Seville, a city which welcomes you with a horse carriage appearing around the corner as you get off your cab to walk down the picturesque lane to your hotel. A city that pulls at your heart strings right from the beginning.
A city of balance with Moorish architecture and awe inspiring cathedrals that make you reflect on the crazy geopolitics of the previous centuries. A city where today you have traditional tapas bars like Las Teresas and new age ones like La Azotea and San Telmo and Pandura coexisting. A city where Starbucks nestles opposite La Campana, estd 1885, where you get some great hot chocolate.
A city where we had some mind blowing food with Shawn, AKA @sevillatapas on twitter, the Queen of Tapas, guiding us.
Building on this Grimm's Bother’s fairy tale motif was our hotel, Hotel Amadeus.
A heritage house converted into a hotel by a musician’s family. The folks were very sweet and their warmth was captured in the orange wine and tea left in pretty cut glass bottles in the parlour to welcome you. The rooms small, stark white walls, comfy beds, looking on to the patio…the bathroom on the other hand biggish, modern, with a Jacuzzi shower unit.
At our request they moved us to a slightly bigger room and as we moved in to this I did a double take as I saw a writing desk in the passage that looked just like mine at home. Imagine travelling across half the world to come across a comforting piece of one’s home. One of the lasting memories there was that of the young boy practising on the piano one morning…a very gifted musician, Amongst the many thoughtful features in the hotel, apart the lovely breakfasts of coffee, juice, orange and soft croissants and muffins, was the concept of a bag of laundry and ironing which could be done for 15 e.
The way they put it was ‘why go home from a holiday with work to do’. A great idea specially in countries which don’t have domestic help and worked for us too as we were mid way through a long vacation.
The Queen of Tapas
The hotel was a recommendation by Shawn Hennessey as was where K and I headed out for lunch after we settled down in our room.
Las Teresas…as Shawn DM’d me on twitter. ( Every hotel that we stayed in in Spain had free wifi as did many of the cafes and restaurants. When will India learn that hospitality is about being hospitable?)
Las Teresas is a small pub run in a corner slightly off the main road leading to the cathedral in Seville. A road dotted with restaurants which Shawn later said was for tourists.
As you step into Las Teresas, all your memories of the last big city you had been to, in this case Madrid, are wiped away. This is a tavern from travel shows on TV based in the European countryside. Run by three partners…rolled up shirt sleeves, grey hair, very little English between them looking after you but then for that you had very precise instructions from Shawn on what to order.
One looked up and saw millions of legs of Iberico Jamon hanging from the ceilings, little cups under each to catch the fat drizzling down. I took in the sepia surroundings, broke in to a wide grin, expecting Bourdain to step in any moment chatting with the locals…this was such a No Reservations sort of place.
With our experiences of Amadeus and Las Teresas we figured out that one could trust Shawn, whom we had not met yet, and her recommendations blindly.
“Have the jamón at Las Teresas (of course) and caña de lomo (pork loin) - also morillo de atún.” great recos. Simplicity and purity of tastes. Just what I like. The process of my subsequent addiction to jamon had begun.
Before I left Mumbai, Nathan had told about the taste of acorn in the ham made from acorn fed pigs. Robin and Simon Majumdar had told me that the jamon is what one should go for in their most favourite country in the world. I’ve never been able to discern the ‘oak notes’ or ‘fruity notes’ of wine but the woody acorn tastes in these fatty, salty, intense slivers of cured ham were unmissable and very addictive.
After our starters we went to the counter and pointed at what looked like a chopped seafood salad…squids, prawns, loads of olive, green and fresh, onions, tomatoes, sea salt…an uplifting surge of sea breeze as we soon discovered. Such freshness on your plate was so rare in the world we lived in.
We declined the bread basket which the old gentleman got us but he said ‘no, no’ and left it on our table. Turned out this was not one of the places which charged for bread.
As I write and look back on the afternoon and think back on the wizened and warm face of the gentleman at Las Teresas and of all the photos we took I feel so peeved with the scoundrel in Mumbai he took our camera from the cab when we left it behind. I have come to terms with the loss of the camera. Io remember every single photo that we took. No one can take that way. But I do miss her.
Anyway, still hungry, the mountain air nudging us, we look at the menu and ordered a hot tapas. Thankfully we knew gambas meant prawns and what we got were these amazing pinchos de gambas skewers grilled in olive oil and parsley and what was one of the most intensely flavourful bites of food I have come across in my life.
Walk back to the hotel, nap and we finally met Shawn Hennessey, The Queen of Tapas.
Rosy cheeks, huuuge smile, a former Canadian who has made Seville her home, introduced to us by Simon and Robin Majumdar, guiding me on my trip all this while…finally we met. Big bear hugs and pecks….”one on each check” as the Queen of Tapas told us and we were ready to explore Seville.
Shawn does food walks amongst other things and kindly offered to take us around the city to her favourite eating places. Through the evening, as we walked across the streets and saw locals greet her, as we stepped into restaurants and saw the owners welcome her while she told us about their history, as she strode purposefully up to the counters and placed her orders for us without blinking even once, as she told us about how she had fallen in love with Seville and made it her home, as she told us about how she loved cooking but cooked from instinct…that doppelganger feeling kept coming back to me…in a good way.
The best thing about Shawn's recos were that they didn’t fall into a pattern. Unless you would call 'great quality that. She would point you to a range of restaurants. Both traditional as well as those who were doing modern stuff. It’s not that she was fixed to either. The only ‘pattern’ that I saw was, that like me she too preferred owner run places where the owner’s involvement is high.
So we went to Casa Morales. A classic tavern. Huge earthen cylinder on the side. They used to store wine in these till recently. More jamon and loin. and some pork shavings which tasted so Indian, Monaco biscuit like, till Shawn pointed out that this was the effect of cumin seeds
Then Bodeguito Romero where we discovered, fell in love with and came back the next day again for, the pringa. Stewed pork, mixed pork fat and choriz, served in a bun.
“Pork, pork and more pork” as Shawn put it.
Then there was pringao too which was similar but with choriz. There was also batata (or boiled potato with young garlic and intense olive oil) and a pig cheek curry whose curry would have been so ironically at home in some of of the Muslim quarters in Mumbai. The owner’s son explained that the use of pepper could explain this. And, as we saw later, the Muslims did rule Seville once so the flavours could have travelled.
The advantage of heading out with Shawn was that she knew exactly what order and in what amount so we could get a good idea of the range of tapas here and with a fantastic insight into the city. We walked as long lost friends though we had just met. This was not a paid Tapas Tour but I guess that the paid tours would work beautifully for true food lovers.
Traditional and family run done, Shawn took us to a hip cafe run by a young chef, his wife and sister who were all running between the kitchen and form table…high ceilings…bright colours…white restobar lights…this place could have been at home at Madrid or Barcelona as it was in Seville. This was La Brunilda.
The cod croquettes with aoili, the addictive mini beef burgers which Shawn called ‘crack burgers” and the sardines on guacamole on toast were all the ‘tease the tastebud’ stuff…they flirted with your palate…and woke up your senses even after an evening of great eats.
Shawn who advised us about Spain through our planning of the trip, took us under her wing in Seville. We were in her city.
So lunch was decided by her and we followed her instructions and went to La Azotea. Sat by the bar and ordered like a local, coached by the Tapas Queen.
The tuna belly with soy & olive tapanade was a silken canvas of fatty pleasure. Then inspired by the guy sitting beside us we ordered what he ordered…an intensely smoked octopus served in potato puree and a very regal olive and then grilled duck liver with apple jam which aroused our taste buds in a very non- Victorian way…the dishes here, the Lady Chatterleys of the food world.
Another great reco of Shawn’s was Vineria San Telmo where we went to after a Plaza Espanol visit. We liked San Telmo so much that we went back again. Scallops squid ink & fresh pesto, house foie gras with caramelised peanuts & vanilla oil, jamon with quail eggs and when we went back grilled foie gras and jamon with potatoes and broken eggs…blood sausages with a piquant capsicum reduction…meals we kept pinching ourselves through…could this be for real…how could such unbridled pleasure be even legal?
We did have one last meal with Shawn. This was at Panduro. Run by a gentleman who would be very upset if you called his place a gastro-bar…for he was into the worship of food and not the chasing of fad.
The rabbit confit at Paduro, served on a chicken liver stew was fall off the bone stuff. My first taste of the meat and a very memorable one.
And as if that wasn’t enough, there was quail ratatouille. I have had quail before this but never cooked so juicy tender and succulent.
If we left Panduro it was only because K wanted one more bite of Pringa at Romero and unlike her Zara obsession, this I fully approved of.
Talking of passion and obsession Shawn booked tickets for us at the Flamenco Museum. The three of us went in the evening and saw that front row seats were reserved for us.
What followed were about an intense hour and a half of performances where the energy, power and passion of the performers throbbed through the room & left us with a rare front row experience that held us spellbound. The moves and music very Indian as Robin tweeted to me earlier. He also said that some felt that ‘Heal’ was an approximation of Allah.
The solid dance moves, the powerful strumming of the guitar, the sonorous music all took me back to the Bollywood of the 70s and the intensity and electricity of the bell bottomed and sequined dance moves of the Amitabh Bachchans and Zeenat Amans and the Parveen Babis from a time when men didn’t wax their chests and size zero was unheard of.
As Robin Majumdar, AKA The Great Salami in Simon’s book ‘Eat My Globe’, tweeted to me when I was in Spain, ‘Sightseeing is something to finish quickly before it is time to eat’.
But if you are into that sort of stuff then Seville has a lot to offer. The breathtaking Cathedral with its high tower and the (claimed) tomb of Christopher Columbus. The Alcazar or the old Muslim Fort which was later taken over by the Catholics who drove out the Moors…buildings which make you wonder about how crazy and different the geo-politics of the medieval ages were compared to now. In fact in Toledo, near Madrid, we saw a mosque built by Jews for Muslims which was later taken over by radical Christians…”things don’t change…people are good…politics ruin everything” said our elderly guide. A lady very different from the young guide of Pancho Tours in Seville who took us on a tip based tour past the orange trees of Seville into its erstwhile Jewish quarters and then to the river bank by the huge bull fight ring by it. And yes the Plaza Espanol is worth a walk too. The oranges, incidentally, are inedible and are used to make marmalades.
A taste of India
Our Seville tales won’t be complete without mention of Bhakti and her daughter Aneesha whom we met on our last night in Seville after Arpana from Gostana connected us.
Bhakti, a Mumbaikar, who settled down in Seville after she got went there after marriage, took us around to the controversial setas or mushrooms…a modern installation that stood out in this sleepy historical town. We had hot chocolate at Campana. The four us then walked in the cold night and K’s plight in the chill made Bhakti come to the station next morning to see us off with thermals for Kr and a cake for me. Both of which held us in great stead.
The pictures in this post are of the food shots I took on the iPhone to upload on facebook. All the pictures of the wonderful folks we met at Seville are lost for ever with the camera.
Yet, each face, each smile, each hug, each hand shake…and most of all…each unforgettable plate…all are there stamped in our memories.
Indelible. Unforgettable. Treasured.
And we do have to go back some day. If nothing else, to eat at Enslava which we couldn’t fit in this time