Have you ever seen a child stare into a candy shop? Their sweaty foreheads pressed to glass with superglue force and sticky hands braced wide like Spider-Man, ready to web swing to another building. Their breath fogs the glass as their mouths salivate at the thought of chocolate covered treats and colourful sugared candies. With bug eyes they struggle to look at all the stores contents in one go and with fixed focus they beg in desperation to their parents, spitting on the glass, “Maaarrrm, can we go inside PUH-LEASE?” Well that pretty much sums up Skip’s reaction whenever he sees tapas.
Tapas are seductive, satisfying little plates of gorgeousness wrapped into one dining experience. It’s quintessential grazing at its finest and how we love to eat. We spent last weekend in Madrid, armed with a long list of must eat foodie destinations thanks to our Airbnb host, Fernando, who also just happened to have the most fabulous sun filled apartment right in the centre of town. Top of that list, and our favourite experience by far, was the Mercado de San Miguel, a food market dedicated to all things tapas. We walked around the busy food hall, thrice. Food envy is rife here and calls for a calculated approach. The biggest error is to fill up early and then choke on regret when you see something spectacular that you no longer have room for.
We commenced grazing with a half dozen oysters, reigning from three different regions and shucked right there in front of us, divine! Oh and a glass of champagne…to wash them down of course. We had a kebab stick of olives, cured meats and cheese before diving into a selection of tapas that were beautifully presented on slices of baguette, duck pate with cranberry sauce, salmon and crab mousse, caramelised onions with goats cheese, a mini hamburger and a fabulously zingy gazpacho.
I’m not a dessert fan but apply the theory “When in Rome” when dining. Crema Catalana is a popular Spanish dessert that I’d describe as tasting like creme caramel with a creme brûlée consistency. Surprisingly it’s not very rich and very delightful! Churros or Spanish donuts as they are commonly called, are a standard go-to dessert choice and we also opted for a fruit yoghurt which had little cubes of juicy mango throughout. YUM!
During our food market degustation I wondered where this concept of tapas came from and here is what I discovered…It all started with a Spanish King, Alfonso the 10th who lived in the 1800’s. He was referred to as ‘The Wise’ for his interest in astrology, languages and music. Not so wise was his choice to marry a 10 year old girl when he was 32! Eikk! He went on to father 11 children and 4 illegitimate children. For the purposes of this story I am renaming him “Alfonso the super creepy playboy”.
When the King, “Alfonso the super creepy playboy”, fell ill, he was unable to digest large meals. Instead he favoured small bites of foods with some wine. (Aids the digestion!) Once recovered from his illness he realised that eating small bites with wine meant he was able to tolerate alcohol much better and then decreed all publicans must serve small amounts of food with every glass of wine. Traditionally this meant a glass of wine was served with a piece of cured ham covering the glass. The word ‘cover’ in Spanish is ‘Tapa’ and so a cultural tradition was born. So while this King was a super creepy playboy, when it comes to the invention of tapas Alfonso deserves the title of ‘wise’.
Yours in wandering and wondering,