Tapa Thursdays: Fargo Bio Restaurant

My email notification pinged a few seconds after I’d hit the little paper arrow with a food suggestion for a friend.

“Rats, the place we’d like to go for lunch is only open for dinner on the weekends.”

Crestfallen to be missing out once again on the nearly year-old ecological restaurant buried in Soho Bendita, I decided to save sampling Fargo (C/ Perez Galdos, 20 in the Alfalfa) for another night. 

That night was the night before Phyllis and I would be meeting for lunch to celebrate a 30th birthday, and where else would a vegetarian choose to go but a slow food, ecologically-centric eatery that’s de moda?

Vegetarian tapas in Seville City Center

I parked my bike and met Mickey in front of a building painted the color of a spring sky in Seville. Living in the neighborhood, co-owner Yann greeted her immediately and offered up suggestions for a birthday treat. What struck me about the space is that it was stark but felt cozy, from the small bar near the entrance to the corridor-like dining room.

Yann was part of the concept at ConTenedor, a slow food kitchen around the Feria neighborhood, and was looking to branch out into something that valued ecological products. Meats, veggie and fish dishes graced the slate chalkboard menu.

vegetarian tapas in Seville

After an aperitif and thirty minutes of catching up, Yann came to take our order. Because the space has a decidedly eco feel, the menu changes almost daily, according to what’s at the market.

We settled on a plate of pumpkin and raisin croquetas to share and a dish for each of us –  I’d been sick during the week and stuck to a taboulé with mint, granada seeds and pineapple. Mickey chose a chickory soup and Kelly went for the veggie burger, plus water and freshly squeezed juices.

Ecological tapas in Seville

Lentil Burger

Spanish croquettes

The croquetas were definitely the star of the night – creamy and full of flavor, and the veggie burger was filling. My upset tummy left feeling like it was satisfied and that I’d chosen foods that wouldn’t bother me. The service was spot-on between Yann’s friendliness (and dance as he brought out the food) and the presentation of the dishes – appetizing without being pretentious.

When it came time to order dessert, the birthday girl was set on two – you only have a birthday once a year, anyway. 

chocolate mousse cake Fargo

We chose two, but I beelined to the bathroom for the second time in two minutes to tell Yann we were ready for the dense chocolate mousse we’d ordered before.

As the night stretched longer, our voice grew louder, despite the lack of alcohol. We are rarely able to find time to spend together, so we lingered at the table over tea and the last few bites of dessert.

birthday celebration Fargo Seville

If you go: Fargo is located at the heart of the Alfalfa neighborhood and set between boutiques in the trendy Soho Bendita area. The address is Calle Pérez Galdos, 20. Open Monday – Thursday from 8pm until midnight and weekends for lunch and dinner – they’re also rumored to have a staggering wine list, though we didn’t imbibe. Reservations accepted: 955 27 65 52. We paid about 20€ a head.

Have you ever eaten at a bio restaurant?

Take the Grilled Cheese and Run: How a Desperate Family Committed a Christmas Crime

It was on my fifth Christmas abroad that my father decided to make us accessories to a crime.

Since moving to Spain, my family had made the effort to follow me around the globe. We’ve spent Christmas with the monkeys on the Rock of Gibraltar, making gingerbread in Germany and visiting the cliffside Monserrat Monastery near Barcelona. In seven years in Europe, I’ve spent just one Christmas in my native Chicago.

But in Killarney, desperation meant my father had to pillage a hotel cafeteria for the sake of his hungry daughters.

How a Family Stole in Ireland

I come from an Irish family (red-headed, freckled and deathly pale are my hallmarks). A family that marches in local Saint Parick’s Day parades. Still has ties to the homeland in Country Mayo. One whose prized heirloom fiddle cries with “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” at every wedding. In fact, my surname is synonymous with Irish sport. The Emerald Isle has always been my father’s greatest travel dream, so he booked round-trip tickets to Ireland for Christmas without asking anyone’s permission.

But this vacation was doomed from the beginning – satellite photos showed the entire UK covered in snow. This meant a seven-hour ground delay for me in which my mom texted me, “R U hungry? I bought u a bagel” followed 20 minutes later with “Srry ate ur bagel.” I arrived famished and grumpy, and having not seen my family for a year, they were less than thrilled at my reception.

Dingle Peninsula

And there was more: the frost meant the pipes were frozen solid, leaving us without running water to shower or brush our teeth. Roads were shut down on the Ring of Kerry and thus rerouted us more than once, and sites that claimed to be open during the holidays didn’t bother to post that the snow had them shut down. My sister even came down with the flu and missed seeing Cork and exploring Amsterdam on my family’s layover.

But our lowest moment came on Christmas Day, where we had to stoop as far as breaking the law to save the holidays.

cliffs of moher

Christmas Eve dawned bright but cold in Galway on a bustling shopping day. We awed at the Cliffs of Moher before heading to Limerick for the night. After we shared a hearty Christmas meal, my dad and I went to the bar for a drink. My vision suddenly became cloudy and my head began to pound.

Apart from inheriting a love of beer from my Irish father, I also got his tendency to get sinus infections while traveling. I called it an early night and hoped to be over it the next morning (I also, luckily, got my mother’s iron immune system).

Having plowed through Angela’s Ashes on the long flight delay, I was eager to walk around Limerick that morning before setting off for the Dingle Peninsula. It was just as desolate and depressing as Frank McCourt describes – the morning still was interrupted by an occasional car passing by, or the honk of a goose. Squat, dilapidated houses lined the “historic” quarter.

Limerick Ireland

My dad chucked his map in a nearby bin, and we chucked the city.

Climbing into the car, I warned my family that we’d have trouble finding a place to eat on Christmas Day. Dad came to the rescue with a gas station English breakfast – soggy hash browns, pale grey sausages and a pack of cookies for good measure.

The ride around the damp Dingle Peninsula that morning was torture: every pothole sent a jolt of pain through my head and any time we stopped, I’d have to be coaxed out of the car. I grew hungry and restless to just stop somewhere and have something warm to drink, but storefronts were dark and the nearest gas station was back in Limerick. 

Galway Ireland

If I was grumpy and starving, my sister was far beyond that point. We passed the majority of the day in absolute silence.

Driving into Killarney, Mom spotted a sign for McDonald’s. “Don!” she squealed, “TURN AROUND! McDonalds will surely be open!”

After another strike, my dad pulled into a hotel nearby. We kept the car running to stay warm, but it took him 20 minutes to return.

He handed us each a Styrofoam plate with a steaming grilled cheese and french fries. “I told them we were guests at the hotel and that I’d check in once we ate, and they allowed me into the kitchen to make sandwiches,” he snickered as he put the car into first and sped off.

Guinness in Ireland

As I ate a tasteless grilled cheese and some cold french fries once we had safely escaped the scene of the crime. I smiled at my father, who was rifling through his suitcase for some more sinus congestion pills. 

Even at the most desperate of moments (and the most disastrous of family vacations), I knew my father would do anything for us, particularly if it included a good story and a plate of food.

Have you ever done anything desperate on your travels?

Visiting Seville: Alternatives to the Tourist Beat

I love showing my adopted city to my family and friends, and even to my readers who come to the city (though they mostly see tapas restaurants and bars!) – it reminds me of how much the city still captivates me when they see the sunset over Triana for the first time or happen upon a hole-in-the-wall bar with phenomenal food.

Because of my busy work life, I often have to set my friends loose with a map and some recommendations. The tourist trail is totally the beaten path, thanks to a UNESCO World Heritage cluster of sites, a penchant for flamenco and more tapas bars than bus stops. But I usually save the good stuff for when I’m available in the mornings and on the weekend.

Off the Beaten Path in Seville

In getting a gig with Trip Advisor this month, I found myself revisiting places not listed in guidebooks (or at least buried in reviews) and breathing in a different sort of Seville.

Skip taking in the views from the Giralda for the Metrosol Parasol

As the unofficial city symbol, the Giralda stands high above Seville. History says it was once the minaret for the mosque that stood on the premises, and even when the 1755 Lisbon earthquake’s tremors reached Seville, the tower stayed put – local lore states that Saints Justa and Rufina prevented it from tumbling down.

up close and personal with the giralda

But what is a view of Seville without the Giralda piercing the sky? As in my native Chicago I recommend the cheaper alternative to the Sears Tower (take the elevator to the bar of the Hancock for free and order a drink), I tell visitors to contemplate old and new from the Metropol Parasol, a waffle cone-like viewing deck that boasts being the largest wooden structure in the world. For 3, you are treated to a drink and can traverse the catwalks, giving your the 360 view that the Giralda can’t. There are also informative signs to tell you what you’re looking at.

A view of Seville from the Setas

If you want to get up close and personal with the Giralda, have a drink at a terrace bar at sunset, or opt for the rooftop tour.

Read More: Seville’s Best Terrace Bars // A Rooftop Cathedral Tour

Skip visiting the Plaza de Toros for a Stadium Tour

Seville is the quintessential Spain you’d always imagined. The sun, the flamenco, the tapas and the bullfighting. The temporada de toros, the season where Sunday afternoons are dedicated to the faena, may be short-lived, but the stunning Plaza de Toros sits right on the Guadalquivir River as a reminder to a pastime that, despite its controversy, is ingrained in sevillano culture.

Plaza de Toros Sevilla

Whether or not you’re into the bullfights, you can visit the building and its small museum, though if you’re looking for insight into this Andalusian gem, fútbol is a bigger crowd pleaser. Seville has two teams – Real Betis Balompié and Sevilla Fútbol Club, both of which boast a fierce following.

Betis scarves at Villamarin

Both crosstown rivals offer stadium tours to fans, hitting the locker rooms, trophy storage and press areas. If you’re able to catch a game, that’s even better! Seville is in the First Division and often finishes strong, so tickets will be slightly more expensive, though Betis is a fair-weather team who has bounced around from Second Division to the Europa League and back in a handful of years.

Read More: Death in the Afternoon // What to Expect at a Spanish Soccer Game

Skip indulging in the tapeo tradition for a fusion restaurant or international cuisine

Seville has long called itself the capital of tapas, and it’s a pastime that locals take seriously. The art of the tapeo – I mean serious when I say there’s a verb to describe the act of eating these small dishes – is something you should definitely not skip, and you should do it standing up, have your bar tab tallied in chalk in front of you and get your fill of solomillo al whisky, espinacas con garbanzos and fried fish.

Tapa of Tortilla Española

I have a love affair with Spanish cuisine, but Seville is becoming a hotbed for fusion dishes and gastropubs that have more than typical fare. Many of these restaurants are found near the Alameda and tucked into neighborhoods, and they’re perfect for when you’re tired of the same tapas.

tapas at nazca

Imagine presa ibérica niguris, like the ones pictured above, from Nazca, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant, or grab sushi to go in the Mercado de Triana as you slurp oysters and knock back an artisan beer from Taïfa across the aisle. Eating in Spain is seriously fun and a must when visiting.

A good place to start might be the newly-opened Mercado de la Lonja del Barranco before ordering blindly off a poorly-translated menu. Be daring – I would have never dreamed of liking grilled blood sausage or blood with onions, but trying new food is half the fun of eating in another country!

Read more: Where to Eat in Sevilla // Five Spanish Foods I Didn’t Know Existed

Skip exploring Santa Cruz for Triana

Santa Cruz is the neighborhood sandwiched between the Alcázar and the old city walls, once a haven for the city’s Jewish community. Think winding streets and latticed windows that lead to tile-lined fountains, notes of a bulería wafting through the air and the Giralda peeking about between buildings that have been built so close together that your wingspan leaves both of your palms on the wall.

The streets of Santa Cruz, Seville

Yeah, the charm kind of ends there.

Santa Cruz is lovely and has a few great taverns and historic sites sprinkled in amidst souvenir shops and overpriced eateries, but if you’re looking for a more authentic Sevilla, cross the bridge to Triana. 

Plaza del Altozano Triana 

Known as the gypsy and seafarer enclave, the ceramic factories of the 18th and 19th centuries brought a bit more notoriety to the rough-and-tumble barrio. Today, its bars buzz and the views from Calle Betis towards the historic city are unforgettable. You won’t find a lot of monuments or museums here, but the neighborhood feels a world away, and you’ll do more mingling with locals. Don’t skip the ceramic stores – far cheaper than what you’ll find in the center – the pedestrian San Jacinto street or the tiny plazas.

Read more: the Triana Category

Skip the taxis and buses for a bike ride

Seville is one of Europe’s best cities for two wheelers, and its 200+ kilometers of bike lines set away from the street are ideal for cruising. Plus, the historic center is full of pedestrian-friendly streets, proving to be impossible for taxis.

sevici bike tour seville

Rather than using public transportation to get around, use your own two feet or grab a Sevici. This public bike service costs about 13€ for the week, and you’ll find them useful for getting some exercise in with all of the tapas chowing.

If you’d like to get a feel for where the historic sites are, considering taking one of the city buses. The circular routes (C3 and C4 for the inner historic ring, C1 and C2 for the outer ring and La Cartuja and C5 that snakes through the center of town) costs just 1.40€ for a single trip or 5€ for a one-day pass, and it will help you get your bearings.

Read more: Is Seville Spain’s Best Biking City?

Skip a flamenco show for an alternative concert

Sultry, sensual flamenco is intrinsic in Seville. They say flamenco – a mix of dance, song and music – originated somewhere between Seville and the Gaditana coast, and most visitors take in a show at one of the many tablaos or even an amateur jaleo while in Seville.

Flamenco show in Seville

While the Andalusian capital is (sometimes achingly) traditional, pockets of alternative groups are popping up around Macarena and the Alfalfa, helping to change Seville’s deep-rooted cultural identity. There’s often live music on the Alameda and in its bars. Pick up a copy of Yuzin, a monthly cultural events magazine with plenty of offerings for the alt crowd in both Seville and Granada.

Read more: Where to See Flamenco in Seville | Visiting a Flamenco Guitar Workshop in Madrid

Things you shouldn’t skip? 

It’s not that the cathedral and Plaza de España aren’t worth seeing,  but sticking to the Top Ten Sites won’t give you a full picture of Seville’s soul. Find time to see the cathedral‘s gold-laden altar if you love religious art, wander around the Plaza de España and contemplate the tile recreations of Spain’s historic moments, and knock back a sherry under hanging jamón legs. Drink a granizado. Marvel at the Alcázar palace. Buy a fan and wander around with a map – just seek out places beyond Avenida de la Constitución.

NO8DO NODO Seville Spain Sevilla

A large part of Seville’s magic is seeing how the city transforms from day to night and back, how locals go about their daily lives and by discovering the hidden rincones.

Are you planning on visiting Seville? Check my posts on Two Days in Seville (guest post by Sandra Valuare) | Packing for a Trip to Spain | Things to do in Sevilla

I’m hosting my next out-of-town guest in a month – one of my closest friends from Chicago. What other recommendations do you have for the capital Hispalense? Do you know any hidden gems in your city?

How to NOT Get Lost on Your Trips: Five Tips for Navigating a New City

We’ve all been there: you’ve arrived at a new place for a holiday and for those first few days you have no idea where anything is or what you can do every day. Even with smartphones and apps, many of the world’s most touristed cities have long histories, and their historic centers are laid out in a haphazard fashion. I’ve got very little common sense, but my sense of direction is about as keen as my nose trained to sniff out azahar in the spring. Even ‘ditching the guide book and wandering’ is difficult for me because of my ability to always have my bearings!

Tips for Navigating a New City

When my mom came to visit on her own in 2013, I handed her a map and my keys and lent her my bike. She called a few hours later, trapped on a small street and no idea where she was. I didn’t even need to google – she was only a few blocks away – but I clearly didn’t inherit my sense of direction from her. To ensure that you make the most of your trip I’ve compiled a couple of handy tips about navigating a new place:

1.  Research the Area

Perhaps the most important part of any trip, planning ahead and researching the area that you’re going to can help you map out a destination. See what there is to do, where sites are located and how easy things like museums, shopping districts or other holiday hotspots are to get to by walking or public transportation.

More often than not, the majority of attractions tend to be within walking destinations of a lot of town centers. Occasionally you may need to get a bus or train, so be sure you’re up to date on times and where you need to get off. After all, the last thing you want is to board the wrong bus or train and end up somewhere you can’t get back from. This happened to me on my first trip to Granada, and my friend and I ended up in a seedy area of town, thankfully finding a cab in a time before Uber and making on the last train back to Seville just before the doors closed.

2.  Bring a Map

My first stop in any new place is a tourism office to pick up a map. I sometimes don’t even unfold them, but prefer to keep them as a souvenir.

bring a map on a trip

If you’ve got a smartphone, it’s even easier to download maps and save locations on apps, so investing in a map or something that contains a real-time display of your location like a portable Sat-Nav or even a smartphone with a Google maps app is a great idea. That way you can make sure that you find what you’re looking for relatively easily without wandering around for hours to hunt down that museum or restaurant that you want to visit. If you’re worried about wi-fi, save screenshots of places you’ll be visiting.

3.  Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Never be afraid to ask the locals for help, more often than not most people will happily point you to where you want to go.

asking for directions on the Camino de Santiago

In the event that you’re visiting somewhere that doesn’t have English as the native language, just make sure that you either know enough of the language to get by or you have a phrasebook handy, or head to a hotel or tourism office. In a more memorable episode, some friends and I were turned around in rural Romania and had gone nearly an hour without seeing another human being. We pulled into someone’s farm, knocked at the door and used a map and some wild hand gestures to find our way to Botiza!

4.  Open a PayPal Account

The worst thing that can happen to you when you’re visiting somewhere is to either run out of money or have it stolen from you. So a good tip is to always have some way to finance yourself in the event of this happening, or if you need to catch a cab or train. There are a number of different ways you can keep on top of your cash when you’re abroad but by far the easiest one is to open a PayPal account.

Having a PayPal account means you can have someone transfer cash to your bank account that you can then either withdraw from a local machine or use to make a credit or debit card payment. Or if you prefer to travel light, you can use PayPal to make contactless payments using their app on your mobile.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 11.06.22 AM

But you don’t have to use it for just getting your hands on some emergency cash; you can also use PayPal to play on an online casino site like paypal-casinos.co when you’re traveling on your trip. This can be quite handy to use to kill time and stave off boredom, especially if the places you’re visiting require long periods of time on coaches or trains.

5.  Be a Proper Tourist

Don’t be afraid to do look like a proper tourist, try boarding one of those buses or trams that take you on a guided tour of the area. Doing this will allow you to learn about the area you’re in quickly as they tend to circle around the main tourist attractions and areas that visitors will enjoy seeing. Also, it lets you figure out how easy various places are to get to.

You can also try picking up pamphlets from hotels or public information areas as these tend to have a small selection of places you can take a look at or options for getting around, like taxi numbers or a list of bus and train stops. Tourism is alive and well in Spain, so you won’t look too out of place!

Do you have any tips about how to navigate new places, or any good stories about getting lost? Share them in the comments!

Why do Spaniards call us ‘Guiris’?

Hay alguién aquí de fuera? called the drag queen from the stage. A hoarse shout came from right behind me: “Mi guiri, mi guiri!”

My friend S had sold me out to a total stranger and a bar full of side-eyeing pijas, and she’d done so be calling me a guiri. This was before any of us turned 30 but after and entire afternoon of beers, so I skipped to the stage and joined the drag queen, dancing all of my shame out. She later apologized for screaming HERE’S A FOREIGNER a few days later, though I’d already consented to another drink after my show as a way to shrug it off.

the word guiri

Guiri is a catch-all phrase for both foreign tourists and Northern Europeans, used more often than not in a joking, affable way. I’d never really taken any interest in knowing where the word come from until an early morning wake up call on a Sunday morning had me watching Canal Sur’s program about the origins of common practices and traditions in Andalucía. If you are into etymology like me, your ears would have perked up when you heard “Where does the word guiri come from?’ I nearly spilled my coffee on our new coach.

The most common explanation is literally a page out of a Spanish history book: The word guiri has existed for some 130 years since the time of the Guerras Carlistas during the first half of the 19th Century, a series of skirmishes that followed the death of King Fernando and that pitted the royal’s only a heir, Isabel, against his brother, Carlos María Isidoro de Borbón (it is, therefore, not a phrase derived from a way to call out the socks with sandals thing).

According to the Royal Decree of 1713, all ascendents to the throne were required to be male, so Carlos V made a play for Isabel’s blue-blood given right. This sparked the first of the Carlist Wars, with Isabel’s mother, María Cristina de Borbón Dos-Sicilias fighting for her daughter.

300px-Primera_Guerra_Carlista

photo credit

Those who supported Isabel and her mother became known as cristinos, and fighting was especially fierce in the northern regions of Navarra and País Vasco. Cristinos from this region saw their leader as radical liberals who hoped to  make sweeping reforms in the whole country, beginning with the right to the throne. What’s more, the this band received support from other countries like France and Great Britain, causing alarm with the northerns who were, characteristically, more traditional and supporters of Carlos V.

The name for the northern became known as guiristinos to the carlistas, an ambiguation of cristinos in the Basque language. Because the majority of María Cristina’s supporters were Basque and Navarrese, the name stuck and was even used as a way to call Guardia Civil officers during Franco’s regime. At its most basic, it also served as a moniker for outsiders and people with radical new ideas, shortened to simply guiri.

Guiris dressed up as flamencas

However, the word guiri didn’t become popular in Spain until the 1960s when tourism began to bring thousands of travelers – namely the British and the Dutch – to coastal resorts. Post-war Spain and Francoist mentality were not ready for the influx of foreigners in the wake of two decades of self-sustainability, so guiri became the popular way to call light-skinned tourists, usually from Northern Europe, the US and Canada. (Another beloved Spanish tradition to surge during this decade? The menú del día. Bendito manjar, clearly).

Some decry the word as a direct attack on those who fall into the category, but most Spaniards will insist that it’s a term of endearment. As most groups of friends have the token ‘El Cabesa’ and ‘El Tonto,’ being ‘La Guiri’ is kind of like my calling card, a simple way to distinguish myself and make me feel like I’ve squeezed my way into tight sevillano social circles.

Have you ever been called a guiri? How do you feel about it?

Tapa Thursday: Vermouth

vermouth in Spain

My biggest ambition in life is to become a Spanish abuelo. Who wouldn’t want to spend the days leisurely reading a paper in the bar down the street, sucking down a vermouth while looking adorable? I’ve already got the vermouth obsession down, after all.

My first taste of vermouth was actually on a food tour. I didn’t think I’d learn anything I didn’t know about Spanish cuisine, but an early stop at the Mercado de San Miguel’s vermouth bar proved that I had a lot to learn, and a new favorite beverage.

Vermouth Bar Madrid

Vermouth is making a comeback hard in Spain, much like G&Ts not so long ago. Pop-up bars called vermuterías, tastings and pairings and even the Adrià brothers of El Bullí fame are spearheading a sort of vermouth renaissance. While this beverage never really disappeared, it’s become the drink of choice for hipsters and for me anytime I’m in Madrid or Barcelona.

On my last trip to the Ciudad Condal, I happened upon a small bottega, or local watering hole, where vermouth was poured from a tap in the wall. No frills, no sky-high price tag, despite being a mere 150 meters from tourist hell. The girl behind the bar filled my glass, shoved a few mussels and a toothpick my way and charged me 1,85€. Other patrons trickled in, drinking the sweet wine by the glass or simply asking the bar keep to fill up old water bottles. 

The Novio even came back from the capital with a gift from my soon-to-be familia política recently: a bottle of vermouth with its flavorless soda water.

Vermouth at Cafe Comercial

What it is:  Fortified wine has been drunk for more than three millennia, often for medicinal purposes. Its name comes from the German ‘wermut,’ or wormwood,  

At its most basic, vermouth is a young fortified wine brewed with aromatic herbs like cardamom and and cinnamon and occasionally its namesake, wormwood. Sweet varieties also contain a fair amount of sugar – around 20% – whereas dry vermouths contain less than 4%.

Goes great with: Vermouths come in sweet and dry varieties, but salty snacks like potato chips, cured meats, olives or mussels in azabeche sauce are tart and will offset the sweetness or bring out the dry flavors. Typically, vermouth is consumed much like fino sherry wine in the South – as a before-meal drink, and most often at the weekend.

Where to find it in Seville: I have yet to find vermouth anywhere but the grocery store, and even then, it’s commercially branded martini mixes. I’ve yet to try smaller specialty shops, though sherry seems to be preferred to vermouth in these parts. You can find it for sale in 2.5 liter jugs at Bodegas Salado in nearby Umbrete for 7,20€.

 Are you a vermouth drinker? Any preferred watering holes, whether in Seville or further afield?

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