Savoring tapas and flamenco in Seville
I fell in love with tapas in Seville. They can be vary from a potato omelet to a slice of warm cheese to a bowl of gazpacho, and anything and everything in between. They can be hot or cold, cooked or raw, eaten one at a time or in the place of a meal. And sometimes, you have no idea what’s being served up to at all.
In Spain, restaurants don’t begin serving dinner until 8 or 9 p.m., sometimes even later. The gap between when people get off work and eat their evening meal creates a convenient window for some much-appreciated downtime. This is the time when most people bar hop, meeting friends over tapas and a drink. The dishes are usually inexpensive, and in Granada small tapas are often complimentary with each round of drinks. It’s common to visit several establishments before sitting down to a full meal. Every evening before dinner, I made my way to the Cathedral area and strolled from one bar or café to next for a couple hours, just as the Spaniards do.
The origin of tapas varies, depending on who you ask. My favorite version is from the Joy of Cooking. According to the author, a Spanish king was served a glass of wine and the servant covered the goblet with a piece of meat to keep the fruit flies out. The king finished the wine and ham and ordered another wine with a “lid.” It just so happens that the Spanish word for lid is “tapar”… thus we have tapas. Many modern tapas bars are standing room only, so the skill of balancing a plate on top of your wine glass has become a very important one to have.
Tapas are now a very integral part of the Spanish culture and one that I have incorporated into my own life. I left Seville soothed, satiated and seduced by the little servings of scrumptiousness. One of the first things I learned to cook when I got back from Spain was Patatas Bravas, a simple and spicy fried potato dish seasoned with Tabasco sauce, garlic and paprika.
If you get a chance to see a flamenco show, opt for a venue outside the touristy areas. The best bet is to follow the locals; they know where to see an authentic show. Flamenco is the traditional song and dance of the Andalucían region. It’s a byproduct of the mixture of cultures that once inhabited the area – a celebration of what can happen when people are dropped into a melting pot.
After the Christians defeated the Moors in Spain, intolerance reigned. They were forced to convert to Christianity or be deported. Other ethnic groups like the Romani – gypsies originally from India – and the Jews suffered a similar fate. They retreated to the high grounds, where authorities had little jurisdiction. They lived, worked and suffered together in peace and harmony for centuries. Flamenco is the fusion of their music, song and dance.
In time, Flamenco was brought down from the remote areas and performed for the masses. Non-gypsies began to take interest in the guttural, waling words of what is best described as Spanish soul music. Not understanding Spanish is not a deterrent to appreciating the music. It’s delivered in a way that touches your core, bringing their heartache to life and placing you at the center of it all.
There are four elements to Flamenco: voice, dance, guitar and jaleo, or audience participation consisting of hand clapping and foot stomping during the performance. I was mesmerized by the sheer speed in the dancer’s feet. She wore a traditional red dress with alternating black and red ruffles. Her long, jet-black hair was pinned tightly in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her only jewelry was a red flower pinned in her hair. She danced with such passion, telling a story with her hands, the arch of her back and the intensity in her eyes.
And that’s Seville in a nutshell. It has become a soup of sorts… a drop of Roman, a dollop of Arabian and a dash of European, stirred and simmered slowly over a long time. It’s unique and packed with a little drama, a lot of flavor and all the intensity you look for in a great vacation.