Thursday, 27 February 2014


One of the great things in Spain is that when you go to have a drink in a bar you often get an ‘accompaniment’ to munch on. This is the pica-pica. It’s usually consists of olives or these yellow things that look like giant corn.

We tasted the ‘giant corn’ first time when we were invited for dinner to our Spanish friends’ place. We were told to bite it in half and spit out the skin. We tried them and really liked them so we asked for its name. Our host, Juan Ramón, looked slightly embarrassed then quickly rushed out to the kitchen. We found this curious but let it drop however on the next day I asked my native Spanish teacher to tell me the yellow thing´s name. Apparently they have an ´official´ name but everybody calls them chochitos. She launched into explaining the origin of the name and I just got redder and redder in the face while I was listening then just burst out laughing! These Spanish are so crazy! If you want to know what it means then I’m afraid you have to do the research.

We have been buying our olives from the shop but it was never really as tasty as in some of the bars. Finally together with the sun the olive sellers came out to the streets as well. One day we built up our courage and walked down to the one closest to us. The stall is on a corner of a busy street shaded by an orange tree and seems to have a constant stream of customers. We stood in line and waited for our turn.

Without asking the man handed us a few olives to try from the different buckets and pointed at little plastic bag that was placed on the side thoughtfully for the seeds. We tried three different types then settled on one. We also got some chochitos as well. Since then we have become part of the group of his faithful customers.  

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tapas a la naranja

During the Naranja de Sevilla orange festival about 30 restaurants offered a variety of tapas made by using the famous orange as an ingredient (read about the event here). I was determined to go on a tapas crawl and try all the 30 dishes but had to make do with only a few. I tried to choose restaurants that offered something special that we hadn’t tried before and the first meal on my list was a very typical Andalucian dish: oxtail stew or ‘rabo de toro’.

This dish originates from Córdoba and we have been seeing it offered as a full portion many times however we never tried it just in case we didn’t like it. We needn’t have worried. Finally the time has come when we could order it as a tapa and we were pleased to see the amount of meat piled on our plate. The ‘rabo de toro’ is a hearty stew that is very tasty and at the same time very filling. A plate was enough for us for lunch. I am definitely a fan of this dish.
Rabo de toro a la jalea de naranja amarga

The second choice fell on another famous dish called ‘cochinillo’. This is a famous dish from Segovia in Castilla y León where the serving has an interesting ritual attached to it. The meat of the suckling pig has to be so soft that the edge of a plate should be enough to cut it. This is demonstrated in the above mentioned town by the waiters who, after cutting the meat, will smash the plate on the floor. Unfortunately the plate-smashing did not happen in this restaurant however the meat was delicious. The dish has made it to my favourites.
Cochinillo con naranja (that pinkish foam bit is the ‘orange’)

As we haven’t been to the other side of the river much we decided that we’ll find a restaurant there, in Triana. The choice was good as the tapa was very original. We were served cod as tempura with an interesting sauce. It combined the sweetness of the orange with the pepperiness of the red pepper. It was definitely our favourite dish during the fiesta.
Lomito de dorada en tempura con chutnei de naranja amarga

After trying beef, pork and fish I wanted something different. The choice fell on a restaurant right in front of the Cathedral of Seville. On the day we went there to sample their tapa (in the disguise of a language exchange with a friend) the sun was shining and it was nice and warm for the first time this year. The meat was duck and the dish was very interesting. As much as we could see it was a spring roll on top of a piece of bread. The orange was represented in that little cube of jelly on the side (FAIL on originality) but they used edible flower petals as decoration (PASS on representation). The whole thing was sweet and more like a dessert than an actual meal.
Crujiente de pato andalusí y su torrija de naranja de Sevilla

Our last ‘tapa a la naranja’ was consumed on a lovely square called Doña Elvira which is full of tiled benches and shaded by orange trees. This tapa was made up of ox tongue in pastry with sweet orange sauce. It was the best finale for our gastronomy experience.
Hojaldrito de roast beef macerado en naranja

I hope you enjoyed looking at these dishes with me. We definitely enjoyed eating them! They should really make this fiesta longer than two weeks. Maybe a whole year round event…

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Seville Orange Festival (III Jornadas Gastronomicas)

This time of the year is all about the orange harvest in Seville and all around Andalucia. To commemorate and celebrate this event the town decided to have a contest between the bars and restaurants and offer a new variety of tapas. The rules were easy: offer a tapa for a set price of 4Euros and in this include a drink and a plate of food which has orange as an ingredient in it.

About 30 different restaurants participated and the list of them was available on the town’s website. They even put a set price on it so a plate of food with a drink costs 4 Euros even in the more expensive places. So for 4 Euros you get food with a glass of vino, I think it’s a great value.

I was very keen to exploit this opportunity to its fullest and try as many dishes as I could during the two weeks of the festival and I dragged Paul and some other friends around with me, too. We personally think it’s a great idea as we ventured into streets and bars we otherwise would not have done. It also produces a variety of new dishes and as we’re always on the quest to try new tapas the even suited us perfectly. The only downside was that the plates were pretty big and we could only have maximum two tapas per occasion!! Life is full of hardships, I’m telling ya!

Get ready for some serious drooling in tomorrow’s blog!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The oranges of the Guadalquivir Valley

Have you ever heard of the bitter oranges of Seville? (No, not the wild oranges on the street but actual sweet, edible oranges.) Maybe you even tried some of their famous marmalade? If your answer is ‘yes’ to the latter then you are one of the lucky ones who tried (apparently) the world’s best oranges.

The Rio Guadalquivir is a great river that is born in the Sierra de Cazorla and runs through Andalucia’s many villages and towns, for example Seville. Its valley, which is one of the most productive areas of Spain, stretches from Seville to Córdoba and is full of orange trees producing the world famous fruit.

Why is it world famous? Apparently the Valley has a unique climate that is especially beneficial for oranges. Over 4000 hours of sunshine a year, the fertile soil and the people who live and work around the area make the fruit born here the best you can get with the best characteristics in aroma, colour, acidity, sweetness and many more.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Andalucia during spring make sure that you do the Seville-Córdoba car drive. The sight of all those orange trees in bloom and the smell of them will stay with you during the whole trip.   

Friday, 21 February 2014

The oranges of Seville

One of the reasons why Seville is such a gorgeous city is undoubtedly the presence of the orange trees. These lovely trees line most of its streets and shade many of its parks not only in the centre but also in the suburban areas. All throughout winter they keep their bright fruit (well, I'm talking about Andalucian winter here) and even on rainy days the sight of these orange balls lift our spirits. Yes, we're living in a hot country where you just reach up and take an orange from the tree above you on the street!

For me, as a Hungarian, oranges have always belonged to the ‘exotic fruit’ category. I remember when I was a child it was hard to come by them. I guess I was born after  communism so after the borders opened such common things like fruit became available for the common people, too, but they were still expensive. This has changed during the years of course and nowadays it’s an everyday thing like an apple. This will probably explain the fact that in one of my first days in Seville I couldn’t help myself and I had to try to eat one.

Well, a word of warning: don’t eat them. They are wild oranges and are on the streets for decoration, not for eating. Although this is pretty obvious I just couldn’t stop myself and ate the most bitter orange of my life! Oh, well. At least I learnt from my mistakes. 

The time has come, however, when more and more fruit end up on the floor getting squashed by cars and people alike. It is not a pretty sight and the cleaners work hard to clean them off the road every day. To make things easier we started to spot city workers whose job is to climb and collect all the fruit from the trees.

Where are all these delicious looking (but evil-tasting) oranges will end up? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but here. The sight just breaks my heart.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sierra de Grazalema, the Simacón and the Reloj

The Sierra de Grazalema was the first natural park in Andalucia, now a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. It is a highly protected, very special place. The area offers spectacular landscapes full of rugged mountain peaks and gorges. Due to its annual high amount of rainfall it has an amazing variety of plants, including a special type of fir that is a ‘leftover’ from the prehistoric ages. It also has an impressive black vulture colony.

The area is so protected that you have to apply for a permission to walk on some of its hiking routes (these can be obtained from the El Bosque Information Office). In some crucial months of the year hiking is not even permitted. Luckily we went late in the year and found a lovely route which took us up to two peaks, to the Simacón and to the Reloj.

The hike started with a nice ascent through a pine forest with huge pine trees. We quickly gained height and had lunch in a lovely spot overlooking the valley.

As we continued our walk we came across this heard of wild deer which seemed quite tamed and did not run away even when we walked relatively close to them.

Then we got to Simacón. The description of the hike did talk about scrambling but we always take these warnings with a pinch of salt, we are in Andalucia, after all. This time however it seemed to be true and we made our way up to the top. The view was amazing, as always.

Curiously we noticed that area was full of ladybirds! It seemed that there was a ladybird party up there.

Then came the hardest part of the hike. To be able to get from the peak of Simarcón to the Reloj we had to go over a treacherous bit where the limestone was shaped by the wind and the rain. It looked amazing but we really had to be careful about where we put our feet. It was mentally exhausting to get through this bit.

On the top of Reloj. We could even spot Ronda from there!

The route was only about 13km long but we found it very tiring due to the difficulties between the two peaks.

This area is the first one where the marking of the routes is seriously lacking. Luckily we were up high so we were able to see where we have to go and our smartphone map again proved to be useful. I would definitely advise taking a map though as the different routes often criss-cross and it’s hard to find the right one.  

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


On one of our first weekends in Seville we opened the map and looked for a handsome-looking mountain to hike up. We found what we were looking for in the form of Sierra de Grazalema, a medium sized mountain about an hour and a half drive from Seville. The place looked perfect! After reading about it we decided to check out the curious-sounding village of Grazalema.

The place is unique due to its location. For some reason that particular spot is the wettest place in Andalusia meaning it has the highest amount of rainfall in the region. It is actually quite curious as apparently a few kilometres away from Grazalema it rains dramatically less than there.

Just like many other places I talked about before, Grazalema is one of the pueblos blancos, the white villages. It looks gorgeous as it follows the shape of the mountain behind it.

It is a popular place amongst hikers and climbers. A great place for a day out of Seville due to the closeness of the city. Worth a look! 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Seville’s knife sharpener

One sunny Saturday afternoon we were doing what we like to do most in Seville, wandering along its streets in the sunshine. Suddenly we heard a high pitched whistle. We were curious about what this might be and went to investigate. We saw this elderly gentlemen standing next to his motorbike sharpening a knife on the back. Apart from looking utterly professional he seemed to be quite a celebrity as lots of tourists took photos of him. Turns out we found an ‘afilador’, a knife sharpener.

I was very surprised as I’ve never seen anybody doing this before. After a little research on the internet I learnt that his trade is one of those old Spanish traditions that are on the verge of dying out. His job is to walk around the streets of the city and offer his trade to anybody who’s in need of knife sharpening, thus saving money and time for the businesses. The service comes right to your doorstep and it is apparently cheap (although I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure what the going rate is for kitchen knife sharpening).

If you’d like to read more about this, watch this short video that the BBC shot about an ‘afilador’ in Madrid here.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Baños Árabes

During the first months of 2014 for our biggest dismay we had to realise that the sun doestn’t last, not even in Andalusia. The rain was upon us and even though there are a few sunny days we’ve had many weekends when it was rainy in the whole region. We don’t like to be cooped up in our flat and we wanted to find something to do in Seville. That’s when we found the Baños Árabes on the internet. We didn’t really know what to expect but booked a two hour session for Sunday, with a 15minute massage included. We packed our swimwear and walked down to Calle Aire.

The Arab Bath of Aire de Sevilla is an amazing place for a complete relaxation. The building itself is from the 16th century but it retained its Moorish character. It feels special just to walk up on the stairs to the changing room.

You are provided with a towel and special footwear and if you don’t happen to bring your swimwear for your holiday, no need to worry as they can give you that as well. There is a selection of rooms you can choose from. The first one we went to was the Thermal bath. It’s a lovely room with candle lights, warm water and soothing Arabian music. You sit down on the bench that runs on the side of the big pool, put your head back, close your eyes and enjoy the experience. 

Here at the back there are two more pools, one with hot and one with cold water.
In another part there’s a steam room which effect is enhanced by the smell of menta. This leads into a big Jacuzzi with the ambitions name of ‘ The Lounge of Thousand Jets’. This was Paul’s favourite place. Then we visited the lowest pool full of salt water. There is no recommended order, you can visit the pools in any order you want. During the visit the attendants will call those who have a massage included in their session as well.

We thought that two hours will feel very long however we were surprised when we heard the little bell which signalled the end of the session. We were both very relaxed and warm. I think the experience not only relaxes your mind but also your soul. We are planning to come back again, timing our visit so it coincides with one of the musical nights to add the sound of the live guitar playing to the experience.

You can find this amazing place on Calle Aire, 15. Here is their website.