Julia (on the right) and I in the lobby of the beautiful Alfonso XIII Hotel
I hope you all had a joyful Christmas!
Thanks for reading!
Sevilla, food, and travels have been the A-list stars in this blog, and I’ve thoroughly neglected Jerez, the city I actually work in! I suppose it is the commuter’s curse to only know the confines of their workspace, and in my case, the train station, in the place they commute to.
Two weeks ago, Julia and I staged our own Bring Your Friend to Work Day, and she accompanied me along the marathon of 2 hours of train rides, 1 hour of walking, 10 minutes of Metro-ing, and the 7 hours of working that is my typical Tuesday.
Here are some pictures from our day…
Julia snapped this picture as we were leaving school. This is the gate to I.E.S. Fernando Savater, the secondary school where I work. This gate is always locked, and there is another locked door beyond this to get inside the building- maximum security- those kids aren’t escaping!
I gave my first test last week! I think was about as nervous as the students posing questions and striving to give them fair grades! When Julia visited, we gave some class presentations about Christmas in the U.S. The kids were horrified that we don’t have turrón and polvorones (a popular Spanish Christmas cookie). I assured them we had our own share of delicious ways to celebrate the season! I don’t think we sold them on eggnog though…
After school, we strolled over to the city center with Helen, the other language assistant at my school .As Jerez is known for its sherry wine production, it was fitting that they were constructing a Christmas tree of sherry bottles in this plaza.
On Saturday, I took a much longer 25-hour journey home to California! I have a couple of back-posts about sweets (surprise!) that I intend to put up while I’m home, so I won’t completely disappear during my break from Spain. I hope you enjoyed this sliver of a look into my daily grind in Jerez!
Peppermint candy canes, eggnog, and Christmas cookies…these are the flavors that conjure up Christmas to me. It has been a revelatory experience to discover that they don’t for the rest of the world! So, for purely cultural research reasons, I have been tasting and testing the sweets that Spanish people wait for all year long to eat at the most wonderful time of the year.
Boxes of turrón stacked up in Francisco’s shop La Oliva in Granada
Turrón is unquestionably the king of Christmas sweets here. It has been a part of Spanish Christmas celebrations since the 16th century! Boxes upon boxes (and in fact, aisles upon aisles) of turrón pop up in the major grocery stores towards the end of November (without Thanksgiving to officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season, Spanish retailers begin stocking for Christmas as early as the beginning of November).
What is turrón exactly? One of the most traditional kinds of turrón, turrón de jijona, is made of chopped toasted almonds, honey, sugar and egg whites. Almonds and honey are primary ingredients in sweets from the Arabian peninsula, where the earliest ancestors of turrón may have originated. This mass is cut into rectangles, similar in appearance to a typical chocolate bar. While turrón de jijona has a soft texture, other traditional turrón is hard, like nougat. There are hundreds and hundreds of turrón flavors sold today, catering to every taste imaginable- marzipan ones, chocolate ones, fruit-flavored ones…
We sampled the turrón de jijona y turrón de crema catalana (a toasted custard flavor). The jijona is quite crumbly. The crema catalana has the texture of fudge but with a strong egg yolk flavor. Turrón is quite distinct from our Christmas sweets but I find myself already craving it!
PS- In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve enabled WordPress’ Let it Snow feature, so if you notice some falling white dots on the blog, don’t be alarmed!
Helen, the other language assistant at my school, was Julia’s and I’s first official out-of-town visitor who hadn’t been to Sevilla before! Julia and I felt a great responsibility to give her a wow-worthy tour of the city we love. She put her day completely in our hands, and we attempted to blend together an itinerary of history and culture, sights and activity and of course, fabulous food to give her a slice of Sevilla life!
The Alcázar, former Moorish fortress and later Catholic palace, is an opulent display of mudéjar architecture (architecture heavily influenced by Islamic design but not necesarily built by Muslims). Exquisite tile and plaster work, sprawling gardens, and gurgling fountains feed the visitor’s imagination to give an idea of how a by-gone era defined luxury. The fortress walls today serve to block out the noise of traffic and crowds, creating a modern tranquil escape in Sevilla’s city center.
1 pm, Lunch
We decided to take Helen to a tapas place close to our apartment called Bodeguita Antonio Romero. I’ve already praised their delicious piripi montaditos in a previous post. They also happen to serve the best Spanish tortilla I’ve tried (not to be confused with the flour tortillas in Mexican cuisine, Spanish tortillas are kind of like a sliced potato omelet). Being a vegetarian in Spain, Helen has become a Spanish tortilla connoisseur since it is often the only menu item without meat in many places. To our delight, she gave this tortilla her seal of approval.
2:30pm, Plaza de España in María Luisa Park
The Plaza de España was built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition that took place in Sevilla. It’s moat has been under reconstruction for the past several months, but serendipitously opened in time for the beautiful day we had yesterday. We took advantage of the non-cold to hop in a rental row boat for some unique perspectives of the Plaza.
Plaza de España tower
4:30pm, Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía
After our row boat excursion, we were met by our friend Joanna, and all together we ventured to this Feria de Gastronomía y Artesanía, or Gastronomy and Crafts Fair, where we found lots of samples to nibble. Julia and I picked up an orange balsamic vinegar- orange trees are everywhere in Sevilla!
6pm, Ending the day on a sweet note at the Dos Jotas Mesón
Samples proved to not be sufficient enough to sate our hunger after all of our excursioning, so we attempted to stop at a café for something more substantial. The good weather combined with a Saturday evening resulted in a complete people jam in the city center. We resorted to retiring to our apartment, where we had a stockpile of cookies from the nun’s cookie fair we attended last weekend, and we supplemented those with some montecados, popular powdery Spanish cookies, from one of our favorite bakeries. I will be posting more about montecados, and other Spanish sweets, in honor of the Christmas season soon!
With the weather as our co-conspirer, Julia and I had a lovely time playing tour guides for Helen!
“The tunas are coming! The tunas are coming!” This is no fisherman’s cry in Spain. It heralds the arrival of dozens of groups of men, dressed up in antiquated minstrel-like outfits, equipped with guitars, tambourines and sonorous voices ready to serenade the people.
About the tunas: One of our Spanish friends, Patricia, told us that these fraternities of singing men are connected to the universities. Each university department may have its own tuna. Both current students and students long-graduated can be in the tuna. Tunas are all over Spain, not just Andalucía. They sing special folkloric songs, and sometimes Christmas carols (villancicos in Spanish) during this time of year. Their outfits consist of a tunic with puffy sleeves, short pants with tights, a sash covered in badges each representing one of their many travels and a cape adorned with a bevy of ribbons gifted them by their moms, aunts, girlfriends, lovers…
The whole group of players and singers together is called a tuna, while just one member is called a tuno. We were told by our Spanish friends to beware the tunas- they have quite the Don Juan reputation. At the same time, the Spanish girls seem to love the tunas. “There’s a tuno!” “Tunos! Tunos!” were the excited whispers heard in the bars and streets.
We were privy to both a small serenade by 2 tunos to a couple of the Spanish girls we were with, and a grand spontaneous concert by a whole tuna in a small street behind our apartment. Both were impressive. Both were surreal moments. Both were jarring reminders that we are in Spain. It’s amazing to see a 13th-century tradition alive and thriving!
To watch the tunos in action, check out this tape I was able to take of them singing a song about Sevilla:
I hope you enjoy the video!
Sevilla is especially busy today because it’s a work holiday here in Spain (Constitution Day). There is also a holiday on Wednesday (Day of the Immaculate Conception). This produces what the people here call a “puente” or “bridge,” where lots of people get Tuesday off too. Hence, a super long weekend and perfect travel opportunity. Julia and I were scared away by the snow forecasts for Madrid and the Spanish air controller’s strike, and decided to have a “stay-cation” here in town. Here are some of the foodie adventures we got into while staying put…
Thurs. Night: Sushi…finally!
Since we’re close to the Sevilla airport, we get lots of guests passing through on their way to an early next-morning flight. Such was the case on last Thursday night. Our guest and a couple of her friends had plans to go to Japanese for dinner, and Julia and I tagged along. We hadn’t had sushi since we arrived in Spain! It was a welcome change from our usual fare.
Fri.: Tattoos and some extraordinary sandwiches
Friday began with some excitement as Julia and I accompanied another language assistant, our friend Joanna, to get a tattoo! She had made her appointment about a month ago at a place near our apartment, and Friday was the big day! Having had little breakfast and with the tattoo finishing around 3pm, we knew we needed to get our friend some food. We returned to a place our neighbors took us to, called the Patio San Eloy. It has an exquisite tile-filled interior and fantastic sandwiches, and as the spaz that I am, I didn’t get pictures of either. However, I snapped a pic of our extremely cheesy “salad” we ordered…
We capped the meal off with a stop at the most charming bakery in Sevilla, called La Campana. It was established in 1885, and the servers still wear pale blue and white old-fashioned uniforms reminiscent of soda shop outfits. We had some unique sweets from their impressive pastry case…
Once our freshly-tattooed friend was on her way, we met up with some of our neighbor’s friends (the neighbors are out of town), and they took us to a bar called Bodeguita Antonio Romero. Once there, they proceeded to order one after another of knock-out dishes. One of their favorites at this particular location is the piripi, a montadito, or little sandwich, made up of pork chop, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce and ali-oli (garlic-tinged mayo). Sound familiar? They tasted like fresh BLTs on mini baguettes.
Sunday: Taken by storm
A monstrous storm moved in on Sunday, covering the city in a blanket of hard rain, thunder and lightening. Julia and I attempted to make it to church in the morning, but missed our usual bus. Dampened by the prospect of arriving late and the pelting rain drops, we comforted our mishap with a trip to a little café under our apartment (literally, the first floor of our apartment building). Our goal is to try all of the places in our immediate proximity, so we were able to cross this one off our list. The decor is nothing special, but their chocolate had a good consistency (not too thick, not too thin) and their churros were light enough to not induce a chronic stomach ache for the rest of the day.
Monday: To market nuns go
The convents in and around Sevilla had a special market this morning to sell baked goods for the approaching holiday season. We had to wait 15 minutes in a long line of Spaniards to just enter the market area. Tables wrapped around the periphery of the market hall were stacked high with boxes filled with all kinds of sweets, and people were grabbing them up quickly.
Julia and I made several laps before carefully deciding on our purchases. We brought home a variety cookie box and some mantas (fried dough dripping with honey).
Wishing everyone a sweet start of December!
This weekend the city of Sevilla turned on its holiday lights and wow! The place looks gorgeous. Main thoroughfares, public buildings and large squares all got the Christmas treatment with poinsettias, life-size nativity scenes (called belenes), Christmas trees, and, of course, light displays. Not even my Metro stop was left out! The Christmas bustle is palpable especially in the shopping district, where every Sevillano seems to be working through their shopping lists. The narrow streets frequently get jammed- the Spanish tradition of “dar un paseo” roughly translated as “to take a stroll” exasperates the conditions as whole families brave the bad weather to take a look at the transformed city. Here’s a small sample of what we’ve seen decked out this weekend…
Nativity scenes form a much more central role in Christmas decorations here than in the US. I’d say they’re almost comparable to our Christmas trees in terms of importance and familiarity as a Christmas symbol.
This is a belén market. It’s a Christmas tradition here for families to construct little nativity villages in their homes . The villages include markets, bull fights, flamenco dancers and more alongside the scene of Jesus’ birth. The stalls pictured here sell every little accoutrement to add to the villages, including pinkie-nail-sized pigeons and sausages. Note the Mickey Mouse selling balloons on the right. I don’t think Disney would be happy about this!
Of course, we’ve made our own effort to deck the halls here at the Mesón Dos Jotas. In the picture you can see the poinsettia Julia bought and the paper snow-flakes we made on a rainy afternoon. This is Joanna, another language assistant- she’s learning to play guitar!
Keep reading to see what culinary adventures we got into this weekend!