|Bar Las Teresas|
|First tapa--ibérico ham.|
By day, I’m taking in tastes and insights at Andalucía Sabor, a food fair and gastronomy conference featuring Andalusia’s best chefs. Theme this year: La Tapa. Tradición e Innovación en la Cocina Andaluza (The Tapa—Tradition and Innovation in Andalusian Cuisine).
Outside the congreso, I’m pursuing my tapas research in the bars and tabernas of Sevilla. I’ve got a personal trainer, my guide to tapas in Sevilla. She is Shawn Hennessey, a Canadian who has been living in Sevilla for more than 20 years. Back when she was still teaching English, Shawn happily took friends and friends of friends around to her favorite tapa bars. After a serious illness, she made some changes in her life, gave up teaching and turned “pro”—she now is a “tapas tour guide”, known everywhere in Sevilla. (Get in touch with Shawn at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out her running reviews of tapa bars at http://seville-tapas.com )
Bar Las Teresas is tucked in a side street (C/Santa Teresa 2), right in the Barrio Santa Cruz, Sevilla’s tourist heartland. Shawn used to live in this barrio, very near the big cathedral plaza, where she could see the Giralda from her balcony. “I still feel at home in this bar,” says Shawn.
Back on the street, we make a stop at one of my old favorites, Bar Modesto, (C/Cano y Cueto, 5) (I love their chocos con habas, cuttlefish with fava beans in inky sauce), then continue to nearby Vinería San Telmo (Paseo Catalina de Ribera, 4), a modern wine bar run by an Argentine, Juan Manuel Tarquini.
|With Shawn at Vinería San Telmo.|
Mid-September and it’s still hot in Sevilla, so sipping chilled white wine is a pleasure. The Vinería offers an astonishing selection of wines by the glass, including Shawn’s choice, Botani, a fresh and floral white made in Málaga (http://www.jorgeordonez.es/nuestros-vinos/botani/ ).
It’s a Sunday evening, and the streets are pretty quiet in Sevilla. Nevertheless, folks are out for a stroll, a copa and a tapa.
The following evening, an ordinary Monday, the bars and cafés are really buzzing. Shawn takes me first to an abacería, a small grocer’s shop specializing in cheeses, cured meats and canned foods.
|Bar at abacería Casa Moreno.|
We share montaditos, small grilled sandwiches, of Cabrales blue cheese and of pringá, a meat and sausage mash. “The best pringá is at Bodeguita,” Shawn claims. “You have to try it there.”
I ask Shawn how she organizes her tapas tours. “Depends on the people and how long they are staying,” she replies. She recommends at least a three-night stay in Sevilla, with the tapas tour on the first night.
“I take visitors to places where they probably wouldn’t walk in on their own. They get a feel for the tapas experience, see how to order and feel more confident on their own. Even if they don’t like something, they’re like, ‘oh, that only cost €3.’ They get to know Spanish food.”
|Salpicón with shellfish and avocado, Enrique Becerra.|
By this point, I am starting to crave salad, so we order a tapa of salpicón, chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers with shellfish. This is a luxury version, with slices of avocado. Both tapas at Becerra cost under €3.50. In most tapa bars, the price of tapas is less if you stand or sit at the bar than if you sit at a table.(For some recipes from Enrique Becerra, see this blog post from 2011.)
|Grilled tuna belly at La Azotea|
At our next stop, seated at the bar at La Azotea (C/Zaragoza 5) we share a single tapa, a plate of soy-marinated ventresca, tuna belly. It costs only €4 and is a generous serving, absolutely delicious. A basket of bread comes free at the bar, but costs additional if you sit at a table.
This is one of Shawn’s rants—the odious bread fee that some bars tack on. Her take is that bread is essential with tapas and should always be served. Bars should factor in the cost and up the price of the tapa, rather than charge additional for bread.
On her tours, Shawn usually takes clients to three different bars to mix it up a bit. She starts them at a traditional type of bar to sample Spanish ham and cheeses with Sherry, then continues to a friendly, family-run bar for some classic tapas, and finishes at a modern bar that’s young and buzzy. “I don’t go to chains,” she says. “Just bars that belong to somebody. Usually I know the owners.” And, although she is always on the lookout for the new and good, she avoids taking visitors to bars that “opened day before yesterday.”
Shawn charges an all-inclusive price per person for the tour—three bars, two drinks and two tapas in each (consult Shawn for prices), but can customize tours to suit clients. Specialty tours include market tour, flamenco and tapas, Sherry tasting.
|Bar El Rinconcillo|
|Fried hake at El Rinconcillo.|
The espinacas con garbanzos, spinach and chickpeas, are classic—plenty of garlic and cumin. The batter-fried hake is crisp on the outside, flaky and moist within. A small heap of cole slaw is the perfect garnish. Slaw, Sevilla style, is made with lightly cooked cabbage dressed with olive oil and vinegar, no mayo. It's still crunchy, but not raw. Elsewhere, I've had it garnished with pomegranate seeds.
Can you make a meal on just tapas? Absolutely. In Sevilla, the portions are generous and they come with bread and/or bread sticks. Not quite enough to fill you up? Have another tapa. Priced from €3 to €5, tapas add up to a bargain meal. This is different from where I live, on the Costa del Sol (Málaga), where a tapa might cost less, but is really just a bite. You would have to order a media ración, half-plate, or ración, full plate, to get the same portion size.
I have some leisure time to do some shopping (Zara Home, El Corte Inglés, are near where I’m staying) and enjoy a coffee in a café in the plaza before time to join Shawn for our last round of tapas.
We head straight for what is, possibly, her favorite tapas bar. She doesn't actually claim a favorite. But, at Bodeguita Romero (C/Harinas 10) she feels at home. She knows everybody by name and they know her. And, the tapas are, arguably, the best in Sevilla.
|Potatoes at Bodeguita Romero.|
|The best pringá at Bodeguita Romero.|
|Pavía of salt cod|
|Two señoras at Bodeguita Romero.|
Wending our way back to our home barrio, we stop at another trendy new tapas bar, La Brunilda (C/Galera 5; Arenal). Shawn has got to have her fix—a super-umami burger. She calls it “crack burger” because it’s so addictive. Juicy beef, a soy mayo, bun—hey, is this Sevilla? Are we still talking about tapas? Yes, indeed. tapas are open-ended, always expanding. I think I’m ready for the graduate seminar.