Saturday, July 26, 2008

Paella on the beach and sweets at Convent: Spain Food Yatra (2)

For this second part of the Spanish Food Yatra, I would cover my experiences across Andalucia. Essentially three cities/towns – Seville and Granada from Moorish Spain and Nerja on Costa del Sol. Tapas bar hopping (Ir de tapas in Spanish) deserves a dedicated post so I will leave out tapas bars of Seville here.


We had heard so much about Churros that we had to have them for breakfast at least once during our trip. Now that we found a friendly and knowledgeable manager at our hotel, Hotel Alcantara (highly recommended), we asked him for a suggestion. On his recommendation we landed at the Churoria on Can y Ceutro at 8:00 in the morning. God bless the local ahead of us in the Q who told us not to go for the small ones on the counter but get fresh ones fried, which are then sold by weight. The Churoria has a symbiotic relationship (presumably due to common ownership) with Bar Modesto, next door. So we took our Churros, seated ourselves at Bar Modesto and ordered hot chocolate.


The best lunch we had in the region was a couple of hundred kilometers to the east of Seville on Costa del Sol. On the Burriana beach, in the famous resort of Nerja, a legend lives. This is pony-tailed man and his institution Chirnguito de Ayo (Ayo’s Snack Bar). Any eatery with such a wonderful location would be successful just serving fries and sangria, but what has made this place famous is its paella, cooking in (what else?) huge paellas on wood-fire under thatched roof. It is not best paella you would have in Spain, and locals say it isn’t even authentic – huge jar of paprika powder kept beside the paellas used to give some of the color which otherwise should come from more expensive saffron would obviously compromise authenticity and taste. But it is about the institution rather than food. Unlimited helpings of paella for six Euros is a bargain to begin with, the picture postcard frying of chicken and bubbling of stock in various paellas at different stages of cooking, and the fact that the chef in front of you had the company of Padma Lakshmi (see the youtube video of the travel show) not so long ago, all adds up to the legend (not to mention various other food and travel shows, a gold medal from the local mayor for promoting tourism, the privilege of firing the pistol to start the race in local athletics championship and more). To a not so discerning visitor like me, the paella tasted good as well – it skimps on seafood but then how many places are serving tiger prawns for six Euros?

Evening Snack

There are not many places in the world which have been in the business of food since 1385, and this is reason enough for Horno de San Buenaventura (Avenida de la Constitución 16, Seville), in Seville to be one’s itinerary. It is a busy café, full of both locals and tourists, but you are served by rude and indifferent waiters. Remind yourself that people having been coming here for 600 years, grin and bear!

Chastened by our experience, our next evening’s coffee was at a more lowbrow Los Angeles cafe around the Plaza de Toro (Bull Ring) on the junction of Arfe and Antonio Diaz. We were so pleased with the friendly staff that we came back again for breakfast the next day. If you are not delighted with the Sevillian specialty Tocino de cielo (literally ‘heavenly bacon’ but more like a heavier version of flan) at this café, then try the same at El Buzo across the road. El Buzo is also very famous tapas bar, but I would remember it for the brilliant Tocino

For a more unique experience, go to El Torno on Plaza Cabildo. The shop sells the famous sweets made by nuns at Seville’s many convents. Each convent specializes in one or more sweets. We picked the Yemas (sugar coated egg yolks) from the Dominicas convent. You can also buy jams and marmalades here. We bought a plum jam which did not survive even three days on our return to Krakow. Let me digress to mention that the shop also sells lacework from the convent and, I presume, these clothes are considered auspicious by the local people one of whom there to buy infant’s clothes for his yet-to-be-born child.


If you are a vegetarian or long for a veggie meal after all the carnivorous excesses in Spain, head to La Habanita (Calle Golfo 3, Seville) a Cuban restaurant which has the widest varity of vegetarian dishes among all tapas bars and restaurants in Seville. Try the frijoles con arroz (beans and rice), or aubergines with arepas (corn bread). The place is also serves, arguably, city’s best mojito. If you are in Granada, one not-to-be-missed place is Cunini on Plaza Pescadería 14. Amazing array of seafood with the option of al freco dining on the plaza make a very good choice.

But my dinner pick in Andalucia would be Seville, next to the Royal Chapel in Granada (yes, a restaurant named Seville in the city of Granada). Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, Salvador Dalí, André Segovia, Gene Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman and others who have visited this place since 1930 cant be wrong! It claims to be loyal to family recipes of ‘La Tita’ Ana Casteneda, who started the restaurant along with her husband. We started with a superb fish soup ‘La Tita’, and had paella for main course. While I would still rate the paella at Can Majo in Barcelona slightly higher, this was really good as well. By the time we finished with our dessert and coffee, we could hardly walk. The restaurant had shuttered doors, but not once did the staff make us feel that we needed to hurry. A restaurant with a history, great food, and extremely friendly staff, situated ideally for a visitor – what else can you ask for?

Horno de San Buenavetura

Ayo's at Nerja

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framed mind said...

can u please give me the recepie of paella......plz.

firefoodie said...

I like it. Paella is a big favourite of mine, one I am always finding excuses to make. I have yet to try the original version using rabbit and often snails.