Tapa Thursdays: Sol y Sombra

Some places have now become tradition with me and the Novio when we have guests – everyone from a sorority sister and her husband to my own mother have had lunch in Sol y Sombra, a restaurant in the northern end of Triana.

The dimly-lit bar is remniscent of establishments from ages past – yellowing, cracked century-old bullfighting posters, a menu written by hand on the wall, dusty wine and brandy bottles resting under them. Those thin napkins that don’t lap up anything aren’t found – instead, you wipe your hands with rolls of toilet paper.

And there’s ham.

Like, dozens of hams hanging right over your head with little plastic cups for catching the sticky fat that rolls off the meat as it matures.

When the Nov and I took Danny and Javi last week, the mournful saetas were echoeing throughout the long, thin bar. At 2pm, the place was empty, so we set up along the bar, feet covered in albero.

The menu is replete with sevillano favorites – revueltos, fried fish, hearty meat stews. Food is only served in half or full rations, and not tapas, and vegetarian options are slim.

The one dish we always order is stewed bull tail, cola de toro. The tender meat comes with the bones and fat in all its glory, served with potatoes. On the last trip, we went all out – a round of croquetas, choco frito, pan-seared pimientos del padrón and the cola de toro.

If you go: Sol y Sombra is located on Calle Castilla 151, just around the corner from Ronda de Triana. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 1pm to 4pm and 8pm until midnight. Expect to pay 10-15€ a head with drinks.

 

Tapa Thursdays: Free Munchies in Seville

When I moved to Seville, I imagined I’d nibble on cheese and cured meats as I had a glass of beer, munch on free tapas and never have to go to the grocery store. Andalucía would practically be enticing me to eat as much as my belly could hold.

Spoiler alert: No free tapas are given with your drink in Seville.

If you want free tapas, try Granada or Jaén, but don’t expect them in the capital city of Sevilla.

Bar staff will occasionally give you a small plate of snacks, but never enough to make a meal. In fact, the origin of the tapa itself is believed to have served a purpose: to cover a drink of sticky-sweet sherry from flies (or perhaps to make sure patrons took it easy on the slosh).

The Novio and I area experienced purveyors of cerveza: we go out once or twice during the work week to have a few beers before dinner, and snack on peanuts or olives while we do. Here’s an unofficial list to bar snacks in Southern Spain:

Olives

Olives are king in Andalucía: it’s estimated that over 2.1 million hectares of soil here are dedicated to producing aceitunas (ah-see-ah-too-nuns). This is far and away the most common snack you’ll receive, and their briny taste matches well with a beer or dry sherry.

Altramuces / “Chochos”

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The Novio introduced me (and several friends, just to state the facts) to these weird legumes in a waxy coating. Though they’re really called altramuces (all-tray-moo-thez), sevillanos refer to them as chochos. I’d stick to the proper name.

To eat them, use your incisor tooth to make a small tear in the shell, then force the bean out. It’s a lot of work for just a morsel, but they’re yummy!

Cheese or Cured Meats

While far less common, some bars will give you a few slivers of cured meats or cheeses, plus picos. Apart from the mighty jamón, I love salchichón and any sort of hard cheese.

Shrimp

Truth be told: the Novio and I fell in love over beers and shrimp at La Grande. Nearby Huelva is home to the gamba blanca, and prawns are a common addition to many regional dishes. At its most simple, the shrimp is boiled and sprinkled with sea salt. Say it with me: gahm-buhs.

Nuts

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Nuts of any time, called frutos secos (froo-toes say-coz), are served at student bars. Sometimes they’re peanuts, sometimes they’re a mixed bag, but they’re always served extra salty. Almonds are quite popular, too, but they usually come at a small price.

Potato Chips

Is there as beautiful of a marriage as a cold beer and salty potato chips? Those made locally in Andalucía are fried with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Along with olives, potato chips are quite common fare, called patatas fritas (pah-tah-tahz free-tuhs).

Gummies

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Gummy candy, called chucherías or gominolas in the South, are clearly not a palate cleanser for beer or dry sherry. Instead, ask for a small plate of chuches (choo-chase) when you’re out having a cocktail or mixed drink.

Of course, tapas aren’t hard to find, either, and they won’t break your budget. If you need something to tide you over while having a pre-meal drink, be sure to ask the bartender if there’s anything you can snack on.

Are there free tapas where you live, or a variation on these munchies? 

Tapa Thursdays: Room Art Cuisine

With the hiring of MaCuro’s head chef, ROOM Art Cuisine went from an American food bar to one of the center’s newest gastrobars only steps away from Plaza Salvador. When my friends and I used to meet in the city’s famous botellón plazas, we’d be stuck for a decent restaurant that catered to many international tastes.

I was invited in November to the Room’s soft opening, along with several other American friends and Tapas Queen Shawn Hennessey. We got a sneak peek at the revised menu, wine list and comfortable yet modern interior while waiters passed around small samples of dishes straight off the menu.

A month later, we were celebrating Mickey’s engagement and wanted to try out a new place. Most of my friends are vegetarians, so the Room has enough to keep their bellies full and Puja and I still got our meat fix with a delicately cooked presa ibérica.

It’s hard to categorize the Room’s food, as the gambit of Spanish wines can be paired with food from around the world – from Ireland to Lebanon. We tried fried cheeseballs in marinera sauce, guacamole with fried plantains, perfectly seasoned humus, a crisp salad with goat cheese and spicy papas bravas.

The service was exceptional – our waiter was quick to fill our glasses and served us two slices of cake to share to celebrate the occasion. The food was artfully prepared both times I went, and prices and portion sizes vary, depending on what you’ve ordered. We paid about 22€ a head, which included wine.

the Room is open for all meals and located at Cuesta del Rosario, 15, just across from Cuesta Sport gym on the Plaza de la Pescadería. They’re also open for happy hour and coffee. I was not compensated in any way for eating at the Room Art Cuisine, nor for this article. All opinions are my own.

Tapas Thursday: Sampling La Brunilda

I have visited so many places whose names ring famous, and usually have felt like something was missing.

When it comes to food, I’m beginning to have high expectations.

In Seville, a city that’s home to seemingly hundreds of tapas bars, it’s hard to not fall victim to the newest or the trendiest. New bars and eateries pop up so often, and even a week’s absence from traversing the center means I’m bound to come across a new bar.

When La Brunilda opened (I think) earlier this year, my friends raved about the food. Websites raved about the food. I went earlier this month, a bit skeptical but looking forward to a new place.

Like many trendy new bars, the space – which looked like a converted coach house, thanks to a large door and exposed brick – was airy and not busy  early on a Tuesday. Having to work two hours later, I chose to not even read and weep the wine list and opted for a beer.

My friends suggested asking the wait staff for daily specials, but we were clear: D chose papas bravas and a magret de pato with a carrot cream, G and I both got an oversized tapa of dorada with pisto and cream of Idizbial cheese, and I couldn’t resist risotto with crunchy onions and asparagus. 

Believe it or not, I liked each dish more than the last.

I hope you haven’t taken a bit out of your computer.

While the food was spectacular, I didn’t feel that the service was. Our dishes came out quickly, but it took ages to refill beers and get the bill – I couldn’t even imagine how long it would take on a busy weekend night.

If you go: La Brunilda is extremely popular, so it’s best to go early or during the week. Located on Calle Galera, 5, near Reyes Católicos, the bar opens at 1p.m. for lunch and 8:30 for dinner. Closed Sunday night and all day Monday.

Tapa Thursday: A Field Guide to Spanish Christmas Treats

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t find the aisle that is home to eggs and milk in my local supermarket. I walked in circles, desperate to locate what was needed for the Novio to make me croquetas.

The aisle where they normally resided, next to the sliced meat and dry pasta, was empty. Gutted (as was I).

The following day, the milk aisle was replaced by my worst nightmare: the Christmas goodies aisle.

If Spanish sweets disappointed me, Spanish Christmas treats take it to the next level.

As a child, we’d spend hours baking cookies and cakes to leave for Santa or hide under the tree for my dad. My Christmas memories are flavored like peppermint and fudge. Spain’s sweets leave me with much to be desired, sadly, and any time I bring them for my family to sample, they go uneaten.

Turrón 

Far and away the most common treat you’ll find, turrón is a nougat bar made from sugar, egg whites and honey, and are most traditionally made with nuts. The most celebrated types are hard (Alicante sort) and soft (Jijona type), though you can find them made of chocolate, infused with liquor, containing candied fruit or puffed rice or even with candy brands inside.

Marzipan

A traditional shortbread in Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha, this almond paste-based confection is often shaped into bite-sized morsels and have sugar or egg yolk filling.

Yemas

So, I hate eggs, and they’re about the only food I can’t stomach. What say you, then, about a traditional Christmas sweet that’s called Yolks?!

Mantecados and Polverones

Made of pig lard (sorry I just ruined them for you, but the clue is in the name people!) and olive oil, mantecados are quite popular in Andalucía and mass-produced here. These crumbly cookies are often sold like we sell Girl Scout cookies, and come in a dozen varieties, like cinnamon, lemon, chocolate and anisette. Polverones take their name from dust, as these small cakes often break apart as soon as they’re out of their wax wrapper.

If you’re in Seville and love them, consider taking a day trip to Estepa, where you can visit the factories and sample until your heart’s content. About 95% of the workforce in their traditional despensas are women, and the city has earned the moniker of ‘Ciudad del Mantecado.’

Las 12 Uvas de Nochevieja

As per tradition, Spaniards leave room in their bellies for 12 grapes, which are to be eaten on New Year’s Eve at the 12 strokes of midnight for good luck in the coming year. During my first Nochevieja in Seville, my family and I didn’t know about this, so the Novio grabbed 48 grapes and a small bottle of champagne for us from his own family’s stash.

New Year’s is a holiday that’s most often spent with family, but my parents, sister, cousin and I braved the rain last year in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, where the official ball drop happens. Most of my grapes ended up on the ground, but I’d say 2013 has been pretty awesome.

Roscón de Reyes

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Among one of the strangest traditions in Spain is the Three Kings parade on the evening of an epiphany. The three kings and their pages ride through the streets on elaborate floats, throwing candy and small toys to bystanders. The following day, families eat a flaky pastry cake with candied fruit, called the roscón. Two figurines are hidden within the cake – a toy or Christ figure, to be given to the king (who also gets the crown), and a bean. He who finds the bean must pay for the following year’s cake. 

Other popular dulces are nuts and mandarin oranges, and it seems that there’s always a box of the mythical Caja Roja chocolates. Thankfully, I tend not to overeat when it comes to sweets at Christmas. I save my calories for the G&Ts after dinner.

Do you like Spanish Christmas treats, or do you tend to stick to your home country’s traditional sweets?

Picking Winter Fruit in Southern Spain

In the winter months, citrus fruits, figs, mushrooms and chestnuts are ripe and ready to be picked. Olive oil harvests begin, and crops like pumpkins, avocados and leeks begin to pop up in supermarkets.

As a kid growing up in the icy Midwest, we’d often have raspberry and tomato plants, which only came around in the summertime. My grandpa lived in Orange County and would send us navel oranges as holiday gifts – without fail, there’s always one at the very bottom of our stockings on Christmas morning.

Coming from a country that pumps horomones into everything we consume, Spain is a breath of fresh air. Horomone-free, that is. I have learned to live with seasonal products. Strawberries comes in the early spring, sardines are best eaten in the months without an R in the name, and tomatoes are available year-round, thanks to greenhouses in nearby Los Palacios. Winter means fig jam, roasted chestnuts and zucchini soup.

As part of our day in the malgueño countryside, Mickey and I searched a small orchard for the ripest figs, lemons, and oranges. Honeybees continued to flit around the fruit that had fallen to the ground and smashed open. Sergio crushed a few ripe olives, showing us how oil was traditionally extracted from Southern Spain’s star crop. Mayte explained how to pick the best fruit, which had been victim to little rain this year.

Later that day, our hand-picked lemons would dress up our fideuà, the oranges formed the base of a fresh salad with spring onions and cod, and the fleshy part of the figs were devoured, turning our lips red.

My experience at A Cooking Day was offered to me for free by Mayte and Kety. My opinions, and the extra calories, are all mine.

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