origins of tapas.
The word ‘tapa’ literally means lid or cover, and, according to one school of thought, small pieces of bread were used to cover glasses to keep flies away. There’s also the tale of King Alfonso X, who reportedly recovered from an illness by drinking red wine with small pieces of food, and ordered that nowhere in Spain was to serve wine without something to eat. I’m glad of the accompanying bites as I quaff my bone-dry sherry — just how the Spaniards like it — before we stroll on.
Outside La Pasaje, locals dawdle under the city’s famous orange trees whose fragrant blossom scents the yellow-painted streets. I clock a gargantuan glass of Rioja wine coming my way. The noble Tempranillo grape has been used for more than 2,000 years to make the spicy, full-bodied wine aged in oak barrels. Its richness partners beautifully with my salmorejo, a tomato-rich puree from nearby Cordoba, blended with oil, garlic and crumbled bread, and best served chilled; it’s an Andalusian delight.
Our next stop is nestled at the end of a narrow alley in Barrio Santa Cruz, the less hectic Mesón Don Raimundo, a restaurant and former convent once known as Convento La Gloria. I marvel at the beamed ceiling and stone walls dressed in traditional ceramic tiles, while waiting for my glass of Crianza, a red wine which has been aged for at least two years from Ribera del Duero in Castilla and Lyon in the north of Spain. I’m full, but fulfil the wise King Alfonso X’s wishes and sample the carrillada, a hearty Spanish classic of tender pork cheeks, marinated in a port and tomato sauce.
The Spanish love of siesta means they don’t finish work until around 8pm and dinner is served famously late. When we leave the former convent at around 10:30pm, locals are sauntering by and sprawled around the tapas bars. I’m witnessing Spain’s leisurely approach to life at its finest.
The night winds down at Hotel Palazio Alcazár’s rooftop bar, overlooking the city’s iconic La Giralda tower as it bongs away in the background. My guide recommends the goat’s cheese and cranberry preserve with a glass of sweet sherry wine, and I order just that.
Whether you agree that tapas is at the heart of Spanish culture or insist it’s just a few-nibbles-on-a-plate, an evening of Sevillian culinary treats certainly won over my heart — or at least my happy taste buds.