Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tantalizing tapas -- the real experience

I spent five weeks in Spain in the spring of 2002 when I was between my exams for my Master's degree and writing my thesis. During that time I took an intensive Spanish class at Giralda Center Spanish House in Sevilla. My teacher was Begoña, whom I see is still teaching at the school. [BTW, she was great. If anyone lands on this site because of Googling Giralda Center, I would completely recommend the school and Begoña herself!]

There's so much I could say about my time in Sevilla, but as my focus this week is on food, I must stick to that.

Even though there are not a lot of vegetarian options in Sevilla (I eat mostly vegetarian), I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and it gave me a great new perspective on how to look at dining. Here is the US, especially in New York, many places offer their variation of Tapas or small plates. However, nothing is like experiencing the real deal in Spain.

I learned about the evening tapas ritual (ir de tapas) the first week I was there. It was in an evening excursion led by one of the Giralda Center teachers (I think it was Jose Carlos) that I discovered the practice of going to a bar with friends and ordering a drink along with a tapa (very small appetizer). Everyone would eat and drink one round, then move on to the next bar to do the same, and over and over.

I would often get red wine -- so delicious in Spain -- served unpretentiously in a plain glass, like a small juice glass in a diner. It was usually 1 Euro per glass back then! The tapas I got to know and love were Tortilla Española (thick omelette with potato), slices of Manchego cheese, olives, Patatas bravas (pieces of potato with a tangy sauce), and my absolute favorite, Espinacas con garbanzos (sauteed spinach with chick peas). The latter had such a bouquet of spices and flavors that you were definitely reminded of Andalusia's Moorish past and that Morocco is Spain's next-door neighbor to the south.

Spaniards love bread. I remember my good friend from high school, David, an exchange student from outside Madrid, explaining that to me. So the small plates were often accompanied by thin slices of bread or picos (miniature breadstick-like crackers). It was a meal in miniature...waiting to be repeated at the next stop.

After learning the ritual, I wound up going out most nights to take part with my friends, which conveniently allowed me to practice my Spanish and actually get quite good for a pure beginner after a few weeks. See, where else is going out at night doing your homework?

One of my friends' and my favorite places to go was La Carboneria, a large bar where they have tapas and live music, including flamenco, every night, late into the night. I found some good descriptions of the place here:

I was absolutely thrilled to find a website describing some of the best tapas places in Sevilla, complete with pictures. You must check out . If you are considering a trip to Sevilla or you just want to take a trip in your mind to a magical place filled with bar/restaurants decorated with tile and old wood, bottles of wine and sherry, ham legs hanging from the ceiling, and an array of delicious small plates, take a look.


As part of this week's Celebration of Food, I ask my readers to please think about those who cannot afford to buy food because of sky-rocketing prices and strongly consider making a donation of any size to your favorite hunger-related charity.

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