From Basque restaurants in Pyrenean mountain villages
to Andalucian fish bars on the Costa de la Luz, it has always been
possible to find menus composed of dishes whose origins are local.
Spanish cuisine never attained a level of true
sophistication. Anyone who has
eaten gambas at a
Sanlucar de Barrameda fish bar and sipped the straw-coloured manzanilla
- bone dry, light and fresh with a salty tang that comes from the moist
sea breezes which fan the skies of the ripening grapes - will also
understand that there is no comparison between the raw and the recreated
to this is a real difference in interpretation.
traditional 'snack' in Spain, offered in most bars and eaten at
lunchtime or in the early evening to stave off hunger until suppertime.
The tapa tradition is as
important for conversation and company as are
Every Spaniard has his favourite tasca,
where he goes regularly to meet his friends or business acquaintances.
Even the smallest bar in a tiny village will supply tapas. The word tapa, meaning cover or lid, is thought to have originally referred
to the complimentary plate of appetizers that many tascas would place like a cover on the top of a glass of sherry.
Mainly served in restaurants here, it's now become part of our urban
history of Spanish cuisine began with Phoenician, Greek, and
Carthaginian coastal settlements. Later, the Romans, and more
importantly the Moors, brought with them elements of their own cooking
(such as honey and cumin), which lingered and blended with Spain's
culinary heritage. Yet, essentially, it is family cooking, comparatively
simple to prepare and characterized by fresh ingredients.
food remained in the parts of Spain the Muslims neglected and did not
bother to conquer or tenaciously defend – the forests and mountains
and cold plateaux zones of Atlantic climate, where olives would not grow
but where pigs could be reared in great numbers. The present role of the
olive in Spain only began after the Jews and Muslims had been expelled,
dispersed or converted, and the great expansion of the olive industry in
the seventeenth century was uninhibited by confessional hatred. Many
traditional dishes still use no olive oil. The classic, slow-cooked
pot-dishes of chick-peas and beans – the cocidos
and fabadas – are bound together with silky pork fat.
visit to Garcia's in London's Portobello
Road is like stepping straight into a Spanish food store. From
tins of authentic Spanish anchovies to fresh-cured olives, much that can
be found here demonstrates a strong Anglo-Hispanic culture. But the big
test of authentic Spanish food, (no matter how far from the sea) is
fish. Although the imported product
in restaurants is technically fresh, nothing can ever substitute
the taste of local fish eaten within hours of being caught.
Calamares (rings of squid), crisp, battered boquerones
(fresh anchovies - you munch them whole), lenguado (small sole),
(shrimps or prawns of varying sizes, eaten with heads, legs and all)
are usually served a la plancha (pan-fried). Slices of deep-sea fish to look out for
are: aguja (needlefish), rape (this is the one which makes Brits howl,
especially the usual translation of the dish ‘rape
a la marinera’ - rape, seaman's style) which is nothing more
frightening than swordfish.
genuine ensalada is usually
composed of tomatoes, lettuce, onions and olives and served without
dressing - you pour on the aceite (oil) and vinagre
yourself. A reluctance among
to make the tasty salads of which they are more than capable, remains a
minor crime, exonerated only by what is arguably Spain's greatest
contribution to world cuisine: gazpacho.
To be good, it must be made
with virgin unrefined oil and can be drunk as a chilled soup, or simply
as a beverage to accompany a meal of fried fish.
fritas fried in olive oil - like everything else - are
usually good. The traditional way of fixing potatoes is patatas a lo
pobre (potatoes poor man's style) which is delicious but only for those
who don't mind large amounts of olive oil! An over-abundance of garlic
in some dishes can also be a surprise for the unwary customer.
A gastronomic speciality is jamon
serrano, or ‘mountain’ ham, frequently made in regions where cold
winters and hot summers contribute to the curing process. These hams are
salt-cured, not smoked. Serrano ham, if made from the native Iberian
pig, which is fed on acorns, is called jamon
iberico or pata negra,
‘black hoof.’ In my view,
Iberican ham is one of seven wonders of the food world, far surpassing the Italian prosciutto.
In rural Spain, they like
on the pink, raw side, but Londoners
prefer the more highly
cured varieties. Ideally, Spanish ham should be sweet rather than salty.
wide range of sausages is produced in Spain. Chorizo
is probably the best known. Salchichon
is a hard sausage similar to salami, lightly garlicky and studded with
peppercorns. Salchicha is
fresh pork sausage and sobrasada
is a soft, spreadable sausage from Mallorca. Lomo
embuchado is cured pork loin in sausage casing.
accompany the aperitif (typically
un fino) home-cured olives are taking over from the Seville Manzanilla green olives. These are usually cracked, but not stoned,
slightly bitter, flavoured with garlic and lemon thyme, and kept in
may be the most famous Spanish red wine but there are an infinite variety of classy tintos, blancos
and rosados to enjoy that also have real soul. Montilla, produced in the
area around Montilla-Moriles, is one of the world's great wines. It is a
perfect foil for shellfish, ham, nuts and tapa
foods. If you can locate it on the wine list, you might
try a local wine from the Granada region called alpujarreño or simply
costa, a semi-sweet claret sold only from the keg.
reminded of Cervantes’ literary example as you tuck in to your ‘ración’
(a large portion or serving) or ‘media ración’ (a half portion) of the various tapas.
As Don Quixote sallied forth
through Spain, sustained by visions of ‘glorious fame’ and a few
roots and herbs or bits
of dried fish, his pot-bellied squire, Sancho Panza, enjoyed stuffing
himself on grilled rabbits, roast pigeon, goats' milk cheese, and eggs
and bacon. A particular favourite, especially when Sancho and Don
Quixote had time to take a meal at an inn, was gazpacho
manchego, a bread porridge made with cooked game (nothing
like the gazpacho normally associated
with Spain) and a ‘skinful’ of coarse but tasty Valdepenas wine.
than tilt at windmills, accept that Spanish cuisine
is down to earth. Despite the absence of Mediterranean sun
or sea breeze, the food in
London’s Spanish restaurants
good, even when the ambience sometimes drifts waywardly towards Mexico
or hi-tec. Atmosphere is everything in Spain and the best bars and
restaurants here have put enormous effort into creating their very