When in Spain, Eat…

by Sean St. John on May 6, 2014

in British Inspiration, Featured, Photo Essay, Spain, Travel

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Folks, do you this little favor right now. Stop what you’re doing and spend five minutes reading about Sean’s visit to Andalucía. In five minutes, you’ll be transported to a sort of calm place somewhere only a very good book will take you. In five minutes, you’ll retreat into Sean’s tiny dispatch from the land of sun, tapas and overflowing taverns. I’m planning my dream trip now. -Maggie

The almond blossoms twinkled pink on the hillsides as we drove through Andalucía. Miles of spindly almond trees on one side, huge spring green olive groves on the other, and everywhere orange trees were heavy with the last crop of dimpled Seville oranges. Men worked the fields, hoeing and clipping and picking throughout the afternoon sun.

This was Spain between winter and spring; a Spain far from the blistering heat, dusty roads and scorched earth of summer. There was a tranquility about the place, as if the nation was hidden in hibernation. It felt as if Spain was a forgotten destination outside of summer; that without sun and sand it had nothing to give. That was far from the case.

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We drove across the plains, past snow-capped sierras, through lush valleys, followed bulging spring rivers and wound up and around tiny mountain-perched villages built centuries ago. We took our time crossing the region, taking in cities, walking in the hills and grabbing lunch in towns too small to be marked on our map. It took mere hours to recognize Andalucía for what it was: a region obsessed with food.

Every hectare of the countryside is combed into neat rows of trees, be it olives, orange, almonds or vines; barbecues and wood-fired ovens can be smelled everywhere at lunchtime and old men forage in the foothills for wild asparagus, oregano, sometimes even snails. Many of the towns have sprouted from a food craft – Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda for Sherry production; Trevélez and Jabugo for the prestigious cured ham (jambón ibérico); and Jaén, known for its beautiful olive oils made from Picual and Hojiblanca olives. There is a pride and passion for the local produce that’s quite rare these days. Buying food is a ritual rather than a chore in Andalucía; it is a slow and careful task – talking to the butcher or cheesemonger and learning the story behind each producer seems to be common practice in here.

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We ate lunch in a different town each day for a week. We sat in courtyards decorated with spring flowers, or in city piazzas under Cathedrals, or on narrow streets watching the world go by. We always ordered tapas. Andalucía is where tapas started; those little dishes of food, not quite snacks, but tiny morsels of exciting flavours to eat alongside a few drinks.

Tapas is a communal way of eating; they are passed around or shared and plates are added to the order if needed. Tapas culture is at its most vibrant in Seville, a city buzzing with bars, cafes, bakeries, delis and restaurants. By late afternoon, every tasca (tavern) and cervecería (beer house) overflows with crowds standing around bar tables or on the sidewalks drinking beer or sherry with a few plates circulating among friends.

Don’t go anywhere… Tomorrow, we’ll share Sean’s tapas recipes.

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Photos taken and styled by Sean.

Eat Boutique discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. We share recipes, maker stories and city guides to eating boutique. We host tasting events and markets for food makers, cookbook authors and food fans. We craft seasonal, regional gift and tasting boxes and sell individual items that you can order in the Eat Boutique Shop. You can also follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagramTumblr and Pinterest.

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Sean St. John

Sean St John is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and spirits. He is particularly interested in food’s natural seasons, fresh produce and artisan producers with a real passion for their craft. He currently lives in Cornwall, UK, an area known for its seafood and farming. He is always on the lookout for new and exciting food and drink to try and buy and write about, and is currently working on Four, a British seasonal cookery book with illustrator Katt Frank. You can see more of his work at Wildwood & Shore.

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