I must say, I know very little about Spanish food, because they seem to completely ignore their cousins across the Atlantic and eat none of those convenient Spanish-named foods – nacho, taco, burrito, not even a quesadilla anywhere. Tapas, of course, was everywhere in New York and Washington DC, but I must say was not quite the kind I see displayed everywhere.
Tapas – oddly - means a covering or lid, and has all kinds of tales (including a few involving wise kings) to explain the connection to food. It finally boiled down to small plates drunk with all manner of all manner of spirits - specially wine, sherry and sangria. Dim sum with alcohol and Spanish music, basically.
My first experiment with Spanish food did not start all that well. An unscheduled snowstorm forced me to eat at the hotel, and the only choice - the coffee-shop that made most of its living from (ouch) hamburgers. Our of pity, the waitress agreed to give me a key local speciality, tomato bread, instead of the french fries - this turned out to literally be crusty bread topped with a small amount of crushed (practically brushed) tomatoes and some olive oil. Toast with ketchup in a Spanish accent.
It was only late evening, well after all hope had been given up that I took shelter in what turned out to be a drinks and tapas place . I have no idea if the place had any kind of review or rating, but it did have lots of stuff on display and counters manned by Punjabis from Pakistan.
The place was exciting, a long counter piled three high with all kinds of foods. Some were combinations - such as the elaborately constructed open sandwiches above – while some were single ingredients cooked with sauces and oils. Though plenty of meat and vegetables were present seafood was clearly the dominant theme – fishes, oysters, clams, mussels, squid, octopus and lots, lots of prawns swam about the counter. Great ingredients combined with some talent at presentation and simple cooking methods led to some very satisfying bites – especially when combined with some nice sherry (in my case a Tio Pepe dry).
Things looked up a bit further when a colleague called and said we were all going to meet at Los Caracoles for dinner. A quick iphone google promised me competent Catalan food in a “hidden” tourist delight – promising enough. My friends got stuck in the snow, but I soldiered on and soon was shipping sherry with the bartender. And it did indeed have atmosphere – old barrels, aged hams and white-haired waiters in the right proportions and most interestingly, a kitchen right in the middle of the restaurant. Not unusual in iteslf, but this was no glassed-walled show kitchen with gleaming chrome everywhere; more like a basic ash-strewn affair that could have been your local dhaba. Make no mistake, however, this was self-concious dhabaism – the bread was shaped like a snail, photography was encouraged and mastercards flashed everywhere.
And of course the food. Huge trays of it were already streaming past when I ordered. Snails, massive prawns, lobsters, clams, all manner of heaped plates passed me by.
Lets not forget the food. Hearty, generous and quite delicious. Not gourmet or by any stretch of imagination fancy, but very satisfying.