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Food, Glorious Food!

I’ve decided that a perfect first day in a new country is a market tour with tastings. That’s what I did today and it WAS perfect. We met at the Triana Market by the Guadalquivir River in the center of Seville, but every area has a market as it’s customary in Spain to buy groceries daily. This market has historical significance, however, because it’s situated on ruins of the Castle of St. George. This castle was used as headquarters and prison of the Spanish Inquisition. In the 1900s it was demolished and made into a food market.

We began at the fruit and vegetable stand. Our topnotch tour guide, Clara, explained that if Spanish Cooking were like building a home, the foundation would be garlic and tomatoes! Spanish garlic has s pinkish, almost lavender hue. White garlic is from China and is less potent. Interestingly, tomatoes aren’t native, but brought from the Americans by Columbus. The number and variety available stand as a testament to the Spaniards’ love of the humble tomato. Now, you wouldn’t consider making a stir fry with butter, would you? Clara said it would be just as crazy to make a Spanish dish with anything besides olive oil. And Spain produces more olive oil than any other country in the world!

After we sampled some flavorful fruit, we travelled to the pastry shop–yum! We tried two confections. The first was a spiced dough deep fried and then soaked in honey. The second has a pumpkin filling. Then someone spotted a pastry only prepared during Lent so of course we were forced to try it. This was basically French toast–bread soaked in milk, wine, lemon, cinnamon-then fried and soaked in honey. Wow! The Spanish really love a good soak in honey. I wonder if there’s a honey spa treatment?

Next up was the butcher shop. This is where Clara hesitantly admitted the Spanish love to eat pimento infused animal fat on toast. The butcher handed Clara three tubs of fat, one that was strictly fat, one with bits of meat, and one with slightly more bits of meat. The astute Brit in the group compared them to smooth peanut butter, chunky peanut butter, and extra chunky peanut butter. We won’t judge the people of Spain however, because we enjoyed fried chicharrons before we left that were delicious!!

At the fishmonger’s I was intrigued by “percebe” which is a gooseneck barnacle. They’re found on the northeast coast of Spain. That coast is known as the “coast of death” because of the furious waves. A member of our group has spent much time in that area and said she was amazed at people scraping percebe off the rocks in such precarious conditions. The thing is, you don’t even eat them–you SUCK them!

I was tickled to arrive at the spice stall because I’ve anticipated buying the smoked sweet paprika essential to Spanish cooking. Saffron is also available at a fraction of the cost we pay. I asked Clara how to use it, however, because I’ve heard it can’t just be sprinkled in food. Clara explained that she places saffron on a piece of foil over heat and gently browns it to bring out the nutty flavor. Then it must be ground before adding so it’s evenly distributed. The shopkeeper gave us a sampling of Marcona almonds–they’re from Spain!– and fava beans, both fried in olive oil. I bought some because I’m a fan of the Trader Joe’s Marcona almonds and they’re cheaper here.

Last stop: charcuteria! Clara presented us with a beautiful charcuterie board that included famous Iberian ham products. The pigs roam the rangeland of western Spain feasting on acorns from oak and cork trees. They are considered the finest hams in the world, sometimes costing $2,000! We sampled some chorizo, tenderloin, and ham. Our cheeses included Spain’s most popular, manchego, infused with rosemary. Clara mentioned that the Spanish never use cheese in cooking. Last but not least, the ubiquitous olive. As I walk along the streets of Seville, every table I pass has olives for the diners. My favorite was the Chupadedo olive, marinated in thyme, oregano, cumin, and garlic. They are so named because they make you want to lick your fingers!

A few hours later, after I’d spent a lovely afternoon exploring Seville, I thought I’d like some ice cream. I popped into a shop but decided I’d wait. Didn’t want to wrap my mouth around that.

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