I know I shouldn’t play favorites, but of the five meals a day enjoyed by Sevillanos (breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner) my hands-down preference is for the midday meal. Here in southern Spain, lunch o’clock rolls around about 2:00 PM. It is NOT about inhaling a sandwich at your desk or (shudder) gulping fries while driving down the freeway. It’s meant to be a hearty, leisurely meal at home with the family, or if that’s not possible, in a cozy restaurant surrounded by people murmuring with pleasure over the menu del día.
Which is why my two luncheon disasters hit me so hard this week.
Wednesday’s catastrophe involved a couple of fresh, ready-to-cook poultry burgers Rich bought at our favorite market stall in Plaza de la Encarnación. All I had to do was peel off the plastic wrap and drop them into the heated pan. You can imagine my shock when I flipped over a patty and discovered a disk of scorched plastic — how had I missed it?!? — seared into its underbelly. My kitchen rang with cries of horror and the clang of metal as I scraped the sizzling mess into the trash.
Soldiering on, I tossed together a salad, and Rich and I sat down over this modest repast to plan the following day’s lunch. This was intended to provide a dashing first entry into my new project for this blog, something I’m calling “Out to Lunch.” The idea is to blend the quirky lunacy of the Nutters’ Tour with the mouthwatering culinary adventures of the Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour.
Yes, it’s true some definitions of the phrase “out to lunch” also suggest a certain daft inattention. I refer you to the paragraph above about Wednesday’s plasticized poultry patties. Enough said.
I was planning to call this week’s post “Out to Lunch with the Peacocks.” One of the peculiar charms of Seville is the muster of peacocks living in the gardens of the Alcázar, the ancient palace that still serves as home to Spain’s royal family when they’re in town. The peacocks have become wise to the ways of visitors and have a knack for being on hand whenever a leftover scrap of croissant or sandwich needs a good home. The food in the café is modest, hardly more than snacks, but the setting is incomparable: the gorgeous pleasure garden built in 1365 by the notorious king Pedro the Cruel.
On Thursday, filled with pleased anticipation at visiting this favorite corner of the city, I walked through the palace into the grounds only to be brought up short by padlocked gates. Days earlier, a windstorm had knocked down massive tree branches and toppled an ancient pillar near the entrance to the gardens, causing the entire area — including the café — to be cordoned off as a public hazard. Rich asked a workman when it was likely to reopen and got an eye roll and shrug.
“I can’t believe it,” I exclaimed. “This garden has been open for 658 years and it closes down four days before I want to write about it? What are the odds?”
I made a beeline for the exit and stood, lost in thought, among the heaving mass of visitors milling about between the palace and the cathedral. Time to take stock of my options. There were at least 100 eateries within ten minutes easy walk. If I wanted to write about a place with magical, only-in-Seville character…
“Something old-school?” suggested Rich. “Casa Morales?” Perfect!
Minutes later we strolled into this long-time favorite, which stands just steps from the northwest corner of the cathedral at Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 11. True, Casa Morales is sadly lacking in peacocks, but the excellent food and homey atmosphere have been charming guests since the current owner’s great grandfather opened his doors in 1850. The main bar is very congenial, but for me it’s more fun to slip around the corner and go in the unmarked side entrance to the “secret” back room, presided over by the enormous clay tinajas once used to store wine.
One of my favorite dishes anywhere, and especially at Casa Morales, is tortilla de patatas, a fluffy yet dense omelet with potatoes and onion. Now, I know what you’re thinking; isn’t a tortilla that thin flatbread we find wrapped around tacos and burritos? Not in Spain. The name simply means “small cake” and each culture has its own version. To avoid confusion, the Spanish omelet is generally shown on the menu as tortilla de patatas or tortilla de españa.
On days when I get to Casa Morales too late to grab a seat, or even to elbow my way to standing room at the bar, I have a backup just a few yards away: Bodega Díaz-Salazar, Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 20. Here, in 1908, wine merchant Ángel Díaz-Salazar began distributing the best vintages from his Ciudad Real vineyard. In the 1940s it became a wine bar frequented by writers and artists. Today it serves traditional food, but wine is still very much the heart of the experience.
And don’t worry, this is Spain; if you decide to have a glass of vino at lunchtime, nobody is going to raise an eyebrow or hand you a card for the Betty Ford Clinic. They’ll be too busy sipping their own glass of Rioja or ordering another beer to notice what you’re doing.
When I first arrived in Seville, more than twenty years ago, eateries like these were everywhere. I was told there were 3000 tapas bars in the city, and I saw one on just about every block, offering tortilla de patatas, colo de toro (stewed bull’s tail), carrilladas (pork cheeks) and other traditional dishes prepared by someone’s grandmother using recipes learned from her grandmother’s grandmother. Today, brash new foodie restaurants are popping up everywhere. Some are wonderful, but none offer the same feeling of stepping back in time to a more civilized age, when lunch was savored slowly as the run-up to a nice, long siesta.
Call me crazy. In fact, call me “out to lunch.” But in my opinion, we should all be checking out the old-fashioned eateries around us, wherever we may find ourselves, at home or abroad. NASA and Einstein say that time travel is theoretically possible but that most of us won’t ever experience it. I disagree. Just drop in for lunch Casa Morales — or any of a hundred other classic Seville tapas bars — or the oldest bar in your town — and you can revisit the past.
Of course, time travel to the future is fun, too. Right now Seville’s trendy restaurants are outdoing each other with outrageous décor and cutting-edge gastronomy. Some are old friends, and in selfless service to my readers, I’ll be checking out the newer ones for this blog.
The Spanish like to say, “Desayuna mucho, come más, cena poco y vivirás,” which roughly means “Eat a big breakfast, more at midday, have a light dinner, and you’ll live a long life.” What a wonderful excuse to enjoy a splendid lunch as often as possible! Who’s with me?
STAY TUNED FOR MORE OUT TO LUNCH POSTS!
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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