Eating in Andalusia: Tapas

12 Mar

Seville orange trees

As Roxie told you, I spent my spring break in Spain this past week, visiting my boyfriend, Brett, who is studying abroad in Seville. I spent most of my time in Seville, but also managed to get to Cadiz and Cordoba for short trips. And basically, I ate. A lot. Thankfully the tapas culture allowed me to do this, because we could have lunch at one, a tapas at four, a couple more at nine… etc. But at least I had the excuse of having to report back on all the varied dishes for you readers!
So this is my attempt to put down the best things I had. In some cases, there were really good restaurants where everything was just amazing. In others, there are local dishes that I’m sure would be excellent no matter where you get them.
Let’s start with the most prevalent dish around: Iberican ham (jamon Iberico). Legs of this cured meat are hanging in absolutely every restaurant in Seville, as well as almost any place you can buy food. The carving of the ham off the leg is apparently a prized art form, and is pretty engrossing to watch. The trick is to get pieces with a good ratio of fat and meat. The ham is delicious, but I have to admit that combined with the many chorizo, prosciutto, and other cured-meat dishes and sandwiches I had, I had basically filled my salty-meat quotient by day three and had to move on to other things.

 

Lots and lots of ham at a market in Triana

Another big Spanish dish is bacalao, or dried and salted cod. Both times I had this it was battered and fried, and reminded me somewhat of fish sticks… but with an amazing actual-fishy, salty, taste. The balance of flavors was perfect for me, and I couldn’t imagine getting sick of it.

Lots of bacalao at the market

...And fried to perfection

 

 

 

 

 
As for other dishes, croquetas are on almost every menu. I most frequently saw spinach ones and ones with various meat fillings… basically the filling is mixed with herbs and lots of delicious things, then shaped into oblong rolls, covered in breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil. The spinach ones at Taberna Coloniales (below) were great, but Brett said he had never had any as good as the ones his host mother makes. I was lucky enough to try these when she invited me over for dinner, and they were absolutely outstanding. She explained to Brett for about five minutes what was in them, but the gist I got was: lots of delicious things, including about three types of meat. I still haven’t figured out how they get so soft and creamy, but hopefully Brett will get the recipe from her some day.

Mama's croquetas

She also served us an amazing Spanish tortilla, basically a huge omelet filled with potatoes, but she had also made some delicious garlic-y sauce that oozed out of it. We tried another Spanish tortilla just outside the mosque at Cordoba when we were a bit peckish– we got a huge slice for one euro, but it couldn’t quite live up to Mama’s.

Spanish tortilla in the courtyard of the Cordoba mosque/cathedral

We also noticed signs all around Cordoba for snails, which I hadn’t expected in Spain. Brett is apparently a big snails fan, and so when we passed a sign with a picture of a very happy snail saying “Our snails are cute and fat,” he had to go inside. He ordered the snails in a green salsa, and they were indeed the fattest ones I have ever seen. I don’t like snails quite as much as him, so I only had a couple, because honestly the size kind of freaked me out (not like the tiny snails we had in Greece, that you see as the background to this page). I will not deny that they were delicious, though.

Super fat snail

In addition to these dishes, there were two restaurants we went to in Seville that really stood out to me: Taberna Coloniales and Madraza. We went to Coloniales my first night there, which turned out to be excellent timing… I was tired and hungry, so we got there super early for Spain (around 8:30, I believe). This meant we were seated right away, and actually had to wait ten minutes for the kitchen to open before we could order. I say this is good, because by the time we left there was a huge line waiting to eat… it is clearly a very popular spot, and you can see why, because the food was excellent. Other than the Spinach croquetas mentioned above, my favorite dish was the Pechuga de Pollo con Salsa de Almendras, or chicken breast in a creamy almond sauce. We ordered a medium (rather than tapas) portion because we were sharing with a bunch of people, and it was huge and delicious. The Secreto Iberico was basically a steak of cured, salty, pork, and was also very tasty, but I kept going back to mop up that almond sauce with the french fries that come with everything in Spain.
The other stand-out restaurant we went to was on my last night. Madraza has many of the standard Spanish dishes, but also featured some Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, which was a nice change. My favorite was definitely the pollo al jerez, or chicken in a sherry sauce with pine nuts and super-juicy raisins. Again, the sauce was completely addictive. The chicken with coconut curry, while unexpected, was also seriously good. Madraza also demonstrated one of the tricky things about tapas– most of the tapas were around 4 euro, which may seem a little steep when the typical price of a tapas is in the 2-euro range. However, tapas portion sizes can vary hugely– here, they were enormous, and we each ordered one and shared them. This meant I had an extremely filling meal and tasted many different dishes for exactly 4 euro. I don’t know if I’ll be able to face the over-priced tapas places in Washington again.
So basically, all of the food was incredible, and I may attempt to re-create some of the best dishes in the next few months. But for now, look out for a post on desserts and drinks in Spain, coming soon!

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One Response to “Eating in Andalusia: Tapas”

  1. Andrew Petcher March 22, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    A nice article. I really like the tapas culture and I found it especially good in the north in the Basque Country and Cantabria where they are called pinchos.

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