Velá de Santa Ana 2015

vela-triana-2015Triana’s biggest annual street party – the Velá de Santiago y Santa Ana – will be held next week July 21st – 26th with dozens of activities and concerts planned.

Dating from the thirteenth century, the Velá is celebrated every year in late July and Sevillianos flock to the “other side” of the river to enjoy this traditional week-long summer festival.

Plaza Altozano and the surrounding streets are at the center of the fiesta, particularly Betis street, where there are food and craft booths and a small fun fair for children. It’s a great place to stroll, have a beer or a glass of fino with some “pescaito frito” and sample the traditional green hazelnuts.

A Day at the Fair

feria 2015 (1)portada

feria 2015 (10)bubbles

feria 2015 (9)striking a pose

feria 2015 (6)elegant amazonas

feria 2015 (5)amazonas sharing lipstick

feria 2015 (4)thirsty work being an amazona

feria 2015 (3)mutual respect

feria 2015 (8)standing having a cold beer (while others had VIP seating)

feria 2015 (7)deceptively benign looking ride

feria 2015 (2)la noria

photos from my azahar Instagram account

It’s Sevilla’s Biggest Party…

feria 2015 (1)… and you’re not invited.  😉

Okay, not quite. You are very welcome to go to the Feria but unless you know someone with a caseta (the little stripy marquees) then you will end up crushed into one of the 19 large public ones. With over 1,000 private casetas that’s a lot of exclusion, which seems not very in keeping with what is meant to be a festive local event. Sound like sour grapes? Well, it isn’t. When I first moved to Sevilla over 22 years ago I found myself invited to Feria all the time, including the “noche del pescaíto“, followed by the “alumbrao” (lighting up of the gate and grounds at midnight on the Monday) and all-night partying. There would also be (private) lunches and long evenings going from (private) caseta to (private) caseta. I don’t know when it got tedious for me, but after a few years of this I would make my excuses when the invations came in, and limited my feria-going to one afternoon of taking photos of the splendid horses and colourful flamenco dresses.

feria 2015 (2)

This year I did something a bit different, which was to take in the “pre-feria” on the weekend before the official opening. To be honest, I didn’t know you could just walk in or that the casetas would be open for business. But I was there with a friend taking some photos of the portada and we saw people wandering in, so we did too. Many of the casetas were still having finishing touches done, but we saw several (private) ones full of people and then came across the large Distrito Casca Antiguo and, since it was open, decided to stop in for a beer. The calm before the storm.

feria 2015 (3)As I sit here writing this a few invitations to meet at the Feria have come in by email or text message.  And the other day I was even asked to do a radio interview about Feria (!!) which I turned down for obvious reasons (I don’t think it would have been the interview they were looking for). But you never know. I may end up popping over to people and horse watch for awhile. And before you write me off as a grumpy anti-feriante, I’ve already booked some time off to spend a couple of days at the feria in Jerez, where the casetas are open to everyone and the horses are especially beautiful. Just feels friendlier there somehow.

Feria de Abril
April 21 – 26th


Roman Wine Tasting

This is a reblog/guest post by my friend Peter @SVQconcierge about our recent visit to the Antiquarium for a very special wine tasting (words are his, pics are mine). Many thanks to Cotidian Vitae for the invitation!

As all you erudite folks probably already know, Seville was in antiquity a Roman city, probably the most important in Western Europe outside of Italy itself. It’s official name from the time of Julius Caesar was “Julia Romana”, but as often happens it was the city’s older name, Hispalis, which remained in popular use, and is preserved in altered form in the modern name. It was an important trading, manufacturing and administrative centre with extensive commercial links with Rome, exporting wine, oil and fish products back to the Imperial capital.

baetica wines


But what was daily life like in Hispalis during the six centuries of Roman domination? Recently my friend Shawn @azaharSevilla and I were lucky enough to be invited to a rather special wine tasting event at Gastrosol, atop the Metropol Parasol. It was put on by the people responsible for Cotidiana Vitae (Daily Life) at Italica, the well-preserved Roman residential city at Santiponce, just outside Seville. Roman wines were provided by Baetica, who have done excellent work in recreating the styles of wines that would have been drunk in those far off times, drawing on the knowledge of winemakers, historians and archaeologists to make them as authentic as possible.

First though, it was down into the basement for a tour of the Roman ruins discovered when work to redevelop the site of the old market in Plaza Encarnación began back in the nineties. The ruins are now a well restored and preserved archaeology museum with some fascinating things to see. These include a fish salting plant that must have been a smelly neighbour for the residents, a house with an unusual (to me at least) raised platform for dining set into a semi-circular alcove, restored mosaics, and some crude gaming tables, as well as glimpses of the stratification (new bits built over old bits) of the site as it developed.


antequarium tour

Then it was time to go upstairs for the wine tasting. Our hosts, Manuel León Béjar and Alejandro Vera had chosen four wines for us to sample, Mulsum (fermented with honey), Sanguis (steeped with rose petals), Antinoo (steeped with violets), and Mesalina (flavoured with cinnamon, and named for the wife of the Emperor Claudius), which became very popular in the later Roman Empire. It’s not really known how close these are to the Roman originals, especially as many of the old grape varieties have sadly disappeared, but extensive research into the wine making techniques of the time and descriptions of the grapes that were used gives us considerable confidence, and the use of the various flavourings is well attested to by writers and commentators of the time.

roman wine tasting
Now, I have to admit that I’m not really a wine expert, so for proper tasting notes and pairings I’m going to send you over to these good people (the notes are in Spanish), but I will say that it was a fascinating experience, and that the wines were quite distinctive compared to modern ones. My favourites were the Mulsum, which did have a definite tang of honey without being overly sweet, and the Mesalina, which was the most intensely flavoured, and was apparently mainly used at the end of, or even after, the meal. Maybe next time we’ll get a complete Roman banquet, though I’m still not convinced about the advantages of eating lying down.

For more information about activities at Italica, including tasting events, you can visit the Cotidiana Vitae website.

Originally posted on the Seville Concierge blog.

Death of the Tapeo

An Open Letter to Tapas Bar Owners in Sevilla
[para la traducción en español pinchar aquí]

Two years ago I wrote about the increasing number of tapas bars in Sevilla charging for bread and service, a previously unheard of practice that started off in a small way with some bars charging, say 50 cents a basket, but that has now grown to the point where we find a few bars charging up to 2€ PER PERSON.

I’m not singling out any individual bars or restaurants here (I reckon you know who you are) so I’m not going to name names, either to praise or shame. But I do feel it’s time you gave this some thought and tried to understand the damage you are doing, both to the splendid tradition of the tapeo and to your own reputations. Because I actually love some of your bars, and your fab tapas, but enough is enough already.

The main arguments I keep hearing from you and your staff are:

  1. Everybody else is doing it.
  2. People pay more in other countries via taxes and tips.
  3. Why should we give food away?
  4. You’re the only one who ever complains, Shawn.

First of all, everybody else isn’t doing it. Not even close. The main culprits tend to be the new gastrobars, probably just like yours, especially those located in tourist areas. And hey, why not? By charging every person who walks into your bar an extra euro – for absolutely nothing! – you can probably pay one person’s salary. But let’s be honest here, if you can’t operate at enough of a profit to pay your staff properly then maybe you’re in the wrong business. Charging what amounts to an admission fee is so wrong that I can’t believe it’s been allowed to go on for so long. Yes, we all know that times are tough, but they are just as tough for your customers. Some of you say that many of your customers are tourists so it doesn’t matter, which also says to me that you probably don’t belong in the “hospitality” biz.

un placer

example of a tapas bar that cares about its customers

As for the second argument… what? What has that got to do with anything? We live and work in Spain. As do the majority of your customers. FYI, just a couple of examples here. In the UK the service charge is given to the staff and is not obligatory, and everybody there knows this. In the US and Canada tipping is the norm but is also not obligatory. If you don’t like the food or service, you don’t tip. Simple. But you also get coffee and soft drink refills, baskets of bread/nachos/ muffins, all included in the price. You don’t get charged just for walking into a place and sitting down. Perhaps this happens in other countries, but as already pointed out, we are not other countries. And in this country, especially in Sevilla, el tapeo is a cherished custom that you are threatening to wipe out. Imagine going out with 4-5 of your friends and being charged 1€ per person at every stop… at the end of the evening you will have paid an extra 20-30 euros. For absolutely nothing. So of course people will be forced to stop moving from bar to bar in order to save money, and this very charming element of daily life in Sevilla will die away.

Then there is the mistaken idea that you are somehow giving anything away. Nobody is asking you to give food away for nothing. But when you put food on a table as soon as customers sit down, it later looks very tacky when you charge for it, meaning it makes you look bad. It really does. Since I’ve heard most of you say “Do you have any idea how much bread and olives cost us every month, Shawn?” I’m guessing that you know exactly how much, making this a fixed cost (like rent and electricity) and something that could easily be factored into your food and drink prices. If you feel you want to charge for bread and olives, fair enough. But they should be clearly listed on the menu and you should wait for people to order them.


can you believe I was charged 3 euros for THIS

Finally, I am far from the only person complaining about this. I hear complaints all the time, including from other bar and restaurant owners. Heck, even some of your own staff and management are embarrassed by this, but they need their jobs so of course aren’t going to say anything. I am aware that I may be the only one who will say something to your face, but I can’t even begin to count the number of visiting friends and tapas tour clients who have been surprised and put off after finding an extra charge on their bill. I’m often asked if the “service” is a tip that goes to the wait staff. No it is not, I tell them, it goes directly into your pocket. I’m also asked WHY bars in Sevilla do this and my only honest answer is that certain owners have hit on a way to make extra money for nothing and seem to think nobody minds. But people do mind. They mind a lot. Scrupulous bar owners I’ve spoken to also hate this practice and feel it is giving tapas bars in Sevilla a bad name. But do they complain when they go out and this happens to them? No, they do what most people do. Feel upset and taken advantage of and then don’t go back. Why? Because nobody likes making a fuss or getting into an argument at the end of a meal or tapas stop. Easier just to pay up and leave. And you know this.

Sometimes friends have said to me “well, I’m a regular at such-and-such so they don’t charge me”, as if that makes it okay. The truth is that NOBODY has to pay for bread they haven’t ordered, and especially not this atrocious per person service charge. But again, nobody wants to make a fuss. And of course visitors have no idea they aren’t obliged to pay. Even if they did, most don’t have enough Spanish to argue with their server. But it leaves them with a bad feeling after what was an otherwise pleasant experience, which reflects on you.

servicio pan

Not to mention that none of this is in compliance with Official Rules and Obligations which state that bars and restaurants cannot charge for non-food items, specifically cover charges and taking reservations. Nor can they charge for food items that have not been ordered by the customer ie. bread and olives brought to the table.

But legal or not, it is still morally reprehensible to charge people for absolutely nothing. Meaning that if you found that – somehow – it was legal to charge your customers for just taking a seat in your tapas bar… why would you do this to them? What is your excuse or reasoning? And why does a guiri like me care more about preserving the tapeo tradition than you apparently do?

Un abrazo,

Continue reading “Death of the Tapeo”

Málaga | Laboratoria de Sabores

laboratorio de sabores
While I was out on a Soho Graffiti Tour with my friend Victor @welovemalaga during my recent Málaga Getaway, we turned a corner and Victor suddenly said, “you have to come and meet these people!”. Clearly we had stumbled upon a cooking class in session but co-owners Luís and Amparo were happy to take turns showing me around and telling me all about the Laboratoria de Sabores (the Flavour Lab). It is primarily a space where students learn the art of Mediterranean cooking in a relaxed and very “hands on” environment. Amparo is clearly passionate about keeping the old-style cooking alive and showed me several examples of not only dishes “on the verge of culinary extinction” but also of once-popular food items that are seldom used these days. Her mission is to keep these traditional recipes alive, and from what we saw being prepared by the students that morning, it is indeed a worthy mission.

Aside from offering a variety of cooking classes (beginners, fusion, vegetarian, cooking for singles, cooking for couples, kids classes…), the Lab can also be booked by others to use for their own classes, wine tastings, or private dinners. It’s a lovely and bright space, and Luís and Amparo are clearly in love with what they are doing. Do check them out if you’re spending some time in Málaga and would like to learn more about Mediterranean cooking. Week-long gastronomic holidays can also be arranged, including accommodation.

Laboratoria de Sabores
Duquesa de Parcent 6
tel 951 391 487 / 634 552 625
Laboratoria de Sabores Website

Spanish Gypsy Stew by Susan Nadathur

Guest Post by Susan Nadathur

November 22 commemorates the arrival of the first Romani people to Andalusia and celebrates their contributions to the culture that now defines the area. The Romani, including the Spanish Gypsies, are descendants of the ancient warrior classes of Northern India who trekked westwards around AD1000. Their migration took them through Persia and Armenia into Europe and later America. Their earliest presence in Spain is noted in Zaragoza (Aragon) from 1425 and in Barcelona (Catalonia) from 1447. They arrived in Andalusia in the year 1462, where they were well received and given both food and shelter.

In return, the Gypsies who stayed in the area have contributed much to Andalusian culture, including flamenco music, styles of clothing, and food traditions. Gypsy cuisine reflects a nomadic way of life, and includes wild plants, fish, and game that could be taken opportunistically. In modern society, Romani cooking mirrors the country and culture the Gypsies live in, and has been adapted to the types of foods that are readily available. While researching my novel City of Sorrows, I lived for extended periods of time with a Gypsy family in Seville. During that time, I was treated to several delicious feasts. The food was always hearty and was reflective of what this family’s ancestors ate in the Gypsy camps in days gone by. Here’s a picture of what one of those feasts looked like.

gypsy stew feast

Historically, the main meal was prepared in a large iron pot and left to cook gently all day while the Gypsies went about their activities. This was typically a stew or soup containing whatever meat and vegetables were available on a given day. Recipes have survived through the centuries, frequently undergoing intervention and interpretation to meet the tastes of a particular time. Very few recipes were ever written down; most were handed down verbally through generations. Today, as modern life encroaches on the traditional Romani ways, the old traditions are disappearing rapidly. Convenience foods, modern cooking tools, and appliances have ousted the old cooking methods and traditional recipes, although some are still made for special occasions. One meal that has survived and appears on the table of most Spanish Gypsy families is the Gypsy Stew. Below is a modified recipe for this popular dish.

Continue reading “Spanish Gypsy Stew by Susan Nadathur”

Celebrating San Lorenzo Day

san lorenzo

[click on image to enlarge]

Well, nobody can say my life lacks diversity. The other day I got a newsletter from the Antigua Abacería San Lorenzo saying they would once again be celebrating San Lorenzo day, which made sense given that the bar is named after this saint (as is the barrio). But as I read the newsletter further I was surprised that this celebration would take the form of turning the bar into an “epicentre of roasted and grilled meats”. In case you don’t know, here is a bit of info about San Lorenzo…

Born in Huesca, Spain, San Lorenzo was a Roman deacon who was martyred four days after Pope Saint Sixtus II was put to death. After the pope was killed Lorenzo was instructed by the Prefect to gather all the riches of the church and render them unto Caesar. He had three days to accomplish this and, as the legend goes, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had, even selling sacred vessels to increase the amount. After three days he gathered a large group of blind, lame, leprous, orphaned and widowed people and presented them to the Prefect saying “these are the treasures of the Church”. For this he was put to a slow and painful death on top of a large gridiron with live coals beneath it and, the legend concludes that, after enduring the pain for a very long time he made his famous cheerful remark, “I’m well done. Turn me over!”

Not surprising I guess, San Lorenzo is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.

And so off I went to take part in this unusual and – um, ironic? – festivity. We were greeted by owners Ramón and Mari Carmen and offered a glass of ponche alosnero (a white wine and peach punch from the village of Alosno in Huelva). Shortly afterwards platters of grilled goodies were passed around to everyone in the bar: sardines, chicken drumsticks, potatoes with mojo picón sauce, strips of “lagarto” Ibérico. Then we were treated to a bit of humourous free-verse from poet and neighbour José Luís Agudo Hill, designated “pregón” for the event, which finished with a flourish as José Luís brandished a small decorated BBQ grill to the delight and applause of the onlookers.  There was still more to come as we were only half-way through the celebrations, but I had Saturday errands to attend to and so I took my leave.

If you don’t know what an abacería is then have a look here. And for more information about upcoming events at the Antigua Abacería check out their website.

Antigua Abacería San Lorenzo
Teodosio 53
Tel. 954 380 067

Centro de Interpretación de la Judería

The new Centro de Interpretación de la Judería de Sevilla, which opened yesterday, is the city’s first museum of the history and achievements of Sevilla’s Jews, telling their story in words (both in Spanish and English) and pictures along with other exhibits. It is the latest project of the Casa de la Memoria, one of Sevilla’s best known flamenco cultural centres.

It is a very moving exhibit and you can lose yourself in the stories of some of Sevilla’s most important historical figures, such as Pablo de Olavide, José María Blanco White and the mysterious Susona Ben Susón. You can also see the original 19th century painting “The Expulsion of the Jews from Sevilla” by Joaquín Turina y Areal.

I also liked the map of the old Jewish Quarter, which was created especially for the Centre. New exhibits and events are being planned for the future.

Ximenez de Enciso, 22
Daily 10.30-14.00 and 17.30 – 20.00
entrance €6.50
Tel: 954 047 089