I went to Spain for the first time in 1997. I was visiting a high-school friend whose family was from Barcelona. I was 22 at the time, and the food revolution that was under way at el Bulli just an hour or so away hadn’t yet spread to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. Most nights, my host and I ate oily sardines washed down with a few cheap glasses of beer before I went home to sleep and he went out to dance. (Even at 22, I had a hard time adjusting to the schedule of Spanish nightlife!)
Last month, my family traveled to Seville and I was blown away by the variety and quality of the food. With my rather limited Spanish language skills and two little girls as side-kicks, I was fortunate to eat at several of the city’s top tapas bars. Though a stroller is not the recommended accessory to visit small, cramped spaces with limited seating, it comes in handy when trying to push your way through to the counter! Together with my daughter, Madeleine, I tasted dishes that ranged from the mountains to the sea—soft-boiled quail eggs on a porcini rusk, sardines on toast with sweet tomato relish, pureed cuttlefish and squid ink wrapped in a delicate filo, pork cheeks in a velvety leek sauce, and dogfish served in a saffron broth—to name a few.
Needless to say it was a far cry from the dining experience of my student days. Every day after visiting the major sites of the city—the Alcazar, the Cathedral, Casa dos Pilotes—we would seek out a restaurant for lunch and dinner. Though we cook together every night together in Seattle, it was the first time Maddie and I ever really bonded over restaurant food. Sitting at the bar of La Pepona eating hake and pea shoots, I was reminded of how food can bring us closer when Maddie remarked that the only way the evening could have been better was if we could have shared it with her mom. Fortunately, the next night we got to eat pork short ribs roasted in honey and rosemary at Eslava as a family with a glass of mencia and a view of a 16th century cathedral from the sidewalk terrace.