The art of eating in Seville

Food in the Andalucían city is not just about what you eat – it is about how, when and where you eat it too.

It is easy to spot a first-time visitor to Seville. They are an often hot, exhausted-looking person with a guidebook who flops down at an empty bar and tries to order a three-course dinner with drinks at 6 pm. Chances are, they will be in for a long wait.

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Food in Seville is not just about what you eat – it is about how, when and where you eat it too.

A day in this Andalucían city starts slowly. If you are an early riser, dive into the nearest cafe and gulp down a cup of eye-wateringly strong coffee with the early-shift workers at the bar (take outs are rare). For something more substantial, drop in with the second wave of breakfasters between 9 and 10 am. The classic Andalucían fast-breaker is a mollete, a toasted bread roll topped with olive oil, crushed tomatoes and garlic. Excellent café con leche (coffee with milk) and local chitchat can be absorbed in the Horno San Buenaventura, a beautiful cafe and cake shop opposite Seville’s gargantuan Catedral de Santa María de la Sede.

After breakfast, hit the sightseeing trail – the city has enough churches, art galleries, monuments and museums to fill several mornings – but do not even think about lunch before 2 pm. It may be the main meal for many Sevillanos, but it is also not a faux pas to tapea (go for tapas) and delay the feast until evening. Many bars and restaurants make the choice easy by offering both tapas and full meals during lunch. Local specialties to look out for include huevos a la flamenca (eggs baked with chorizo and tomato sauce); seafood, especially squid, from nearby Atlantic waters; and gazpacho, a cold tomato-based soup made with bread, garlic and olive oil

Some of Spain’s most creative tapas can be found in some of Seville’s most historic bars. Dating from 1670, El Rinconcillo, in the central district is so old it predates even the invention of tapas, which were not popularised until the 18th Century. The interior is typical old-school Seville with decorative azulejos (tiles), a sweeping wood-panelled bar, dozens of cured hams swinging like punch bags from the ceiling and shelves stacked to the breaking-point with ancient bottles of spirits. The menu clocks up numerous local classics; bank on espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chick peas), a dish with Moorish origins, and wafer-thin slices of sweet, nutty Andalucían hams. For further delights, head to the nearby Taberna Coloniales, a newer but no less traditional eating establishment, where they serve another  Seville specialty, solomillo al whiskey (pork cooked in whisky).

Either squeeze in more sightseeing after lunch, or do as many Andalucían’s do and find somewhere horizontal for a siesta between 3pm and 5pm.

Be sure to wake up for the merienda, a life-saving snack break sandwiched between lunch and dinner (usually around 5 pm) that promises to give an energy boost with heavy doses of caffeine and sugary cakes. One of Seville’s best merienda spots is inside the Aire de Sevilla, a tranquil Arab-style bathhouse in the Santa Cruz district bequeathed with a relaxing teteria (tearoom). In the moodily-lit atmospheric space embellished with low tables and Moroccan cushions, mint tea is served in ornate silver pots accompanied by an assortment of tiny Arabic sweets.

Many Sevillanos hit the shops between 6 pm and 8 pm, and plenty of museums and galleries remain open late too, such as the Museo de Bellas Artes, which can be visited until 8:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday. Visitors are often used having to their main meal in the evening, but it is far more usual to start bar-hopping around 8:30 pm, grazing on tapas and sipping glasses of locally-brewed Cruzcampo beer or dry fino sherry, made in the nearby city of Jerez de la Frontera .

By now you will have ascertained that Sevillanos rarely sit down to eat tapas. A favourite standing-up spot is the Bodega Santa Cruz, where the seen-it-all wait staff duck and dive like defensive boxers amid the boisterous crowds that spill out into the narrow street. Old stalwarts rule the menu here: jamón ibérico, cured ham from the adjacent province of Huelva; Manchego cheese from the La Mancha region immediately north of Andalucía; and gazpacho soup which is often served in a glass. For more bold flavours head over to Catalina and Vineria San Telmo, two tapas bars that stand side by side overlooking the flower-embellished Jardines del Murillo. Among the many memorable inventions are cheese, bacon and date bolsitas (pastries) in Catalina, and the rascocielo – a tower of salmon, aubergine, goat cheese and tomato – in Vineria San Telmo.

In the Alameda de Hércules, a wide plaza just north of the central district, restaurants mix seamlessly with the city´s edgiest nightlife. Expect to see diners lingering beyond 11 pm in places like Eslava, a bar and restaurant just west of the plaza, where the inventive menu is spearheaded by leg of lamb cooked with honey, raisins and pine nuts. At the Alameda’s north end, the trendy two-year-old Duo Tapas (Calle Calatrava 10; 955-23-85-72) has cafe-style seating and a youthful clientele, and its adventurous modern tapas, such as pollo al curry (chicken curry) have an international flavour .

The Alameda’s clubs rarely kick off before midnight, and close around 6 or 7 am. After a night of energetic dancing, many head home with their eyes peeled for an enterprising churro vendor selling quintessential Spanish doughnuts dipped in thick hot chocolate. Alternatively, you can join the work-bound locals – and the odd unversed tourist – at an early morning cafe and start again.

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