7 Classic Spanish Tapas You Must Try
One recent Sunday, Rich and I took a midday stroll out of Seville’s old centro into the more modern district of Nervion and chose, more or less at random, a bustling café-restaurant for lunch.
Our waiter (who turned out to be the chef) leaned in confidentially and said, “I recommend the wild boar.”
You don’t find jabalí on many menus these days, and as the price was just 5€ ($5.67) we figured it would be an appetizer we could sample before moving on to the main meal. What arrived was a heaping platter of slowly simmered meat swimming in gravy (by which I mean boar fat loaded with salt). The flavor was magnificent. As we tucked in, sopping up the gravy with crusty bread, I could feel my arteries hardening and waist thickening and absolutely did not care.
When the chef came by and saw we’d made serious inroads on the gravy, he asked if we’d like more. Before my conscience or common sense could kick in I said, “Yes, we would!” He whisked our platter away and returned it a few minutes later with the remaining meat soaking in another lake of boar fat. Mmmmm.
As we paid our lunch tab — which with two short beers came to a whopping 7.40€ ($8.39) — Rich said, “I’ve missed this. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new foodie places, but this is Sevilla profunda [deep Seville].”
I got to thinking that while many visitors to this fair city are dining on such exotic delicacies as smoking goblets of Peruvian-Japanese ceviche, they are missing out on the unpretentious old-school dishes that were once the only cuisine available in 99% of Seville’s eateries. So for those who’d like a taste of Sevilla profunda, here are some of my favorites — with suggestions for where to find the best in the city. Not in Seville at the moment? I’ve included links to recipes so you can make them at home.
Carrillada: Pork Cheeks
Yes, I know, pork cheeks may sound a bit odd, even off-putting at first, but as my friend Lauren puts it, “Carrillada is a melt in your mouth, get up and dance, and smack yourself in the head for not having eaten this earlier type of food.” The meat is surprisingly tender; like jabalí, the secret is slow cooking it for hours until it melts in your mouth.
Where to try it: Bodeguita Romero, Calle Harinas, 10
How to make it
Tortilla de España: Spanish Omelet
Where to try it: Boca a Boca, calle Barcelona, 5
I recommend this to guests who are picky eaters and order it myself on days when I can’t decide what I’m in the mood for. Tortilla de España aka tortilla de patatas (Spanish or potato omelet) is a dense egg dish cooked in a frying pan with potatoes and onion. It’s such a staple that our Spanish teachers included a tutorial in the curriculum. It’s not easy; you have to flip the omelet over using a plate or second frying pan. But it’s Spanish comfort food at its best.
How to make it
Solomillo al Whisky: Braised Pork with Whisky Sauce
Where to try it: Los Coloniales, Plaza Cristos de Burgos, 19
The secret to this dish is tons of garlic; I never worry about vampires when I walk home after a night of solomillo al whiskey. It’s served everywhere in Seville, but for my money, the best place to try it is Los Coloniales, where the portions are generous and the waiters serve it up with old-school service: fast, courteous, and if you speak Spanish, accompanied by a quip or two.
How to make it
Espinacas con Garbanzos: Spinach with Chickpeas
Where to try it: Bar Dueñas, Calle Girona, 3
When I first arrived in Seville I was a vegetarian and practically lived on this tapa, one of the few non-meat offerings available in those days. Now I eat everything, but I still love this dish, especially in colder weather. I’m told it originated in Persia and arrived via the African Moors, who loved spices and included a pinch of cumin in the recipe, a rare thing in Spanish cuisine.
How to make it
Cazón en Adobo: Marinated fried fish
Where to try it: Bar Blanco Cerrillo, Calle José de Velilla, 1
If you’re on Calle Velasquéz in the downtown shopping area, there’s this heavenly moment when your nose picks up a vinegary scent that’s so alluring it stops you in your tracks. Before you know it, you’re heading down an alley to Bar Blanco Cerrillo for their trademark cazón en adobo, which after half a century has become a tapa of near mythical status.
How to make it
Where to try it: Vineria San Telmo, Paseo de Catalina de Ribera, 4
On summer days, I love sitting down to a bowl of this cold, creamy soup made of tomato and day-old bread, enlivened with just enough garlic and vinegar to give it zest. Like gazpacho, it was invented in Andalucía as a thrifty use of yesterday’s baguettes. Garnished with chopped hard-boiled egg and scraps of ham, it’s a great light meal all by itself.
How to make it
Goulas: Fake Baby Eels
Where to try it: Casa Morales, Calle García de Vinuesa, 11
Not a huge fan of eating eels? Me neither, but the fake ones are delicious and I sometimes tease American visitors by ordering a dish of goulas. Real baby eels (anguilas) are hideously expensive, so locals make mock baby eels from pollock fish, trimmed to worm-like shapes and dyed grey along one edge to complete the illusion — much like the fake crab sold in the USA as “krab.”
How to make it
There isn’t space to describe all the classics, and perhaps another day I’ll write about colo de toro (bull’s tail), albondigas de choco (cuttlefish meatballs), and other wild and wonderful local favorites. In the meantime, if you do find yourself in Seville, take the time to seek out some of these traditional favorites, preferably in a family-run bar where somebody’s grandmother is doing the cooking. She won’t be serving up Japanese-Peruvian ceviche or chocolate-covered duck liver pâté with whimsical garnish, but she will deliver the kind of hearty, mouthwatering fare that’s been the pride of Seville dinner tables for countless generations.
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11/15/2018 06:57:08 pm
Oh my, we've just finished dinner and yet this post had my mouth watering. After I quit drooling on myself I had to read it aloud to Joel who groaned with delight at the description of the wild boar and gravy. I need to go take some cholesterol pills now as I am certain to have clogged some arteries reading this. . .but what a culinary trip you took us on! This is a keeper!!
11/16/2018 07:18:48 am
Jackie, I'm delighted that you and Joel enjoyed the post, and hope your cholesterol didn't spike too high from reading about the wild boar. I must admit, I'm very glad I'm not going in to my doctor for a cholesterol test any time soon!
11/15/2018 10:26:57 pm
Thanks for the tips. We’re heading to Seville next year and the number one sightseeing activity is . . . Eating!
11/16/2018 07:22:20 am
You're coming to the right city for that, Jay! Seville offers the most incredible range of food options these days. Be sure to check out some of the funky old-school places; someday they may be scarce, but for now there are still plenty around. Enjoy!
11/16/2018 01:35:20 am
O my, quite a variety of food! Most of it looks wonderful, or at least interesting, but I will pass on wild boar cheeks! Had wild boar in Tuscany 7 years ago but frankly, we had equivalent of one tablespoon of chopped boar over our pasta...can’t really say if I like it or not! Reminds me of my childhood when my grandmother - when she could find it- would have beef tongue as part of our Sunday dinner. Her five sons always raved about how delicious this was! Naturally this comes from people having to eat the whole animal and not wanting to waste anything ... and all this reminds me of Andrew Zimmern in Bizarre Foods which I love to watch. Was in Madrid & Barcelona briefly this past summer but meals were all planned & we really did didn’t have anything exotic!
11/16/2018 07:29:40 am
Don't give up on the wild boar without trying it, Faye. I know it sounds outlandish, but it's really a homey stewed meat. It's not nearly as odd (to me) as eating tongue, which Rich loves from his childhood and is one of the few foods I won't order or cook. I guess it's all about what we grew up with. The Spanish, having gone through years of lean times after the Civil War, are good at using every possible cut of meat, which is what makes it so much fun to visit the markets.
11/16/2018 04:23:43 am
11/16/2018 07:32:17 am
Elizabeth, I hope you do get back to Seville one of these days! In the meantime, try some of these recipes to get your taste buds in shape for the local cuisine. Keep me posted on your travel plans!
11/16/2018 12:54:21 pm
I'm crying with envy now - javali, pigs' cheeks - I miss them so much. My restaurant friends do the most perfect meal of of both and they go so well with a vinho tinto. I also miss our trips over the border into Andalucia to sample albondigas, boquerones and cazon.
11/16/2018 05:10:54 pm
These dishes are classics for a reason — they are wonderful. And as you say, paired with red wine — absolute heaven. Hope you get to enjoy your favorites again soon, Carolyn. Clearly you need another trip to Andalucía!
11/16/2018 09:08:20 pm
Thanks. Now I have a lot more places to try when I come back again. I went to Cafe Universal on your list and had their cold orange papaya soup. I loved it and what a cool place.
11/17/2018 07:18:59 am
I love Cafe Universal for its cozy atmosphere and its espinacas con garbanzos with walnuts (a rare innovation around here). But I've never tried the papaya soup; thanks for the tip, I am adding it to my list. Come back soon and discover more wonderful stuff, Kitty!
11/20/2018 07:10:03 am
Conchy, thanks so much for your kind concern. Yes, we are fine. We are in Spain right now, so we are not directly affected. As for our cottage, it's 100 miles south of the fire, so it's not in danger, although the air is so thick with smoke officials are advising our neighbors to keep windows closed and wear face masks when going out. Thanks for your prayers, there are many in California who need them.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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