What is the Spanish cuisine

Tapas

Tackling this topic is difficult because of the immense breadth and depth of the Spanish cuisine.  There are regional dishes and variations, ingredients galore and a long history.  But I’ll be taking my cue from what you encounter as you walk around Valencia.

Probably the first thing you notice are the tapas.  Tapas (the word for cover or lid) are everywhere in bars and restaurants.  More than anything else, this is what Spaniards order when they go out.  The servings are modest in size so you can eat multiple varieties in the course of an evening.  Not that it’s a cheap way to eat anymore.   Let me give you an example or two.

Peg and I went out with a group a couple of weeks ago.  We went to a nearby spot.  They decided as a group what to order.  In a while, out came chicken croquettes (always deep fried), marinated mushrooms, patatas bravas (potatoes in a  mildy spicy red sauce, about as spicy as anything gets here), some sort of chicken fingers, and a couple of other dishes.   You can get slices of manchego (sheep cheese) marinated in olive oil, anchovies, calarmi frito (fried), red peppers, green peppers, tortialla española (potato omlette), patatas alioi (potatoes in a garlic mayonnaise sauce), various ways of stuffing eggs eg with tuna.  The list is endless.   These are run between 3.50 ($5.00) and 8.00 euros ($11) a pop.  Our modest repast with our friends cost us 20 euros ($28) including beer, which runs about $5 a pint.  It is not exactly a cheap night out and we were not exactly full either, but was fun- it is always fun. Another night went to a bar near our first apartment (we call it the green bar, near the Torres Serrano) and we spent 40 euros for 4 although this included a bottle of wine for 8 euros ($11).

We remember it being cheap in Madrid when we were living there, late 1998-May 1999. They’d give you some olives with your beer. The beer was maybe .75, now over $2.00 for a caña, which is about 8 oz so, very small, and $5 a pint.  I am talking ordinary beer, nothing fancy.  And at that time in Madrid you could get an order, una raciòn, of say patatas bravas for maybe $1, as much as $2 in a fancy place.  In one place where we used to go for a beer in Madrid they gave you a small plate of paella.  We do not get much free here, although there are a few such places still.

Tapas are a bit more vegetable and seafood type of item, though there are meat based tapas here, for example those ham croquettes.   You get serrano ham on bocadillos, which are basic sandwiches, so they aren’t tapas though you could order them at the same time.  Montaditos are more in the tapas area.  They are “Things mounted on a piece of bread.”  You could  get a montadito with chorizo, for example, a bit of chorizo (dry sausage in the pepperoni family) .  But its more veg and seafood here, and there is cheese, too, very good, strong cheese.

Tapas and the cuisine in general are heavy on the olive oil and often on the garlic as well (noticeable but never biting).    There are a lot of deep fried items amongst tapas, but less so in the other meals.

Croquetas de Jamon - Ham Croquettes (c)

Because we are close to the sea here, there is perhaps a greater prevalence of seafood.  In the tapas bars you see gambas (shrimp), bocarones (small fish) and sardinias (you can figure this one out) and octopus usually in a vinegar based sauce but perhaps fried also.  These days you find fish all over Spain, even fresh, of course, but there is more and greater variety on the coasts.

Tapas are about having fun as much as eating.  You sit in bars, outside on the sidewalk as much as inside, for the weather permits outdoor seating year round.  Your friends join you and you talk about your week, the economy, politics.  Or whatever.