Spain – The Country of Tapas

Peter Morrell joins the celebrations to mark World Tapas Day

The Hispania restaurant in the City of London was the venue for an event that celebrated World Tapas Day, Top chef from seven cities and regions in Spain prepared tapas that was typical of their local communities

Celebrations took place from 13 June until 21 June centring on Spain’s famous tapas, which is firmly engrained in Spanish culture and is globally recognised as a symbol of Spanish identity.

World Tapas Day offers food-lovers a chance to discover this exceptional culinary tradition and to taste new flavours with a variety of celebrations taking place across the world, such as festivals, special offers in restaurants and food tastings.

I joined the celebrations at Hispania and found that one of the most impressive things about tapas is how it has evolved. Originally it was a simple slice of ham or cheese placed over a glass of wine or sherry to keep fruit flies out but it has now developed into a culinary art form

Given that the world’s most innovative chef Ferran Adrià is Spanish may give us a clue to how tapas at now attained Michelin Star standard. When sampling the tapas I was impressed with the great care that had been taken to combine flavours, textures and aromas into a harmonious whole. This was cleverly achieved while keeping the balance of the five tastes sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.

A good example was the offering from Valencia, squid was cooked at low temperature to create a creamy but crunchy texture. It was topped with Valencian pickles and a ‘tuille’ or little wafer tinged with squid ink. It was finished with Asian fusion elements of a dashi (Japanese stock) and ginger sauce.

Valladolid, one time capital of Spain, is almost the home of tapas and holds an annual national and international tapas competition. The dish they showcased was roast Castilian suckling pig with white garlic, ponzu and pibil chilli sauce. It was a gastronomic romp across the cuisines of Spain, Japan and Mexico.

Badajoz in the Extremadura region served a trompe l’oeil of something that looked like a brownie but first bite revealed it was salty pig cheek bathed in a red wine and black beer sauce. Extremadura is also home of the Jerte Valley where the world famous Picotta cherries are grown, in the Spring the blossom rivals Japan for its beauty.

Tenerife served a Canary Black Pig sandwich, the meat was compressed snout and was paired with smashed black potatoes, concentrated cream of corn and fried corncob strands to give the dish an interesting crunch. A culinary oddity of the island is that some of their wines are aged under the sea?

The coastal city of Denia majored on seafood. The culinary icon of the town is the red prawn and this was served with tapioca rocks and tempura. When you go to Denia you are spoilt for choice restaurant wise, there are more than 400 of them and many specialise in tapas.

The volcanic island of Lanzarote served their tapas in an exotic limpet shell filled with limpet meat and green coriander sauce on a bed of rabbit cream and thick gazpacho. The volcanic soil on the island helps to produce some fine wines, the most popular is made with the Malvasia grape

The final tapas came from the city of Zaragoza. Crunchy crumbs with bacon flavoured whipped cream, paprika foam and muscatel caviar were brought together to create a harmonious combination. The cuisine of the city has been influenced by Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians who have all left their fascinating mark. The double bonus of a visit to the city is that it was home to Goya, probably Spain’s most famous romantic artist.

Evolution, innovation and fusion are jointly responsible for the elevation of tapas to one of the truly great gastronomic genres and a visit to Spain will enable you to fully appreciate this for yourself.

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