One of the great joys of visiting Seville is seeking out some of the mouth-watering tapas bars in the labyrinth of back streets. And then trying to find the same bars again a few days later. In February, though, the city of Seville devotes itself completely to catering for lovers of this way of eating by hosting the annual Tapas Fair.
The Seville Tapas Fair is one of those occasions when, although as many as 50 restaurants and bars officially participate in the Festival ‘proper’, all over the city other ‘unofficial’ establishments will be offering their own individual specialties for people’s delight.
Andalucía prides itself on being the true home of tapas in Spain and Seville is widely regarded as unique because of the almost endless variety of dishes that can be found there. We all are familiar with the concept of tapas eating now – small portions of food that enable you to sample a whole variety of differing flavours – but there is still spirited argument about how the tradition actually began.
Some people claim it was because of one of two kings – Alfonso X or XII, take your pick. The Alfonso X version involves him suffering from a serious illness and eating only small bites of food, accompanied by wine. Upon his recovery to full fitness he made a pronouncement that, throughout Castile, wine was only to be sold if it was accompanied by something to eat – this is probably why he is always known as Alfonso the Wise.
The Alfonso XII explanation is that he was travelling through Andalucía when he stopped at an inn in Cádiz for a cup of sherry, which was covered with a slice of ham to prevent sand blowing from the beach into the king’s drink. Anyone who has been on a Cádiz beach during a Levante wind will lean towards this explanation, I feel.
Far more mundane, and less regal, stories involve the tapa being used as a lid – that is the literal meaning of the word – to prevent flies from hovering above a glass of sweet sherry or, finally I think, the tapa being eaten in the fields to help workers get through the day until their main meal in the late afternoon.
Whichever one of these fanciful explanations is true, all that matters now is that tapas have become central to many people’s perceptions of Spanish life – and certainly, in Seville, this is supremely evident.
You will find an almost endless variety of tapas available in the city – ranging from traditional favourites such as the hams and cheeses of Spain to the more regional dishes such as kidneys or duck in Pedro Jiménez sauce or the amazingly light tortillitas de camarones – shrimp fritters. If you’ve never tasted a date wrapped in bacon – then prepare yourself for a taste sensation.
The official centre for the Seville Tapas Fair is the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones, located along the Avenida de Alcalde de Luís Uruñuela. As well as finding the traditional tapas offerings, you’ll also get the opportunity of trying modern creative adaptations of the concept.
The fair offers a tremendous opportunity to sample the very best of Spanish cuisine – both traditional and modern – and lovers of fish, meat and vegetables will all find their tastes catered for.
Any time is a good time to visit Seville; it is a fascinating and beguiling city. In February, though, there aren’t the enormous crowds of people you find there at Semana Santa or the sweltering temperatures of the height of summer. Instead, you can meander comfortably through the captivating streets and go into places offering the very best tapas in the world.