Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sustenance in Seville

So, as you know, we went to Spain at the end of June and it was, I can officially confirm, fantastico! Dublin airport being the booming metropolis of international travel that it is, we couldn't get a flight direct to Seville, so we headed off to Malaga instead. The drive from Malaga to Seville, though, is actually quite lovely, lots of sunflowers and a couple of enormous bull-shaped cutouts. By enormous, I mean at least as high as a multistory house. What purpose they serve other than to go on postcards is unclear, but it is an entertaining diversion on a long drive. 

Slightly - but only slightly - less entertaining than shouting, Look! A gigantic bull cutout! was watching the field of sunflowers go by. As we drove through the afternoon, we passed acres upon acres of these cheerful yellow flowers and every single flower was facing the same direction, like armies of happiness. Our shocking lack of botanical knowledge left us scratching our heads as to the reason for this. But fear not, dear reader, I have looked it up for you. The kind folks at Indiana University have a nice little page that explains it all. You can have a look at it here and even enjoy a time lapse video on heliotropism (that's fancy talk for following the sun). The short version is that young sunflowers follow the sun, keeping their blooms facing it all day and then returning to the east in the evening, but once they mature, their stalks harden and their blooms face eastward all the time.

I know this may disappoint some of you, but that was pretty much it for the botanical portion of our trip, from there we went on to architecture, history, bull fighting and, of course, food. Part one? Oh, lets start with food this time.
Squid Ink Paella



Paella and I were made for each other. Usually I don't get this excited about rice dishes, but I tell you, paella is worth getting excited over. I like rice as much as the next person - well perhaps not quite as much as the Japanese housemates I had in Australia, they even ate rice with stew! But for me, rice is not quite as good as a nice spud. I know, how stereotypical: the Irish love potatoes, but I can't help it if the potato is the superior starch. Facts are facts. The Spaniards, however have done a beautiful thing with rice. They add all my other favourite things and end up with a delicious dinner all in one plate. In fact, they have a combination that will please any palate. I'm a seafood nut, so it's squid, mussels, fish and veg, all cooked in squid ink for me, while the other half went for a chicken, garlic and veg version. Winners all round.

The other half's chicken paella
Paella isn't all the Spaniards do amazingly well. They are famous for their tapas, which we ate in abundance, mainly because they don't eat until the middle of the night! At the risk of sounding old and boring once again (see the first time, here), I'll tell you the shameful truth: The other half and I generally eat dinner at 6:30pm. 7pm is really pushing it. And by 8pm, I'm at risk of eating anything that looks vaguely like it wouldn't break my teeth to chew it. Spanish restaurants don't even open until 8:30-9:00pm. We know, we checked pretty much every place in Seville. So, as my friend Nikki so astutely pointed out to me, "That's what tapas are for." Well, if the Spanish economy is still tanking, it's not because we skimped on tapas purchasing.

The tapas are worth it. In fact, why bother having supper at all when you can just gorge yourself on Iberian ham, goat's cheese, olives, shrimp pancakes, croquettes of all varieties and any number of other treats? This tapas thing is genius. I usually have a terrible time choosing what to eat when I'm abroad, because I want to have some of everything. I suffer from an acute case of don't-want-to-miss-out-itis, which has left me paralyzed and hyperventilating in restaurants around the world. I always have to wait until my better (and slightly more reasonable when it comes to ordering food) half has chosen so that I can then choose something different, even if I know I want the same thing as him, simply because it means I can have a bite of his and thereby try two things. Don't try to understand. I fully recognize just how crazy all of this sounds. So, tapas are my style of dining. We tried everything and it was all delicious.

The service was fairly appalling, though. Walking into any restaurant, we were greeted warmly and our orders were taken briskly, but after that? Hello? Does anyone work here anymore? Often, the bill was just tossed in our general direction and we left without getting another word from any of the staff. Now, I don't expect staff to grovel at my feet, although I'm not strictly opposed to grovelling, but any acknowledgement that it's a human being keying in their pin number to pay for a meal would be nice. Clearly, "bye" or "thanks" is too much to ask. Perhaps there are some of you out there thinking, They speak Spanish in Spain, maybe Sinead & co just didn't understand. Well, I'm fairly nifty in Spanish, but you can't translate the silent treatment. I do generally think that dirty looks, exasperated sighs and bills chucked at your head translated fairly easily from any language. And they translate into language that your mother wouldn't like you using.

The balancing act
We did get very good service in some places, but the most entertainment was on the evening we first arrived. We walked down to the beautiful river and got a pitcher of sangría on an outdoor patio. The gentlemen serving were lovely and relaxed, hanging around, trying to convince tourists to take a seat. Then, about 6pm they sprung into action. First, they brought out a cigarette machine on a dolly and stood it up against a tree facing away from the seating. We were across the street from the actual restaurant, so we wondered how they were going to plug it in. Next, they brought out a big flat screen television and we realized that the cigarette machine was only a stand for the TV, but we still couldn't figure out how they were going to get power to it. But they had obviously done this before, because attached to the outside of the top of the restaurant's second story (that's the first floor to the Europeans) was a spool with an extension cord that was at least 50 feet long. They proceeded to string this across the road - blocking passage for all but scooters and small cars - to the television perched on top of the cigarette machine.

But, wait. It's gets better. They then brought out an antenna, which they tied to a tree. As one fellow found the channel another stood back to assess the picture and a third man balances precariously on a step ladder, cigarette machine and the TV to adjust the location of the antenna before securing it with a bit of string. It was everything thing we could do not to break out laughing at the set up. In fairness, though, you have to give them huge points for ingenuity, perseverance, bravery and for the one guy, balance. It was the semi finals of Euro 2012 and Spain was already through to the finals so they were all very keen to find out who they would be up against on Sunday. Of the slew of restaurants that line the river bank ours was the only one full at such an unreasonably early hour and I suspect they did quite well out of it. We went to find tapas instead.
The final product of Spanish ingenuity

As far as drinks, well no surprises there. The sangría is nice, but it's different everywhere you go, so it's a bit hit and miss. Worth a try is tinto de verano. It literally translates to "summer red wine" and is a combination of red wine and gaseosa. Gaseosa is a less sweet, less calorific version of lemon lime soda. More like a lightly sweetened soda water. Anyhow, tinto de verano is light and refreshing and worth a try. The most common beer we found was Cruzcampo, in many places it was the only beer available, and it's a run of the mill lager. It won't blow your mind, but it's unlikely that you'll dislike it if you drink lager. The nice thing about beer drinking in Seville is that it's mainly served in copas, which are smaller than pints (probably half) and so reasonable to drink in the scorching heat and affordable.

I've been going through all my (hundreds of) photos and just realised that the only food photos I have are of the paella. I guess you'll have to Google the other stuff, but take it as an endorsement of Seville's cuisine, it was all so good I kept eating it before I thought to take a photo. The photos of the Euro 2012 television set up will have to suffice.

2 comments:

  1. Haa I love this post, all so relatable. I miss Spain. Don't worry about the restaurants' service: it's common practice. They're not trying to be rude, they're just acting like they're used to, which is: make a nice first impression, give food, the end. I quite like it.

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  2. Oh, I rarely worry about service. I just found it entertaining that they really only cared about taking your order. Serving the food and getting paid seemed secondary. Not sure Spain is in a position to be so lax about getting payment these days.

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