Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tapas, Tapas, Tapas!

Tapas, finger foods, canapés, hors d’ourves or whatever you may call these days are resurfacing as main attractions in bars and restaurants. For me, it’s the perfect party food. It allows guests to mix and mingle and at same time have some hefty food.

From Catalan pan con tomate to Galician Pimientos de Padron, people are serious about food and tapas are definitely one of their greatest gastronomic contributions to the gourmet world. Spaniards unwind after work and go to bars to discuss current events with friends, then argue, joke around and have tapas with wine or sangria.

Tapas has been around since the Middle Ages, it was said that a Spanish king’s need to take small bites due to his illness resulted to the birth of these snack foods, which of course is to fill the stomach before a sip of wine. In the early days of tapas, (
tapa, Spanish for lid or cover) a slice of cheese or ham was given to match a drink and placed over it as a lid. There is some dispute over why exactly this was done: to keep out the flies or hide the smell of the bad wine?

Recently, a good friend came back from her vacation in Barcelona and gathered a few friends for a “tapas treat”. Adhering to Spanish customs, we started at 8:30 pm, which is actually the best time to start a party to beat Bangkok’s evening traffic. The menu included: jamon (Spanish ham so thinly sliced, it was like peeling your own skin); chorizo (deep red pork and paprika sausage); rolled herring; croquettes; tortilla; manchego cheese; olives; dry nuts; a
nd crusty bread topped with rich tomato sauce. I dare not call it appetizers!

After the filling portions of delicious tapas, we were all ready for some powerful potions. Originally that was the whole point of eating small portions was to accompany and buffer the alcoholic drinks. Widely popular in Spain, mojito was the choice cocktail of the evening. My friend says she makes the meanest mojito and I was in for a surprise. Sipping the drink in the balcony, I knew her claim was so true. I swear the buildings were swaying! Interestingly, mojito’s humble beginning is traced back to Cuba where pirates brought the “medicinal drink” to the island, first called El Draque after Sir Francis Drake. Later it evolved from the word origin ‘mojo”, traced to Spanish (name of a Cuban seasoning) and African (meaning hexed); since both inhabited the island. Wherever its birthplace or origin is, it certainly can grace my party anytime, adding an exotic Caribbean flair.

Fierce Mojito
5-10 fresh mint leaves
1 heap
ing spoonful of crystallized sugar Light rum, Cuban if possible
Juice of 1 lime or the local manaw
Club soda
Crashed Ice

Mash with a pestle the mint in a glass with the pieces of lime and crystallized sugar (coarse sugar is vital in the mixing process, as it helps the flavors come out). Using special mojito pestles is a nice touch (the wooden foot massage sticks can do the trick, a brand new one, please!), but the butt end of a wooden spoon is what my friend Mir used and so did Sir Francis Drake, who first concocted it. Fill the glass with crashed ice, don’t skimp! Add rum and club soda. Stir. Hey don’t go easy on the rum; some say the name ‘mojito’ originated from the African word ‘mojo’ meaning to cast a spell so this just might be the perfect way to light up on your friends’ mood at your coming party.

Tortilla de Patatas
Olive oil

4 large potatoes (peel and cut into small pieces)
salt to taste
one large onion, thinly sliced
6 large eggs

Beat eggs in a large bowl with a fork, add salt to taste, set aside; heat potatoes in a pan with olive oil until brown but soft, adding onions. Add potatoes to beaten eggs, making sure that eggs cover them completely. Heat oil in large skillet and add potato-egg mixture, spreading quickly. Shake pan to prevent sticking and flip three or four times using a plate to catch it, each time adding some oil, serves 4-6 persons.

Croquetas ala Nuria

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for deep-frying
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk 1 onion chopped
250 g cooked chicken, finely chopped 250 g cooked pork meat, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 cup fine dried bread crumbs

In a saucepan, heat olive oil and the butter over medium heat, when melted, add the flour and whisk using a wooden spoon; mix well until the flour is well blended. Add some milk and increase the heat. Bring to a boil and add the remaining cup of milk. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken. Meanwhile blend onion, chicken and pork meat, season lightly with salt, then stir and add to the white sauce. Cook a few minutes in low fire then pour into an oiled dish. Cool it down for a bit and then cover. refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight to allow the mixture to set.
Beat an egg lightly, meanwhile spread the bread crumbs on a plate. With 2 spoons, shape the croquette mixture. Roll each croquette in the bread crumbs, shaking off any excess crumbs, and then dip into the beaten egg. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before deep frying.

Hungry for more, two days later I searched for another tapas experience. I strolled to the Glass Bar (Plaza Athenee, 61 Wireless Road, Tel: 02 6508628) to have some tapas. A world apart from the tapas I expected, it was a Thai version of artful pieces of canapés. Always at creative work, like elves in a workshop, the chefs of Bangkok are constantly trying to push the envelope a bit farther.

Called “Afterwork Cocktails + Cones”, the impressive presentation was worth the try; edible mini cones filled with savories are wedged in shot glasses filled with rice. A tray of ten selections (650B) can accompany a nice cocktail (one among the new bartender blends) of a “Sultan Side Car” - Grand Marnier and French brandy shaken with lemon juice, cinnamon and sultanas.

Heading home after catching up with some friends over tapeo (art of eating tapas) ritual, I vow that the next time I gather my friends for a party it will be a table of tapas - and why not? I just can’t get enough of it. The tapeo would be no doubt the best party food formula. The art of nibbling with Spanish elegance has the ability to bring people together. After all, tapas embody the warmth and openness of the social Spanish way of life. There is something uplifting with sharing a nice bottle of Rioja and a chat with cool friends and some delectable tiny nibbles to highlight the day. Buen apetito!

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