Thinking about last week’s trip to Seville now – on a wet evening in South West London – is not the best idea. I want to be lost in streets that sprout illogically off the map; smell fried fish when passing la fritura – squid, bacalao and prawns, spitting hot fat before being wrapped in paper cones.
I want to taste the sweet meatiness of a bocadillo con morcilla – a soft black pudding – its orange oil seeping into the bread. A bowl of prawns still sizzling in garlic and oil as it hits the table. Even the anaemic bread placed before us before every meal: more custom than pleasure, but apparently a preface to all tapas.
There is something addictive about ordering from a tapas menu. Comfort in the promise of cheap and good wine, olives, and soon, a procession of dishes containing something meaty, something fried, probably something delicious.
I’ve returned from Seville knowing only slithers of history – maybe only the story behind the cathedral’s chapels or the cobalt blue ceramics in the Palacio Alcazar. I guess all I ever really wanted to know was what it would be like to stand up at a bar, eating a melting round of pig cheek. We ate and we ate, so much so that Seville is to me just sun, ceramics and the smell of hot oil. Caramel coated palmeras for breakfast; salmorejo with salty ham and egg to cut into the midday heat; braised quail swimming in its own juices to put the stale bread to good use.
On the final evening, we returned to a tapas restaurant we’d visited on our first day: to La Brunilda, and to more tender meat and crispy fat. The highlight of our first meal was a cream of partridge soup with black pudding (who knew it was perfectly reasonable to share soup!) On our second visit it was a rich duck leg – so soft it could be eaten with a spoon – melting into velvety sweet potato.
Of course there’s something to be said for tours, guidebooks, and paying five euros to visit a church. But in the same way that you can attend mass to see that same golden high alter for free, you can often eat your way to cultural understanding. Besides, with most tapas bars decorated with images of the Virgin Mary, food and devotion begin to blur.