With its economy under the spotlight these days, it is easy to forget that Spain is still one of the top gastronomic destinations in the world.
Article by Santiago Sanz of Black Sheep Guides
While its big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona attract millions from around the world (not to mention the pilgrimage towards Barça or Real’s stadiums), Andalucía has remained relatively discrete in comparison, only to be discovered by the more adventurous traveller who seek a more exotic cultural stimulation than the usual touristy experience.
The legacy of Roman, Moorish and Christian occupation in the south of Spain has culminated into what it is today: warm and welcoming people with a cultural identity that is globally recognized in the form of the flamenco dance, fiestas, architectural gems and a fantastic gastronomy. This is the birth place of tapas after all. As I learnt as a guest of this land, the base of Andalusian gastronomy is the clever and imaginative combination of the ingredients that you can find here: olive oil from Jaen, Iberian ham from Jabugo, red tuna from Barbate, prawns from Huelva or cheese from the Sierra de Cádiz are only a few. Combine these ingredients with the southern creativity, serve them in the tapa format what you get is a divine experience for the food lover.
So here’s an account of my gastronomy journey through Andalucia: first, we will visit quaint Jerez, thereafter to amazing Seville and last but not least Granada.
It is hard not to fall in love at first sight with Jerez while walking around the downtown with echoes of flamenco (which origins can be found here) and the sweet flavour in your mouth of the wine that has taken the name of the city as its own and has made the city name famous around the world: sherry
Jerez is a city that revolves around sherry with around 30 bodegas (cellars) scattered around the city, it is a must pay a visit on your first day and get to know if you would like to have your food with a fino or with an oloroso, and what exactly you can expect when they serve something with amontillado or Pedro Ximénez sauce.
Stepping into a cellar here is one of those things you want to take some time to enjoy; the darkness, the aroma, the lighting, the humidity coming from the wet sand of the floor and the endless rows of oak barrels form a unique environment not to be missed.
My preference is to visit not so crowded bodegas such Maestro Sierra, Lustau and Tradición, each of them with its own personality; ensure you book ahead or ask your hotel receptionist to help you.
With your wine appreciation plan cleared, it is time to walk the cobble-stone streets and find some great spots. Rabo de toro (bull/ox tail) is a local delicacy in Jerez, and you should not miss the chance to try. Suggest you start with crispy outside-juicy inside ox tail croquettes that Albalá prepares .
The ancient rules of tapeo demand that we move towards a new destination, so let’s carry on. Not more than five minutes walking, Mesón Reino de León Gastrobar tempts locals and visitors alike with the Saquito de rabo de toro sobre fantasía de hongos (crispy wanton case stuffed with stewed ox tail and mushroom in jus) while La Mejorana prepares a fantastic rice with oxtail.
One fantastic option, if you booked 12 pm tour in Lustau (that ends up around lunch time), is La Carboná. Famous because of its know-how, here you can try another local delight, the artichokes. La Carboná’s Alcachofas con langostinos salteadas al vino Fino (Sautéed artichokes with prawns in Fino wine reduction) are made in heaven, so are the meats brought directly from north of Spain they prepare.
Not to be missed for a quiet dinner is Restaurante Sabores, adjacent to the quirky Hotel Chancillería, with the incredible carrillada de ternera con parmentier de calabaza, patatas ratté y “chips” de ajo (Grilled beef cheek with pumpkin parmentier, ratté potatoes and garlic chips) finished off with a Fernandito (brandy frappe with lemon sorbet and mint leaves).
No visit to Jerez is complete without visiting a Tabanco. These old wine shops exhale tradition and a yesteryear ambiance that is gaining popularity among the younger generations, with its offer of affordable and simple tapas with straight from the cask sherries from small producers and cooperatives. Check Tabanco El Pasaje, where the Palo Cortado sherry with a tapa of cured cheese is a must to have.
No matter how many songs and poems have been written, no one has managed to encapsulate the beauty and essence of a city that seduces the visitor with the complicity between the Giralda tower and the Guadalquivir River.
Being in Seville means walk through the streets in the old Jewish quarter, get lost in its squares, taste its history and feel the duende, the mysterious, melancholy depths of human emotion, against which the true heights of love and joy can be measured.
But Seville also seduces its guests with a gastronomic beauty that has experienced a revolution in the last years. Together with well-known places like Enrique Becerra (do not miss his lamb with mint croquettes) or Bar Eslava (famous around town for its pork ribs in honey dressing), a new bunch of places have come to scene bringing creativity and imagination to the table.
If you arrived to Santa Justa station and you are on your way downtown, drop by La Cava del Europa where any of its tapas is a tribute to the palate; point in case the tataki de caballa sobre salsa de mango y ajoblanco (mackerel tataki in mango and ajoblanco sauce is a die for) and this is only the beginning. WE would not leave without having something else to keep the body in peace until the next stop, so the toast with foie and pear compote would be my choice.
My options on the way include Extraverde, with dishes where best olive oil is the key ingredient. This is a place where the ajoblanco (a refreshing cream made with garlic, bread, almond and olive oil) is an all-time favourite, either if it is served with tuna, prawns or escallops.
Not to be missed either is Bar Alfalfa where andalusian recipes meet Italian traditions or the Salvador square where tapas from La Antigua or La Alicantina can be enjoyed on top of anything that can be used as a table. Additional places can be found in the Alameda de Hercules where La Azotea is my favourite with specials dishes changing every day, leaving the customer with the sensation that a second visit is needed to keep enjoying innovative creations.
Try the grilled tuna from Barbate or their oyster on blood orange cream with sea spaghetti and you will find what I mean. Not far from there, Duo Tapas is another place to pay attention with its Iberian pork with mango chutney. Bar Antojo closes the loop with an amazing creation, cod covered in squid tempura creating what they call coal of cod.
Before leaving town, cross the river leaving the Giralda behind you and visit Puratasca, where their chorizo lollipops and the pork cheek raviolis have managed to drag people around town to this small bar in the Triana quarter.
Immortalized by Washington Irving and one of the most visited monuments in the world, the Alhambra oversees the city of Granada wrapped up by the impressive snowed mountains of Sierra Nevada. But if the Alhambra is dragging visitors to the city, Granada’s reputation as one of the best places for tapeo in Spain is catching up with the fame of its most representative referent, and I managed to learn why.
It is here where the bars hold the tradition of including a small tapa with each drink and the trick is that each dish changes and gets better with every round of drinks, and something else, if in Jerez sherry was the preferred option, Granada is home for Alhambra beer, so I strongly recommend you to go for the 1925 Reserva, an incredibly good lager.
Tradition mandates to start in Navas street, maybe the most famous street for tapeo and for a good reason. The street is packed with places offering tapas, seafood, paella…, but if you ask me, there are two places here to highlight:
Los Diamantes, famous for its cazón en adobo (catfish in pickle) and the prawns. The place is always packed so be sure you reach early, and do not be fooled by the looks, the place serves some of the best fish tapas in town.
Opposite Los Diamantes, you have El Tabernáculo, a really interesting place for its tapas as much as for its decoration, with the walls coveted with images inspired in the cofradías (brotherhoods that demonstrate during Easter).
But if you like more advanced options around this area, then you may visit La Moraga or Oleum. Both are gastro-bars, offering innovative creations such as Morcilla con peras y piñones (black sausage with pears and pine nuts) or the atún de Barbate en tartar con soja de maracuyá y aceite de olive (tartar of red tuna from Barbate with passion fruit soya and olive oil).
Another area not to be missed is Campo del Príncipe, a classic among locals for tapeo on Sunday mornings. The pajaritos fritos (deep fried fish/whitebait) in Los Altramuces or the red mullets in Freiduría La Esquinita are famous across town, while the assorted cold cut and cheese boards in Rossini will satisfy anyone.
Craving for more? Well you can drop by Los Manueles, a local institution in Granada, and enjoy one of its croquetas (they are the size of a fist) or reach the Cathedral and visit Ermita and have its Remojón Granadino (cod, orange, olive oil, olives and onion salad) that is one of the house signature dish or visit Cunini for seafood dishes. It is said that Granada has one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world; and watching it over drinks and dinner in the Albaicín will certainly qualify this. I know, it is very touristy but sometimes you need to go with the flow and do it.
Our own experiences during our travels have inspired us to develop Black Sheep Guides. The Guides are written from the perspective of a friend who lives in that particular city or a knowledgeable local guide who can show the reader an establishment that the locals themselves would patronise for its good food, and thus the Guides feature many places that are not listed in mainstream handbooks.
Contributors to these Guides are often our own foodie friends living in that particular city who share our passion for good local cuisine. This on-the-ground knowledge and local perspective makes the Guides a valuable companion to the best places in each town.
Currently there are guides for Madrid, Valencia and Seville with additional cities in Spain and Scandinavia lined up. More information available at www.blacksheepguides.com