Sunday, October 28, 2007
Sun, beer, and fried food in Sevilla
Sevilla seems like the kind of place where people would eat fried fish.
The Rio Guadalquivir runs through the town, with most of the old city on the eastern bank, but with the old fishing neighborhood of Triana on the western bank. The city has developed smooth bike lanes that run along much of the river, as well as a lovely new bicycle-based public transportation system, Sevici, where you can pick up a bike from one station and drop it off at another station clear across town for about 1 Euro every half hour. The bikes are insanely heavy, maybe to keep you from being tempted to steal it, but they have sturdy bike baskets, good night lights, and everything else you would need to cruise around town. Brand-new bike system + brand-new river-view bike lanes = sheer joy.
So back to the fried fish. It’s such a stereotype that people in Sevilla don’t work very much and just enjoy life sitting in the thousand little plazas that dot the city, but cruising around town and sitting in those same plazas ourselves, it did seem sort of true. And that kind of carefree, easygoing attitude just seems to go with an affinity for fried fish, especially since fried fish goes so well with a sunny plaza and a cold beer. Of course, my view is probably colored by the fact that Sevilla actually is famous for pescaito frito, or a platter of assorted fried fish.
One night, Becca and I biked from our apartment on the western edge of the old city to the Jardines Murillo, the northeastern edge. We made our way to Modesto, a casual seafood-focused restaurant so big and popular, it took up two separate plazas and two separate indoor spaces facing each other. We got a platter of pimentos de padron to share, while she ordered the famed pescaito frito and I got the cazón frito en adobo.
The pimientos de padrón were on my to-do list because of an essay by Calvin Trillin in his book, “Feeding a Yen.” (Others say, “I did Madrid,” or “I did Granada,” but I say, “I did pimientos de padrón.”) According to Calvin Trillin, they come from Galicia, the state on the northwestern tip of Spain. They are local only to Galicia and are extremely hard to find outside of Galicia, as their season is also very short. In fact, I don’t even know for sure that our pimientos de padrón were the real thing. But I do know for sure that they were very good.
They turned out to be thin-skinned little green peppers, fried and then liberally salted with sea salt. It was like eating potato chips but better. They were the only green peppers I have ever really loved. Every once in awhile, and you have no idea when, you may encounter a spicy one, but they’re otherwise mild and easily lovable. Becca loved them so much, we came back our last day in Sevilla and ordered one platter and then another. They went excellently with Cruzcampo, the light and tasty local beer.
The fried cazón turned out to be chunks of tender dogfish tossed or marinated in some sort of spice that made it pleasantly salty and almost tart. We enjoyed this very much, too.
The famed pescaito, however, was not so universally loved. It was another dish that I ate most of, even though Becca had ordered it. There was quite an assortment of fish, from fried anchovies to small red, curled-up fish (had they died that way?), even a bit of fried fish roe. I popped the fried anchovies like they were popcorn and was thankful for my good appetite.
When we came back almost a week later and ate our two plates of pimientos, we also shared a plate of coquinas, these skinny little clams barely bigger than the tip of your thumb. They’d been cooked in lots of olive oil and salt, and I loved them, too.
I hope New York gets a public bike system soon. Mayor Bloomberg, do you hear me? We already have the river, if not the attitude. Would it be too much to also hope for a place that sells pimentos de padron, fried fish, and coquinas, and maybe an extra plaza or two?