How to bring a bit of Spain into your life

One of the things I love most about the Spanish food culture is tapas; the way people move from one bar to the next, not just for the drinks or the atmosphere but to share in the different foods on offer at each place.  It sounds so marvelously sociable, decadent and…sensible.  There are so many great places to eat, it seems a shame to limit ourselves to one place for an entire evening. And another bonus of moving from place to place is that if you go somewhere bad, at least you won’t be staying long.  When talking about this tapas tradition with one of the staff at a local Spanish restaurant I was told that Spaniards call it “going for a walk”…sounds so civilized 🙂

Tapas Taxonomy – from Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig

My interest in tapas and Spanish food has intensified recently after reading Matt Gouldings book Grape, Olive, Pig.  It’s the most amazing travel guide for food lovers which has left me aching to experience EVERYTHING that he has experienced!  And it got me thinking; do I really have to wait until I can go to Spain to experience this fabulous food phenomenon?  After all, it’s becoming quite common for bars and restaurants outside of Spain to serve small sharing plates.

After carrying out some research I discovered that there’s actually a fairly long and varied list of places serving small plates around town.  My only criteria was that they must be in walking distance to each other; otherwise the easy movement and spontaneity would be lost.  Once I had my list, I sorted it by locality, noted their opening hours and was nearly ready to begin my food adventure.

However, before getting started on this epic journey I felt that I should seek the advice of one more experienced than I in the art of tapas.  In his book Grape, Olive, Pig Matt Goulding has some “Rules of the Crawl”:

01. Find the balance.  For every crispy croqueta you’ll want a briny clam to keep your palate primed for more.

02. Keep moving.  The point is to work your way from one bar to the next, sampling the best of each.

03. Fill it up.  Tapas culture is as much about drinking as eating.  Not getting drunk, but enjoying good wine, sherry, or your poison of choice.

With these words of wisdom and my well researched list of eateries I felt fully prepared to launch into the realm of good eating; all I needed now…was a friend.

Enter Nadine; my fair foodie friend, more than happy to assist me in this foodie adventure.  Like Matt Goulding, Nadine had two excellent suggestions for our outing:

01. Travel by Bike.  Increases the range of eating options and the speed with which we can reach them.

02. Start Early.  To maximise our eating time.

And I’m happy to report that these five pearls of wisdom saw us through the good times.  See the images below to drool over the food we ate on this glorious tapas marathon (click into them for descriptions of what they are):

As suspected, this turned out to be one of the BEST ways to spend an afternoon…EVER!

Last weekend, buoyed by the success of this outing, I decided that – in the name of research and good eating – it was time to go again.  Enter husband and daughter; two most excellent eaters and food adventurers.  This time we traveled by foot and while it was still good, it didn’t offer the same flexibility as a bike.  The food and enjoyment however, were epic.  For further drooling, see the photos of what we ate below:

So far this experiment has been very successful, and can only improve as we learn from each outing.  It’s interesting (but not surprising) to note that Christchurch bars and restaurants aren’t used to people coming in for just one or two things; it’s expected that once you’re there that you’ll have a full meal.  A few places expressed concern that we would be hungry if we didn’t order more food (even after we explained to them what we were doing); but trust me, they had no need to fear 😉

Key learnings from these first two tapas crawls:

01. Check opening hours.  Some places don’t open until 4-5pm.

02. Get to popular places early.  Christchurch isn’t used to walk-ins or people moving from one place to another so popular places are likely to be full later in the evening.

03. Biking is best.  If you get somewhere and it’s full, it’s no big deal to bike somewhere else…plus you look super cute if you’re on a vintage bike with a basket.

What with the starting advice from Matt, the excellent suggestions from Nadine and my first hand experiences, I feel that this is well on the way to becoming one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend afternoon and I fully intend to keep it up; all in the name of research you understand.  Oh, and good food, good times and adventures.


The Food of Spain…

Last night I cooked from my new Spanish cookbook “The Food of Spain” by Claudia Roden.  It was a very simple, but beautiful, freshly flavoured dish called Pan-Grilled Fish with Garlic and Chilli Dressing (pescado a la bilbaina).  It was officially supposed to use fish fillets with the skin on but unfortunately we weren’t able to get those.  One of my goals for this year (in fact maybe I should make it my goal for next month!) is to buy a whole fish and learn to fillet it myself.  Then I can have so much more control over the fish I use for cooking!  But I digress…

…the fish is pan fried and served with a lovely dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, chilli and garlic.  When I first tasted the dressing I was surprised that there wasn’t a stronger flavour of vinegar but when it was served with the fish it gave it a lovely subtle sweetness while the chilli gave it a nice heat.

So simple but so delicious
So simple but so delicious

But I have to admit that I was slightly lazy with this meal…the photo in the recipe book had it served with new potatoes and nothing else, so I followed suit because I couldn’t be bothered cooking any more veges!  As a result, an hour later …we were a bit hungry…

However I was still feeling lazy and I couldn’t be bothered making a dessert despite several requests from the family…so I made a cheats dessert which turned out to be amazing!  During the weekend my husband Andrew had made a beautiful courgette loaf from our book “Harbour Kitchens” (yes, we are putting courgettes into everything!) so I toasted some slices of loaf and served it with fresh berries from the garden and runny cream…OMG, yum!!  Will definitely do that again for a quick pudding fix 🙂