One of the greatest things about Seville, Spain was the fragrant air perfuming the walkways, courtyards, and terraces.
The fruity scent drifted through town naturally relaxing and sweetly intoxicating. And it was impossible not to notice how delicious the air smelled when I was constantly caught with an empty stomach during siesta.
I inhaled deeply greedily gulping the delectable air, practically salivating over the abundance of oranges in Seville.
Hanging from branches, floating in fountains, or lining street corners, I spent countless moments wondering about the protocol of making good use of all those oranges.
Could I just walk up and grab one? Squeeze it for freshness and dig in?
I’m not sure if it’s the buffet culture that I’ve grown up in, but having free food for the taking made me giddy with excitement. My mouth watered at the thought of such a delicious snack whenever I wanted.
You Can’t Eat The Oranges
When I mused over the delectable taste of the sweet-smelling, Seville oranges, I was chastised by my little sister. “You can’t eat the oranges!”
I was shocked. How could I not be allowed to eat oranges that littered the ground, rolling around the cobblestones before being unmercilessly smashed under horse hooves?
Always rebellious, I asked why I wasn’t allowed to eat the forbidden fruit. Her reply: “It’s just part of the culture.”
I accepted the answer. My sister had lived in Spain for a few months studying abroad, so I assumed she knew the Spanish dos and don’ts. And I wouldn’t embarrass her by behaving like an indecent and hungry tourist.
Although I knew that the oranges could find a suitable and worthy home in my stomach, I resisted the urge to devour them. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do, I resigned.
Seville Oranges Forbidden?
Fast-forward a year later, when I’m thinking of my travels and the great story behind the Seville oranges. My mind drifts back to the fragrant air and I’m curious about the significance those oranges held for Seville.
Specifically, what in Spanish culture forbade a person from picking up an orange and eating it?
I imagined that in my research I would find a mythical story of orange-loving gods and goddesses, or a fruit-bearing gift similar to the story of the Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms.
The truth, I discovered, is easier to understand and nowhere near as romantic.
The (not so) secret behind the Seville oranges is their bitter taste.
The oranges are eaten, but not like the California or Florida variety. Instead, the Seville oranges are popular in prepared dishes with added sweeteners, like marmalade or cake.
And so I likely saved myself plenty of embarrassment by not blindly chomping into the tempting oranges and being met with a mouth full of taste-bud crucifying pulp.
Be Careful What You Swallow. Literally
They say that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. While the quote sounds great, we know it’s bull. But that doesn’t stop travelers from shouting it from the rooftops.
I’m constantly amazed at how much I grow as a person and how much I learn during my journeys. And I admit that travel, just like my other carefully planned investments, has made me richer. And smarter.
As I mentally revisited the Sevillian landscape and the lesson learned from the orange situation, I was reminded of my favorite Dr. Seuss poem:
My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,”
said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid
you must spit out the air!”
as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darned good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air.
And be careful what you swallow.
When In Doubt, Ask a Local or Two
My sister, bless her soul, was only trying to help with her misinformed warning.
Unfortunately, because she didn’t really know why people weren’t eating oranges off the street, I missed an opportunity. If I would have known that the oranges were popular in prepared dishes, I would have made an effort to search for items containing the oranges on menus and in stores.
Now, I’m forced to live the rest of my life imagining the tart taste of those oranges (or I can order them online).
Which leads us to the lesson:
When you have a question, it’s always best to ask a local. Ask more than one.
People who aren’t from the area – sisters included – are not as familiar with the culture as they might think.
I’ve read countless travel articles and posts from well-meaning people who foist their thoughts and beliefs on a situation and totally miss the mark – culturally speaking.
So, always go with the local over an “informed” traveler.
Not to mention, approaching a complete stranger to ask a question is a good way to start a conversation and make a new acquaintance. It’s also the best way to know why, for instance, you can’t eat fruit off the ground.
’t Eat The Oranges
After an obsessed stint of google binging, I learned as much as one needs to know about Seville oranges.
As with most things, one has no need to travel to Spain to get the oranges (not to mention, fresh fruit wouldn’t make it through customs).
There are tons of creative recipes online, too. I guess I’m not the only one who finds these fragrant orbs irresistible!
I just wrote a thousand words about oranges and you read them all. I’d say that’s cause for celebration. I found this video of a dancing orange. Geesh. I love the internet. Press play and boogie!