In Seville, whiskey sirloin is made with brandy and grocery stores sell beans and serve beers. This is the way this city is, in which decades ago various grocers decided to offer the public the drinks and cured meats that their regular customers were known as foreigners. Over time, this business model became established, and today there are stores that still maintain that tradition and others that only use the term “abacería” as a claim.
Before the arrival of the big chains, residents only had neighborhood markets and these shops to get supplies, and it was not surprising that in the latter the most regulars were served something while they waited. “It has always been consumed casually: at the beginning of the 20th century it was eaten and drank in these places, usually in the back room. One of the most historic in the city, Palaces Houseit has photos from the forties in which you can see the bar”, says José Ángel Martín, creator of the blog ultras and rultrasin which he talks about this type of business in Seville.
“They are uncomfortable places, where you cannot sit, but also authentic, where you can try different wines or cans,” sums up José Ángel. These hybrids of shop and bar, with a scale and a bar, have an indispensable common aspect: they sell some of the products that you can have there. In general, salted meats, sausages, cold cuts, cheeses and preserves, which make up the classic menu of an informal tapas place, the varied catalog of a peculiar grocery store.
“The less I change, the better”
Close to several fast food franchises, in the central Gamazo street, brown house still preserves the identity of the grocers of yesteryear. Little has changed since they opened some 80 years ago: there is still the counter full of sausages and cheese, the walls full of products and, in the background, through a side door, the old warehouse converted into a bar, with a metal bar on the that customers crowd like a bus at seven in the morning.
“It opened as a grocery store in the forties, and in the early sixties, the back room became a bar,” explains Emilio Vara, the oldest waiter at Casa Moreno. “Unfortunately, the reason was the inequality that women suffered: before, it was frowned upon for them to drink in public, so they sought complicity with the shopkeeper and told him ‘Francisco, put me some wine and cheese in the store while I dispatches’”, says Emilio. “When he found out, he had created a kind of tavern for them.”
In this place they maintain the purity of these businesses: no cooking stews or very elaborate dishes, only preserves, cured foods and montaditos, which they prepare with the cold meats they sell in the store. “If you like the liver blood sausage, the spicy chorizo, the can of mussels or the manzanilla that you are drinking, you can take it with you. Here the two aspects are combined”, affirms Vara. “Today the third generation of the family is in charge of the premises, but we continue to offer 15 types of beans in bulk, for example. We are clear that the less this changes, the better”, says this employee.
Restaurant with shop spirit
The Old San Lorenzo Abacery It opened in 1995 as a retail food business. The owner, Ramón López de Tejada, assures that no one used that word in Seville until then: “’Ultramarinos’ was more popular, but we chose it because it defined what we planned to do and because it was also the first in the dictionary”. Over time “the clientele demanded more”, so five years later they began to serve some food and drink.
But in 2008 they hit the final swerve to the fast and furious: the Antigua abacería de San Lorenzo, that small store located in the neighborhood of the same name, expands the premises and becomes a restaurant. They went from serving charcuterie products and wines from the area while serving, to preparing and offering “traditional Andalusian cuisine, especially stews, stews and stews”.
However, this conversion did not make them forget their original purpose: “One can never renounce their origins, that is why we continue to sell scolding, bread or traditional sweets on the street,” says López de Tejada. The aesthetic was also maintained, and almost three decades after its opening, the place still has the cozy atmosphere of neighborhood stores. “I think we have managed to maintain the essence and leave it with the point that many admire”, declares the businessman.
Between heresy and punishment
The success of businesses like Ramón’s has caused grocery stores, like Dios and Shakira’s song, to be everywhere in recent years. For Chencho Cubiles, a member of the Seville Academy of Gastronomy, this fashion has distorted the original idea: “That concept has been opened up and today it is used perhaps too easily.” “Here it is a claim, and many places that carry that word disappoint you because they have nothing to do with those old stores,” says the author of the blog. Tapas with Chencho.
Ramón López de Tejada declares that “there are few places of this type that are also dedicated to street sales”, an aspect that he considers essential. And he alludes to the lack of aesthetic coherence in these new openings: “There are some that are called that and are like any gastrobar: white, gray and black”. According to the owner of the Antigua Abacería de San Lorenzo, all of this “confuses the public a bit”.
But not all of the grocery scene is so fateful: sites have also been inaugurated in recent times that respect the meaning and tradition of these places. An example of this is Master Marcellina place that opened in 2016 with a decoration that is inspired by the remembered grocery Martian House, which closed more than 30 years ago, as explained by Puri Portillo, its owner and manager. “I wanted to extol and give prominence to the food from our land, so I thought the best thing to do was to set up a grocery store,” says Puri.
The genre that is most in demand at Maestro Marcelino is the one that makes the most sense, taking into account the type of place it is: “Those who enter look for the traditional concept of grocery stores: good ham, good cheese and a good montadito de pringá ”, says the owner. Some products that, of course, anyone can buy, from cold cuts to wine, which are sold in bulk directly from the boots. “In the center of Seville, with the rents that exist, it would be very difficult to get ahead only as a store or only as a bar. With this model, both businesses are complementary and, above all, necessary”, says Puri Portillo.
Standing at one of the few high tables in the old Casa Moreno warehouse, Pablo Díaz, a 26-year-old from Seville, drinks his first bottle in this place, which he had never visited before: “At first I thought it was a charcuterie, luckily my friend told me to go until the end, ”he admits. As a resident of the Andalusian capital, he is grateful that such traditional places still exist: “The city is becoming a tourist area, but luckily there are still bars like this one, with the charm of that hidden Seville that is getting smaller and smaller.”