Tapas: old school versus modern

Tapas is Spain’s major culinary contribution. So much so, that completely un-Spanish food is now served as small portions, like ‘tapas of sausages, mash and peas’. No. I made that up. But the phenomenon of whole menus where all the dishes are listed as ‘small plates to share’ draws directly from the pleasure of bite-sized tapas.

As tourists, we sought out tapas to sample as much Spanish food as possible. The stalwarts are jamon, queso (cheese) and jamon croquettes, which bring ham and cheese together into fun-sized heart attack inducing bites. Other regulars are Russian salad and spinach with chick peas.

I’m not a big jamon fan. A little bit goes a long way with me, although The Man loves it. Too often it’s sliced too thickly, meaning chewy pieces more like jerky than a gourmet, air dried delicacy.  The same with cheese; a plate of thickly sliced Manchego is great, but not three days running. And a lot of it is deep fried. I talked to Elena (my Sevillana friend) about this and she pointed out that a Spanish person would probably eat this kind of deep fried bar food maybe once per week when they meet friends out, or at home they would have something light like gazpacho followed by croquettes. No wonder a tourist like me, thinking I’m eating Spanish style, quickly gets sick of deep fried everything for every meal.

But we did have an adventure in tapas one night in Seville. Wandering around we came across a bar in the Triana area of Seville that was rammed. Incidentally, that’s how I’ve been choosing where to eat. Sod the guide books, go where everyone else is waiting for a table. Below are some pics of this kind of old-school tapas.

Mmmmmmm check out the deep fried spread.

Immediately above is pork with roquefort sauce, a heart attack on a plate, and check out the chalk scribbles. That’s how they keep tabs on your bill. The picture above that is of tiny whole shrimp fritters.  Kiwis will understand the appeal, I reckon they’re pretty similar to whitebait fritters.

Some places offer a more moden interpretation. At Nueva Victoria in Seville, recommended by the ladies who manage the apartment we stayed in (like I said, Sevillanos are the friendliest people!) the options focused on fresher tastes and more vegetables and seafood. Unfortunately I lost my pictures from that meal due to a laptop malfunction, but we had tiny fried baby octopus with a warm salad of grilled peppers. Having been told about it by Elena and Nacho, we also tried Neuva Victoria’s take on the old-school huevos de choco, which is the roe of squid. It sounds and looks a bit full on, but tastes of the sea.

A step further along the modern tapas continuum was Estado Puro, in Madrid. It’s the outfit of a famous Spanish chef Paco Rocero and the interior is decorated like some kind of mash up between a 50s retro diner and the flouncy dresses of Spain’s Easter fiestas. In a good way. The tapas is a modern mash up too, some things more successful than others. Definite highlights were the ‘jamon bocadillo’ (jamon sandwich) and the black rice with squid. Yum.

Check out the awesome decor. There are rows and rows of large white fan-shaped hair combs lining the wall

This is Estado Puro’s take on the old favourite patatas bravas

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2 Responses to Tapas: old school versus modern

  1. togram says:

    Mmm, bite sized heaven. All the tapas places that have opened around here seem to be aiming for the high end of the price range – mini plates of duck, swordfish and so on. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I’m a big fan of Duende myself and have heard good things about Pata Negra. I’m just dying for someone in Perth to offer a more traditional tapas menu, using more cheese, chickpea and potato staples rather than fancy pants ingredients. But sounds like you’ve had enough cheese for one year…

  2. Lynsey says:

    Fascinating – I now wish to eat something, anything heart attack inducing with fried cheese. The tapas in Perth is certainly a little light on compared to Melbourne. Portobello Rosso in Melbourne gets a big thumbs up in my view. Also very inspired by the blog…

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