Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

On Saturday morning, we left for Seville. When one thinks of Spain, the cliche images of bulls, flamenco and tapas are actually the real symbols of this bustling city in Andalusia.

After almost three hours, we arrived near the center of town to the Las Casas del Rey de Baeza, one of the many palaces and private homes converted into hotels. It is situated on a quiet square alongside the Iglesia de Santiago (St. James Church) and a private residence close to the Casa Pilatos and Barrio Sta. Cruz, the ancient Jewish quarter.

The hotel was lovely with several flower-filled courtyards and a few separate sitting areas where guests can have a drink and read or just enjoy the quiet. There were baskets of oranges everywhere as a constant reminder of Seville’s famous fruit – the bitter oranges used in English marmalade.

We were starving after the drive and asked the friendly girls at the reception to suggest a tapas place nearby. Only a few hundred meters away is the oldest tapas place in Seville, El Rinconcillo. This traditional bar was founded in 1670 and is an excellent opportunity to try tapas in an authentic tavern patronized mostly by locals. The place was packed and the wood top bar was filled elbow-to-elbow with clients enjoying their stand-up lunch. The stone floor was littered with cigarette butts and scrunched up paper napkins. It was 3:00 p.m. – peak lunch hour for the Spaniards – and we literally had to squeeze our way into a tiny area of the bar. Service is immediate and although very noisy, there seems to be a system since they always got the orders right.

We asked for a ration of boquerones fritos (tiny fried anchovies) and a tortilla de chorizo (Spanish sausage omelet) plus tapas of green olives, jamon Bellota and the rice of the day. It’s important to know that in a tapas bar, there are different portion sizes that can be ordered – pincho (a small portion stuck on a toothpick), tapa (a small saucer portion) or ration (a plateful) otherwise you may end up ordering too much of one thing and lose out on the chance to try many different dishes at once.

The food was simple yet very good – the anchovies hot and crispy, the omelet studded with chorizo chunks, the hand-sliced ham was melt-in-your-mouth soft and the rice was a tasty combination of diced red and green peppers, mushrooms and bits of ham and sausage. People watching was a given as well as standing firm to stake a claim on each one’s tiny space at the bar. To add to the atmosphere, the bill was written in chalk onto the bar itself. Every time you added another tapa or drink, they would tally the bill right in front of you so you could keep track on how much you had spent so far.

After our fantastic lunch, we meandered our way to the center of town passing many quiet squares and going through lots of little streets while keeping our eyes focused on the town’s tall tower – La Giralda – to make sure we were going the right direction.

Seville is a well-preserved city with many monuments, churches, convents and palaces. It was also two-time location for the World Expos of 1929 and 1992 and thus has the other advantage of having many structures constructed specifically for these two events.

One can explore the city on foot and never tire of fountains and gardens or tiny cobble stoned alleys suddenly leading to palaces and wonderful facades.

Eventually, we ended up at the Plaza del Triunfo. The Gothic cathedral where Spanish royalty were crowned was so large and so impressive that it left us speechless. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to see the interiors and as it was the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week), the cathedral would be closed to the public for most of the week.

The next morning, we went to the Plaza Espana, a magnificent brick and tile structure constructed for the Expo in 1929. The Sevillanos were out in full-force and dressed in their best to celebrate Palm Sunday.

We were so lucky to be here at this time of the year as it was when the city is at its finest. Spring means orange blossoms and flowering squares and the largest and most elaborate processions in all of Spain to commemorate the week leading up to Easter.

It all starts on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) when the paseos (processions) begin. Every day afterwards during Holy Week, there is a daily procession that takes an image from it’s home church on a float throughout the city streets until it reaches the cathedral where it is blessed. These processions often last six or more hours to give a chance to everyone to pay homage to the religious icons.

The images are different representations of the Virgin Mary and scenes from the Passion of Christ. The floats are led with a cross and followed by the members of it’s brotherhood (nazarenos) dressed in priest-like attire and with a cone-shaped head piece that covers their face – a different color would mean a different brotherhood. The processions are also accompanied by bands playing funeral marches.

This special celebration reminded me so much of the my country where similar processions also take place during Holy Week which shows how strong the Spanish influence has survived since the three hundred year Spanish colonization of the Philippines that ended in 1898.

Our last stop was at the Real Alcazar (Royal Palace) where we wandered around the palace and the vast gardens. The Mudejar interiors were especially breathtaking and the gardens beautifully preserved. It is amazing to see how all this has been kept so well.

The weekend gave us the much-needed dose of culture and history that we were looking for and left us wanting to explore the city and its’ wonderful sights again very soon.

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