Spain on tapas

Catherine Fellows surveys the eating habits of Spain and enjoys a meal in Glasgow’s only full-scale Spanish restaurant.

In almost any bar in Spain you can expect to be offered a freshly prepared snack with your sherry, wine or beer. In rural places, the price of a drink may include a piece of bread or sausage with which the innkeeper covers the glass as he passes it to you, the word tapas meaning cover or lid. But more often you will find a c0pious selection of moreish alternatives displayed on the bar, from which you choose

something to nibble or assemble a whole meal. You shout your preference to the barman and pay on leaving.

Spanish eating habits reflect a civilised attitude to life - a good two hours talking, drinking and eating at lunchtime is considered time well spent, and many Spaniards will be back in the bar for most of the evening. In fact so much time is devoted to this kind of socialising that eating en la calle (eating out) is a necessity.

Any number of different dishes can be served as tapas, and trying some of them is a good general introduction to Spanish food. As with most national cuisines, there are many regional variations and specialities, and the ubiquitous nouvelle cuisine is as popular in Barcelona as in any modern city. However. much Spanish cooking continues to reflect the peasant tradition, its successes dependent upon fortuitous but simple combinations and treatments of ingredients to hand.

Almost every recipe involves large quantities ofolive oil and staggering

amounts ofgarlic; the need to make often meagre foodstuffs tasty taking precedent over waistline concern. Spanish cuisine is more influenced by the East than other European cooking. Apart from the fruits of colonial forays such as sweet and hot peppers, chillies and tomatoes, Spain also gained ingredients and techniques from the Moors. During their lengthy occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, they introduced many mainstays ofcontemporary Spanish cooking such as rice, almonds, spices (including cumin and aniseed). citrus fruits, figs, peaches and bananas.

Fish plays a major part in the diet. Squid, cuttlefish, anchovies, prawns and cod may be served deep fried in batter, pan fried in oil and garlic with a little parsley or oregano, or doused in chilli, paprika, tomato and wine; they may be added to the infinitely flexible calderos (stew pots), or combined with chicken and saffron rice in the classic paella. Fresh fish is transported daily to the markets of central Spain in express trains. but there are also an infinite number of recipes for bacalao or salt-cod.

Strangely enough, Spain ships a great deal of fish. crustacea in particular, from the west coast of Scotland.

Cured ham and a huge variety of charcuterie also feature strongly on Spanish menus. Like Parma ham, Spanish varieties are not cooked or smoked, but salted, washed and hung until maturity, and eaten unadorned in thin slices. Chorizo sausage for many people epitomises Spanish food. It is coarse textured and spicy, flavoured with garlic and paprika. Chorizos are nibbled everywhere and flavour many soups and cocidos, stews of poultry, game, pork or mutton with vegetables and pulses.

Restaurante Barcelona

Tucked out ofsight at the very west end of Byres Road is Glasgow‘s only full-scale Spanish restaurant. Though his priority is to produce high-quality Catalonian and regional dishes, tapas appealed to chef/proprietor Allan Mawn as adaptable lunchtime food. The beauty of it is that you can order as many or as few dishes as you like: if

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