Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Foods steeped in tradition

With a month of meals in Seville under our belts, it is hard to know where to begin to talk about food. So… starting with some of the traditional dishes we encountered over and over again throughout Andalusia.

Friends from San Antonio wisely insisted we all squeeze into and belly up to the bar at El Rinconcillo. The first tavern on this spot opened in 1670, so it would be fairly impossible to find a place more flavored by its history. Although, the current owners, the De Rueda family, only have operated a tavern in this location since 1858. A platter of boquerones fritos, fried anchovies, was chalked onto the bar counter next to our beer count as the method of recording our tab. These were perfect and perfectly addictive and are an order we repeat throughout our stay in Spain.

While Antigua Abaceria de San Lorenzo might not be an establishment as ancient, it certainly feels that way. The restaurant is located in a 17th-century house in a former abaceria, an old-fashioned grocery store specializing in vinegars and oils, dried legumes and cod. Locals claim most tables, so visitors without reservations rarely can obtain a spot. People often order and eat elbow-to-elbow at the counter or take food to go. The ham is cured on premise, and the featured croquetas naturally are filled with either that or with cod.

In two months, I am not sure we have entered a single restaurant or bar in Andulusia without croquetas on the menu. Seriously. Usually multiple kinds. It almost feels as though there must be a law requiring them to be offered if a business wants a license to open. Seville also seemed to require featuring patatas bravas; a spicy blend of spinach and chickpeas; and salmorejo, a cold tomato soup pureed with bread to thicken it.

In restaurants, few customers contemplate the menu without relishing the requisite olives and downing a cana, a small draft beer, even when ordering wine next. Reasonably priced wine is available in all but the luxury establishments, with wine by the glass generally running $3 or less. And that cana? Rarely above $1.50.

And my favorite, despite that recent column disparaging the custom in the New York Times, sharing of any and all courses is encouraged. And you rarely end up with just one large entree, unable to sample other menu items. Numerous dishes are offered in three sizes: tapa, 1/2 racion and racion. Unlike at home, there is no waitstaff glaring at me for ordering only from the appetizer section. Enjoying an all-tapa meal is totally acceptable.

Casa Antonio “Los Caracoles” qualifies as a sexagenarian. The inside fills up with locals of about the same vintage who crave homestyle food the way it was served when they were young. The recipes are classic; the dishes good and fresh.

The chickpea stew here was made with cod, which was a bit of relief. The Mister is a bean stew fan, but the traditional fabadas, callos and pucheros served in Adalusiacan sometimes prove challenging with their hodgepodge of meats all thrown into the pot together – chicken, chorizo, blood sausage, scraps of jamon, stew meat, panceta and even tripas. But wowsers, the resulting thick broth always is flavorful.

Our first taste of tortillitas de camaron, crispy shrimp fritters, was at Los Caracoles. I assumed they might be a limited-edition Lenten special on menus, but they survived Easter throughout the region. And padron chiles. So simple and often the only non-battered vegetable (the battered one being eggplant sticks drizzled with cane “honey”) at pescaitos specializing in grilled and fried seafood.

And the spot to find the freshest seafood? The markets. While often getting jostled by people trying to get close enough to a counter to order, there is a civilized air to eating in markets in Spain. No paper plates and flimsy plastic forks, but actual pottery plates, metal utensils and glassware for beer and wine.

At the always bustling Bar La Cantina in Mercado de la Feria, keeping track of orders has been modernized from the chalk-on-the-bar system used at El Rinconcillo. A dry-erase board is employed. We feasted on fried boquerones, stuffed mussels and octopus, and then, for dessert, grilled sardines and cuttlefish.

While Mercado de la Feria remains a traditional food market, most cities in Spain now have mercados that function only as prepared food halls. Mercado Lonja del Barranco is found in a handsome, soaring-roofed riverside pavilion. While the look is clean and contemporary and the traditional foods abundant, one misses the authenticity provided by neighboring stalls offering produce, meats, cheeses and seafood. And locals. The crowd is almost all-tourist.

Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: From corn fritters to affogato

Kicking this food post off with our favorite way to end a meal in Guanajuato: an affogato from Estacion Gelato. Particularly when cardamom gelato is among the offerings to serve as the base for the pour of espresso.

Most craved dish is the corn and jalapeno fritter appetizer at Los Campos Cantina y Restaurante. In fact, Los Campos proved our all-around favorite restaurant during our fall visit.

We were also taken by the addition of a new sister spot, Metate Tacos – Mezcal – Vino. The best guacamole ever, spicy fried chickpeas, a delightful stuffed guero chile and falling-off-the-bone-tender pork shank for making tacos to share at the table. The owners were tinkering with the menu though, and the last time we tried to go none of those were available. The online menu appears as though the chef settled on keeping most of the dishes we loved. If you go, let us know.

Enjoyed new menu items at the upscale Mestizo. Pulpo carpaccio was sweet and tender, and the tuna “carnitas” tacos were a nice change.

In the Presa neighborhood, Amatxi appeared particularly popular with chilangos, but we found the laidback front porch of nearby La Victoriana a more suitable fit for us.

While restaurants encircle the intimate, shady and mariachi-filled Jardin de la Union, we have always shunned eating there. Kind of more of a beer-sipping people-watching spot. We decided to end our snobbery and try the always-bustling Casa Valadez. We found nothing wrong with the food and extremely professional service; all fine if you want to pay higher prices than needed and be assured of eating with all tourists.

We countered that by going into the hole-in-the-wall seafood spot tucked away behind Iglesia de San Diego – La Vela Marisqueria. As tiny and casual as a shack on the beach, La Vela has great fresh ceviche and tacos.

And El Santurrona Gastropub is a perfect spot for people-watching away from the jardin. The fried chicken sandwich is not a bad choice at all.

And then, for a total change in flavor, the fresh food at Delica Mitsu, Campenero location, is great, and you find yourself surrounded by a sea of young Asian college students who agree.

We also enjoy the funky Escarola with its fresh falafel burger. But we must confess that part of its appeal is its convenient location near our favorite after-lunch spot – Estacion de Gelato.