Sevilla day one: some new things

by theshedlikesfood

Given my propensity to half-arsed-itude with this blog, there’s no danger of a new post every day I’m on me jollies. But I tried some new, weird shit this afternoon and my parents are both asleep, pretending to listen to podcasts on their iPads. So a blog post it is.

Today we had a fantastic market and tapas tour with the ever brilliant Sevilla Tapas, Shawn as she’s generally known to her face, or Queen of Tapas according to The Times (they’re not wrong). She’ll guide you around the city and the food of Andalusia, easing you in gently with a plate of jamon then before you know it BAM! you’re eating…well, we’ll get to that.

We begin at la Plaza Encarnación with a breakfast of churros and chocolate at the Centurian Cafe – named after its proximity to and part in the annual Easter hoo-har (I hear they’re big into their religious stuff over here). We had media rations today, and will be back for full portions tomorrow – even my mum finished hers, approximately the twelfth meal I have seen her eat in its entirety (clearly, I take after my dad).

See those shadows? They are caused by SUNLIGHT. Oh, how lovely.

We head into the market (which is underneath this wondrous thing, the largest wooden structure in the world) to gawp at the barrage of completely awesome stuff. Mountains of cheese, no fewer than five meat counters, loads of huge, misshapen vegetables and fish fresher than the Prince of Bel Air chasing a good Christian girl. Living in London it’s easy to become complacent about fresh food, to forget how utterly shonky the UK can be for buying what I blithely consider the basics, and this is really accentuated by my parents’ sheer exuberance at the market. The meat lacks a bit of the finesse I’m used to [*London face*] but still looks pretty decent, and makes up any aesthetic shortcomings with lamb heads and dead fluffy bunnies.

To prepare a lamb head one simply pulls the jaw apart, CRACK!, wiggles out and slices off the tongue, lops off the top of the skull Indiana Jones-style and plucks out the delicate squishy little think-sponge. Yum.

It’s the fish counters by which I’m most impressed; big prawns, little squid, lots of fish – all at pretty fantastic prices too. They have the GIANT RED PRAWNS London types lust after at the moment, and at €72/kg it’s heartening to note we’re not actually paying over the odds in the UK, despite the GRP’s Spanish origin. My parents and I do the appropriate face one should pull on viewing large vat of live, escaping snails (“it’s the season!” exclaims Shawn) and we go on our merry way to hunt for jamon, queso, jerez etc (down with the locals, me).

We arrive at a stall thoroughly bedecked in bits of cured pig, where scores of locals are hanging about waiting for their jamon to be hand-sliced by one of a number of wiry Spanish blokes. Cunningly, Shawn has called ahead and pre-ordered to avoid the half-hour wait for such artisanal service, however the wiry Spanish bloke in question thought we were coming tomorrow, and has subsequently prepared bugger all. Unfazed, he continues slicing for the lady he’s serving, and only Shawn notices that he’s utilised a ‘one for you, one for the-pre-order-that-I-didn’t-prepare’ distribution method. A quiet genius, that man.  We pay, we go buy cheese.

Shawn is your divining rod for all that is delicious in Sevilla, offering food tours and guidance for a nominal fee. As such, she’s treated well by those to whom she brings custom, and she has a deal with the bloke who runs the market cafe that means we can eat some of our market spoils while paying for his booze and olives. Shawn deposits us at a table and goes up to get the drinks, returning not just with booze and olives, but with a bowl of aforementioned caracoles – yep, sensing my burning curiosity, she’s brought me some tiny snails.

Diminutive – that there’s a teaspoon
The only snails I’ve had before were the typically French variety – big, boiled and covered in garlic butter. I found them a bit chewy and, well, odd – more an excuse for garlic butter than a delicacy in their own right, and I need nothing more than bread or mushrooms as an excuse for garlic butter. These little buggers are teensy in comparison to their French cousins and prepared simply by boiling in a salty court bouillon. As delicate as a well-cooked mussel and fairly similar in taste too – they’re delicious, an adventure taken and won.
Me: scared. Mum: gleeful at the prospect of me being scared.
Oh sweet lord. How happy this made me. 

The second market, Mercado de la Feria, sees us wind around a more ye olde Spanish-looking affair, but it is largely filled with the same [fantastic] produce. The fish hall is beautiful, but lacks the fierce air conditioning of the first market; fine in May, an assault to the senses in the 35°C+ heat of summer, we’re told.

Fish hall
Pretty bags of beans

We end up in La Cantina, one of those tapas joints you might not risk as an uneducated tourist but which proves to be an unpolished – not to mention supremely popular – gem. Chicharones aside this place is strictly seafood, and it seems to live and thrive by the sensible rule of a fairly restricted menu in order to keep everything jumping fresh. La Cantina works in the way that all low-key Spanish seafood bars should – you ogle a counter of fresh sea creatures, tell them what you want then they yell your name when your food is ready.

State of the art glass chilling system
GAMBAS. These were fantastic.

It’s here that Shawn presents me with my second challenge – sea anenomes. I’m not going to lie, it hadn’t event crossed my mind to eat these weird, wavy, floaty specimens, never mind that they might be good.

Battered and deep fried. Obviously.

And they are good. The flavour of the sea, but not in the same salty, zinc-fresh way as an oyster; they have a rich, earthy character to them, not dissimilar to the flavour of sea trout. Where the legs are crispy and firm (gimme fried strands of anything), the centre has a delightfully weird wobble and looks like an oil slick – I won’t lie, a teensy bit overwhelming on my first go, but I know I’ll be trying them again. Chocos fritos (deep fried cuttlefish) is about as tender as you’ll find, and the potato salad is oil-rich and well seasoned, pepped with thin slivers of red onion and green pepper. Five sherries, three beers, four glasses of wine and very generous nibbles for five comes to just €35.

We leave with my own idea of the holy scripture, the rules by which we shall live our (short) time in Seville: Shawn’s restaurant recommendations. Salud!

ADDENDUM: my mother feels extremely hard done by in my rash assumption that she was asleep. She was, in fact, ferociously busy with her Facebook, email and “Twitters”.