Street food tours have become an increasingly trendy part of the travel experience. In India, stalls offer spicy selections of savoury snacks; in Vietnam you can slurp steaming bowls of pho soup and noodles on plastic stools in every backstreet. Closer to home, however, finding authentic regional cuisine usually requires booking a restaurant table, removing a large degree of spontaneity. The exception is Spain, where tapas culture comes with the same casual street-food style.
I’ve sampled wonderful cuisine in every corner of the world, but a trip around the historic Moorish towns and “pueblos blancos” of Andalucia, punctuated with the delicious food and colourful snapshots of day-to-day life found in any neighbourhood tasca or tapas bar, is my ultimate culinary holiday.
Tapas can be as simple as a plate of manchego cheese and olives, wafer thin slices of cured smoky and spicy Iberico hams served on olive oil soaked bread, a scoop of paella or deep fried crunchy anchovies. They can also be as complex as sizzling earthenware casseroles of stuffed squid, clams or chickpeas with spinach (garbanzos con espinacas). They are always made in-house and presented in mouth-watering displays. The complementary tapas or pinchos provided with your drink are usually moreish salty snacks served to encourage more drinking; the more sophisticated larger tapas dishes known as racions are added to your bill and refreshingly good value.
In Seville, home of the magnificent Alcazar palace, there is no shortage of tapas bars sporting attractive, locally-made ceramic tiles in the former Gypsy quarter, Triana. Make a pilgrimage to Bar El Riconcillo on Gerona that claims to have invented the concept of tapas, then head up to Carmona on a spur of the Alcores Hills, above the city, for stunning views at sunset and evening tapas in Plaza San Pedro.
Tapas in Jerez de la Frontier are accompanied by chilled glasses of delicate dry fino; Bar Juanito off, Plaza del Arenal, has a menu of 52, and artichokes are among its specialties.
Down on the Atlantic coast in Cadiz, wall-to-wall tapas bars specialising in super fresh seafood line C Zorilla; try La Gaditana for the best selection at excellent value.
Inland, past the stunning white village of Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda sits dramatically astride the deep El Tajo Gorge in the Serrania de Ronda mountains. Plaza del Socorro is packed with tapas bars; El Lechuguita at Remedios 35 is famous for its fried calamari and vegetarian options.
After touring the mesmerising multi-arched interior of Cordoba’s Byzantine La Mezquita mosque, order the wonderful salmorejo cold soup with boiled egg or the pesto vegetables with fried egg at Taberna San Miguel in Plaza San Miguel.
Your final stop is Granada, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains and home of the mighty Alhambra palace. Los Diamantes at 28 Navas serves superlative gammas al ajillo (garlic shrimps), and pulpo gallego (spicy octopus). Reina Monica at 20 Panaderos offers complimentary Arabic tapas (three with each drink), and serves a generous tapas buffet of Andalucia’s finest culinary treats.
How to do it
Pura Aventura (pura-aventura.com) offers an 11-day self-drive tour of Andalucia, from Seville to Granada, with 10 nights’ accommodation in boutique hotels and B&Bs. A half-day private tapas tour of Seville, guided historic tours of the Alcazar and the Alhambra, a flamenco show and several lunches and dinners are included in the price.
The Daily Telegraph