What’s The Art of Eating Standing Up?
All over the world, people are familiar with a social activity called a bar/pub crawl. A group of friends will spend a few hours going from one watering hole to another, as they eat and drink their way through a city or town. In Spain, they’ve elevated this to an art form called tapeo (txikiteo in Basque), wholly or partly because of tapas. Also known as pinchos, these are appetizers for want of a better word that are available for free to bar patrons. However, we’re not talking about peanuts or pretzels. Tapas are shrunken-down versions of a city’s signature dishes, and a wonderful aspect of Spanish culture that can be found in Latin America as well. In the Caribbean, they’re called cutters. Savoury dishes like Pepper Shrimp and Roast Pork encourage customers to order more libations. This episode of From Spain With Love gave us a look at tapas from their humble beginnings to mind-blowing, modern gastronomic creations. The journey began in Seville with our host, Annie Sibonney.
She led us to the first bar of many, La Flor de Toranzo which was already full of vibrant customers. She ordered a glass of wine and a couple tapas, just to show the viewers how it’s done. We were then taken to a centuries old tapas bar in the Santa Catalina neighbourhood called El Rinconcillo. Its owner señor Javier de Rueda educated us on the origin of tapas. They were bits of food from the bar, served to customer on plates that covered their drinks. What may have started out as an innovative courtesy eventually became a cultural icon. Annie had three authentic Andalusian tapas. First was Bacalao a La Roteña, which was followed by Espinacas Con Garbanzos (Spinach with Chickpeas). Caribbean people would call that one Bhaji and Channa, but I digress. The final tapa at this spot was Iberico Pork Cheek Stew. As any lover of meaty quadrupeds could tell you, the cheek cut is very tender and tasty. Annie went to another tapas institution, Casa Morales and pleasantly surprised the barkeep when she ordered the entiretapas menu. That must have been a great day for the production team. Of these house specialities, Pringá sandwiches and Cantabrian anchovies on bread were stand outs.
Not content to stay in Seville, the next segment began in Barcelona. Tapas are a fairly new concept in Catalan cuisine but at Tapas 24, Chef Carles Abellan has not only focussed on the tasty bar food but revolutionised it. He led our presenter to the kitchen where they prepared Korean Chicken Wings and Artichoke with Sea Cucumber Stew. The first plate was very modern, while the second hearkened to his childhood. Indeed, meals that appeal to our earliest positive food memories are our favourites. Chef Carles then prepared Seaweed Tuna with Ponzu Broth, another dish that drew on his international travel experience. He saved his best for last with a gourmet ham and cheese sandwich cheekily named Bikini. This featured a decadent and costly ingredient: black truffles, which had our presenter swooning. At this point, we got a glimpse of how this subterranean mushroom is harvested. Annie went to the forest with señor Pere and his truffle hunting dog. A keen eye could spot yet another award-winning Catalan chef in the peripherals of that particular scene, before we returned to Chef Carles’ kitchen to build the Bikini. In the jam-packed restaurant, Annie and the charming gentleman indulged in the tapas and enjoyed champagne. I’d have to be crackers to visit Barcelona and omit a visit to this eatery.
Logroño, La Rioja
On to the city of Logroño, La Rioja and a familiar face to viewers of this series. Annie was taken through la calle de Laurel (Laurel Street) by señor Alvaro Palacios, who we first met in Playing With Fire. He adopted the dual roles of guide and wingman, through this surprisingly busy street in Northern Spain. In Bar Sebas, they enjoyed the house specialty, Tortilla de Patata (Spanish Potato Omelet). We’ve seen a version of this dish before in Basque Country at Asador Sagartoki, but this seemed to be the more traditional recipe. They were soon on the move to Bar El Soldado de Tudelilla for salads. However, I didn’t see lettuce or carrots but herrings, olives and Alegrías Riojanas (Hot Peppers) drenched in olive oil. They didn’t have menus either and customers are the mercy of the salad makers. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then at Bar Soriano, they had mushrooms grilled on a flat top that were served in a stack, with a small shrimp atop a slice of bread. There were so many people out that night; and it wasn’t a special occasion but a typical night in Logroño.
San Sebastián, Basque Country
The episode’s final bit took us to the bona fide Spanish culinary Mecca that is San Sebastián. Here we learned important tapeo/txikiteo etiquette. Your group of buddies is called a cuadrilla and the night out is not only spontaneous but fast-paced. Often the bartender will just hand you a plate of something delicious or several depending on your cuadrilla’s size. When your glass is empty or last bite eaten, it’s time to order another round or move on to the next place. Often, it’s the latter. This was a very enjoyable episode because bar hopping is such an equal opportunity activity, for grown-ups anyway. All you need is some money, time and hopefully friends who would enjoy a tapeo. As our host said, this reveals a lot about Spanish society. These people enjoy good food, drink and company. We’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who’s not. I loved the frenetic pace and frankly, needed a couple viewings to absorb it all. This is the penultimate episode in the series. The season finale is A Pig’s Tale.
* Screenshots from Shaftesbury on YouTube