Spanish beer is served up in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, but nothing beats the good old fashioned tubo pictured above… Though the tapas in the picture usually provoke a collective groan from my friends and I – there’s just something too pink about this particular brand of embutido (I’ll even take bog-standard olives over this stuff!)
At the other end of the tapas scale you have this, Tortilla Paisana, the mother of all omelettes!
OK, so the tapas in the first picture are free, and you always have to pay for tortilla this magnificent, but Tortilla Paisana is worth a every centimo. Look at it! It’s a meal in itself! What distinguishes the Tortilla Paisana from your average slab of potato and eggs? Apart from it’s size, it usually includes other delectable ingredients such as chorizo, red peppers, even peas!
Commonly found in Asturian bars and restaurants, where food is always large!
Hijo de puta (son of a ‘prostitute’), is up there with the worst swear words in Spanish. It’s even worse than the ‘C’ word, which is actually bandied about freely in bars, at more relaxed dinner tables, and on television. So I was quite surprised to find a tapas called ‘Japuta‘, pictured above, that is blatantly a shortened version of Spain’s most violent phrase.
Japuta itself is basically a white fish, served here fried in a herby batter. We ate it in Cordoba, and it comes highly recommended even by someone not too keen on fish: me.
Anyway, this reminded me once more of a conversation I had with my sister-in-law about my own sister, when she had just got a great job as a reporter at Reuters in London, purely on her own merits (mentioned in a previous post on the enchufe). My sister-in-law said ‘That job in Spain would only be for el hijo de‘ – for the son of… not meaning ‘hijo de puta‘, but rather that any job that good in Spain only goes to people with connections. ‘The son of’ someone important gets a better job. I’m sure this is true, but what I wonder is, how much does this still go on in places like the UK, where everyone is so sure that the stain of nepotism was removed from society years ago?
Forget tapas of the week, this could be tapas of the year!
How to describe tocino? The dictionary says ‘fat’, but that is like describing caviar simply as ‘fish eggs’. Let’s see, you know the white around the edge of ham that your mum always tried to persuade you was the best bit when you were young? It’s the same stuff, and guess what, it turns out she was right.
Tocino Iberico, however, the delicate fat that warms the flanks of Iberian pigs as they forage for acorns in cork forests, is in a league of its own. The photo above was taken in the wonderful Cumbres Mayores tapas bar in Cadiz, where these inconceivably thin slices of tocino, streaked with a fissure of ham, were warmed slightly in the oven and served on curled up bread sticks. The tocino literally melted on the tounge, a smokey, acorney, subtle delight. Forget the fish eggs, you can give me pig fat like this any day of the week.
Would you eat the white around this ham?
Motados, often called by the diminutive term Montaditos, are a mini-meal in themselves. Take a palm-sized baguette and insert almost any tasty morsel you can imagine – from squid to tortilla, pork fillet to slices of Manchego cheese – and that’s it, the perfect snack! The photo above shows my personal favourite, the elite, the unbeatable montadito de jamon iberico: several slices of Spain’s finest Iberian ham lovingly clasped in slightly warmed bread. And what better accompaniment than a glass of Andalusia’s finest Cruzcampo beer? Heaven.
What would you put in your dream montadito?
Now this is much much more like it! Enough of all those strange-looking seafood tapas, give me a good old croqueta any day! Croquetas are made of a thick bechamel usually containing flecks of serrano ham (though chicken, fish and meat croquetas are also common), coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are a meal in themselves (if you eat enough of them of course), and though they are rarely handed over for free with drinks, a plate of half a dozen will cost around 7 to 10 euros in restaurants and bars.
Like many Spanish dishes, the croqueta was born out of necessity, when Spain was suffering one of many periods of hunger and resourceful cooks had to invent good food from very basic raw materials. So, here we have flour, milk, breadcrumbs, scraps of ham, and little else, all put together to wonderful effect. Stuck on a desert island with only one choice of Spanish tapas, the Croqueta would get my vote every time… which tapas would you pick?
What in the name of Don Juan is that? Why is it that alien-yellow colour? And what terrible things did I do in a previous life to deserve another plate of these with my beer? These are the kind of thoughts that pass through my head when a waiter is cruel enough to push a dish of Mejillones a la vinagreta across the counter at me with my drink.
This is when an important Spanish bar etiquette question arises: can you ask to change free tapas that you would no sooner eat than fly to a distant planet that shares their same radioactive colour? Well, it’s always worth a try, a polite ‘puedo cambiar la tapa por otra cosa, es que no me gusta…‘ usually yields something slightly more comestible… unless you’re with someone that actually appreciates these things, in which case you’re stuffed – Marina always eats mine and claims to love them. Apparently the mussels are boiled, one half of the shell is removed, then a vinaigrette including chopped up onion, green pepper, and tomato is poured on top.
Well, first the sardines and tomato, now this. Spanish waiters have really got it in for me these days. I promise to find something I can rave about for next week’s tapas!
Not for the faint-hearted this one… Cold sardines are Fishy with a capital ‘F‘! Crunchy too, as you get the bones and all… OK, you may be able to tell that I am not a big fan, but if fish/Omega 3 is your thing, this tapa goes down a treat with a cold beer on a warm sunny day – the tang of the sardine combining beautifully with the refreshing tomato, and the bread underneath to soak up the juices and provide a bit of extra sustenance – it’s really a meal in itself!
So, I might ask to swap for something else, but what would you do if you took your place at a bar in Spain and this arrived with your beer?
High up in the tapas hierachy, this dish can come at a heavy price considering the fact that you are just getting a plate of broad beans and a few off-cuts of ham: 9 to 15 euros sounds about right, depending on just how smart the establishment is. But you have to bear in mind that these are not just any ordinary broad beans – these are baby broad beans, plucked from the pod long before they reach maturity. Picking the beans when they are still the size of your finger nail (rather than half your thumb) means they are twice as tasty, and combined with snippets of top quality jamon and virgin olive oil, you have one of the finest delicacies on the Spanish tapas scene.
Bread is essential for mopping up with afterwards, along with a nice glass of chilled Rueda white to wash it all down of course. If you still think the dish is overpriced, bear in mind that a tin of the baby beans, or habitas, will set you back around 5 euros alone from food shops smart enough to sell them… compared with less than a euro for Heinz baked beans at the supermercado!
Thanks to Gary and all those that suggested the Tapa of the week series.