You can find snails year-round in some Sevilla bars, but the best time (apparently) is NOW when they are in season. The secret is in the sauce, as the snails are cooked in a broth that is unique to each bar that serves them. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a huge fan, so I don’t have a photo of a big plate of snails to show you. And so this fabulous snail sculpture by Chiqui Díaz will have to do…
Bar Las Teresas yesterday, and a chilled late Sunday afternoon vibe. I stopped by after a lunchtime tapas tour for a penúllitma and a chat with the guys. This is one of the many family-run bars in Sevilla that I’ve developed a close friendship with over the past 24 years. Seeing these bars now being overrun by greedy copycat food tour operators is really heartbreaking. But there are still occasional moments like this.
This takes me back to a subject near and dear to my heart …. the many tapas bars I have come to know and love during the many years in Sevilla. And since starting my Sevilla Tapas Tours many of them have also become places I have enjoyed a working relationship with. This is a job I created for myself that I love, and one that has developed organically since I began the original Sevilla Tapas website in 2007. Then in 2014 I created We Love Tapas as a complimentary “sister company” so I could offer a slightly different style of food & wine tours that would maintain the quality of the ones I had built up over the years.
It was while I was developing We Love Tapas that I first noticed a huge increase in the number of food tours being offered in Sevilla. And upon closer inspection I saw that some of them were actually blatant copies of my own tours. A little further research showed how the copycats had previously been in touch with me for information, or had even sent “clients” on my tours so they could see what I did, where I went, etc. And I found this disturbing. Not because I have a problem with healthy competition – something that can indeed keep you on your toes and stay aware of changes in the market. But because many of these new tours were cutting corners and were so inferior in quality that they were an embarrassment. It always seriously upsets me that someone would ever leave Sevilla thinking the food here is anything less than amazing.
Well, that’s the free market for you. And as I say, nothing wrong with competition perse. BUT… what the fuck is it about people who just copy tours without a care for the bars themselves? I mean, I have personally known all of the bars that have ended up being a part of my food tours for many many years. I know the owners, the staff, we already had a relationship. And we also respect each other. So I’ve never asked them to give me a “deal” on prices, I’ve never insulted them by saying I was “supporting” them and was “good for their business”. Frankly, none of the places I go to on my tours need my business because they are always busy and buzzy… which is WHY I go to them. I love them.
Let me repeat. I LOVE them.
So when I see many of the aspects of why I love them being abused and eroded by thoughtless and greedy tour operators it pisses me off. I don’t have formulaic scripted food tours like these other ones. Mine are very personal and they vary a lot, depending on the number of people and client preferences. For example, there are bars I will only go to with two clients, and other bars I know are good for larger groups of up to 6, because they have the space and we won’t “stick out” like a group of tourists. Which is to say that I respect the “ecosystem” of these bars.
Because these types of bars do have their own “ecosystem”, many having been developed over generations, with family and friends and regular clients that are a part of the fabric of what makes them so special. Of course these are the places that everyone wants to visit. But what I do is choose the ones that I think work well for visiting, and for the others I give a list to my clients and recommend they go on their own.
Something that these Copycat Food Tour Operators haven’t seemed to figure out (duh) is that … you can’t just fill the same bars with more and more tourist tours and expect them to remain “authentic” and “local”! Also guys, there are MORE THAN 3000 TAPAS BARS IN SEVILLA. Surely if you are a new company starting out you should look to find your own favourite bars, and make yourself appear unique by not just doing what others are doing. Think about it.
Diego, Antonio, Pepe (2012)
Pepe, Julio (Diego’s son), Antonio (2017)
So as most of you know, I’ve been running this food website for about ten years now, called Sevilla Tapas… 😉
But what you may not know is that I don’t actually make a bean off that site. It started off as a labour of love, and has remained so. Also, I don’t get offered free meals (as many people suppose), which means I actually pay for every tapa and every glass of wine you see posted. And all of that is fine because I think it is what sets me apart, and it also means that Sevilla Tapas has become my online portfolio, showing that I am far more than “just another tapas tour guide”. It also means that I am free to post my own opinions.
And very often it enriches my life in other ways. Like when I went back to El Cairo five years after my first visit (hey, there are more than 3,000 tapas bars here – I do my best!). As usual I got to talking to the guys behind the bar, who looked familiar. So I got out my iPhone and looked up my previous entry for El Cairo and the guys loved it. Especially Julio who saw his father Diego in my 2012 pic. So he very happily posed with the same two barmen as before, Pepe and Antonio, and that encounter totally made my day. Love my job.
Los Bermejales is a suburb about a half-hour’s bus ride from the centre. It’s not a place I go to often and, when I do, it’s usually to visit my friend Pilar (who lives there). But yesterday I decided to go and check out the final day of the first Tapeando por Los Bermejales, a week-long event in which 18 local bars created a special tapa and offered it at a special price (3€ for a tapa & drink).
Peter and I had chosen a few bars from the list, based on the tapa on offer, and were disappointed when we arrived at the first bar on the list and it was closed. Another of the bars wasn’t even there anymore, just a sign saying they had moved, though it didn’t say where. Two other bars had run out of the special tapa, and another two were so grubby we didn’t bother staying. So out of the nine bars we went to, we only ended up trying three tapas. Which were okay, but nothing “special”. In fact, in most cases the regular food looked more appealing. I think if you live in Los Bermejales it’s a fun initiative, with people going to the various bars during the week (though probably best not to go on a busy Sunday afternoon). Let’s see how they do next year.
Since 2007, doing tapas research has taken me to literally hundreds of different bars and restaurants, both in Sevilla and elsewhere in Andalucía. And yeah “tough job” and all that, but while (mostly) enjoyable, it’s still work. It can also get expensive since I have rarely accepted a “freebie”, and certainly have never done so in exchange for a positive review. And aside from the financial expense, there is also lots of time spent after the bar visits, editing photos and writing reviews. None of this makes me a penny, but it does serve as my “online portfolio” showing that I do actually know a thing or two about gastronomy in Andalucía, so indirectly that helps with people choosing my tapas tours over more commercially formulaic ones. Mostly though, I just love doing this and sharing my knowledge and experiences. Plus there are still surprises for me, like walking into this century old bar shown above, meeting the owner and talking about Sevilla like old friends. Love my job. 🙂
It was a night off from tapas tours, so of course I ended up hanging out in bars. Actually, it was mixing pleasure with business as I had to meet with a couple of bar owners, and then wanted to check out a newly opened place. Meanwhile I managed to get this cool shot at Las Teresas. I had never really noticed that hand-painted plate on the wall and to get closer to it I had to go behind the bar. Then Rafa bought us a round on the house and we chatted for another half hour or so. I love this bar, I love the people who run it, the guys who work there, and I’ve been going there for over 20 years. Just like with most of the bars I’ve ended up working with. It’s an amazing job when you don’t really notice when you’re working or when you’re just there socialising. Love my job.
Since launching We Love Tapas I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships I’ve built over the years with the owners of my favourite bars in Sevilla. My connections with these people goes way back, long before I started doing my own food tours about six years ago. So it’s not just “business related”. Actually, it’s not based on business at all. We all just like and respect each other. So when I started my Sevilla Tapas blog back in 2007 they were keen to be a part of it, and when I began doing tours they were all very supportive.
With We Love Tapas I’ve been very fortunate, with everyone welcoming my fabulous Team just like they are an extension of me, and showing them every courtesy. You have to understand that these people don’t need my business. They are all very successful, with packed bars and regular clientelle. So it’s not like I’m doing them any favours by bringing my tours to their bars. Turns out that they end up doing me favours, by holding tables for me and making sure my people get top service, sometimes with a few perks thrown in. Blows me away. Especially as they are constantly being pestered by new food tour companies showing up and wanting deals. I don’t ask for deals. But they help me out and every now and then I’m asked a favour, and of course I’m always happy to help. Because we’re friends. It’s a wonderful working environment… stopping in to visit your friends all the time. I love my job. 🙂
One day I really must get started on one of a projects I’ve had on the drawing board for, well, a couple of years. Which is to create an album of my favourite public toilets in Sevilla. For example, this one. Love the sink! Not sure how practical it would be for home use, but it totally works in a sherry and flamenco bar.
Yesterday started off as usual, though I was a bit miffed at having to miss the gym due to a late morning meeting. But the meeting went well and after a late lunch at home I thought I’d stay in and get some work done. I recently got commissioned to write a short piece for a very prestigious travel mag and wanted to get a good start on that. But I had a couple of other things on my to-do list and thought I’d get those out of the way first, and so I popped over to take a wine photo for one of my social media clients and then planned to pick up a new dish draining rack on the way home and get back to work. But first…