The best spanish food ever has to be Paella! The crispy golden base accompanied by the soft creamy middle is a combination of textures that I can’t get enough of. In Barcelona my Dad and I went on a hunt for a traditional Paella. After hunting through little spanish restaurants in a variety of side streets, we came across a bar that looked promising. But, it too didn’t make Paella. Much to our surprise, however, the chef ran out of his own restaurant and led us down another street to an old looking bar. And it was in that bar that Dad and I had our first experience of the famous Paella. From that moment onwards we were addicted!
Prosciutto with its soft chewy texture and its rich meaty flavour is one of my favourite things to eat. In a random market in Barcelona, just off La Rumbla, I found many of what I thought was my beloved prosciutto, hanging from the ceilings of delicatessens. But my ignorance was quickly uncovered when I discovered that it wasn’t prosciutto, it was Jamón, much the same as my beloved meat, but also very different. Its rich meaty flavour offered a sense of familiarity, but its firm and dense texture was something other than what I had known. It was even better than the glorious prosciutto! Yes, I said it! It was everything that I had secretly wished prosciutto to be – almost a jerky, but much tastier and much more delicate.
Almost every country is home to the American hot chips or fries, from Mcdonalds stores to local fried food stores, but Spain houses their own, unique version of the hot chip – Patatas Braves. This is a hot chip on steroids! Potato cut into rough shapes and deep fried until crisp and golden. They are then lathered with mayonnaise and hot chilli sauce – Heaven! every Tapas Bar in Spain will offer their own version of Bravas, from potatoes in almost a tomato soup, to crisp potatoes with the sauces drizzled on top. But either way, this tapas dish is so good!
These little jewels were to die for! Essentially it was a moist meatball coated in smooth mashed potato and then fried till crispy and golden. It was topped with the most creamy mayonnaise and spicy chilli sauce. Being brought up in a world where more ingredients meant more flavour, this spanish delicacy was far from familiar. But it was also a way of cooking that I aspire to follow. To be honest, a huge bowl of these babies in front of the telly on a friday night would be glorious! But, served in small portions as they were, I walked away with meatballs on my mind and a wonderful eating experience that I so want to re-create at home in Sydney.
Tapas 24 was not just amazing because of the food served, but it served up the best sangria I have come accross. Deep wide-mouthed glasses filled with cold, sweetened wine is my idea of a heavenly drink. It was my first experience of Sangria, and it was the best.
Sangria – My take on it:
1 bottle red wine
350 ml cranberry juice
The juice of two oranges
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Add all ingredients to a big jug and refrigerate for 24 hrs. Serve with ice cubes and orange slices.
Spain to me was a sort of bliss or haven, a paradise in amongst a European winter. Stepping off the plane, wrapped up like a bandage and expecting a hit of icy air perhaps displayed my ignorance to spain’s climate. An immense feeling of relief struck me when I realised that there was no icy air and no grey skies. In fact I quickly started to panic as I realised I had far to may layers of clothing on and I was beginning to sweat. But the longing to simply wear a t-shirt and jeans, the feeling that I had felt while stuck in my London hotel room, had become a reality. After checking into our hotel along La Rumbla, Barcelona, I quickly threw off the ridiculous amount of layers I had on and put on my new ‘I love Paris’ t-shirt and my recently-purchased blue jeans. I was ready to embrace this vibrant city and its warm air. But it wasn’t just the air that was warm, it was the people too. Walking the streets, smiles were passed on to us by strangers and children ran the streets of the city safely and parent-free. It truly was a haven. The first Tapas bar we went to was called Tapas 24 http://www.carlesabellan.es/ It embodied all the class of Spanish Tapas as well as the flavour. It is fair to say that it was of the best food experiences that I have ever had. It was a dining experience that would ignite our taste buds for the food journey they were about to endure.
Ful or broad beans have become somewhat of a delicacy in the Arab world. No mezza is complete without a plate of mushed up broad beans stuck alongside a tower of flat flatbread. This steaming batch of Ful offered a warming aroma that drew me closer. Each restaurant in the Old city of Jerusalem competed for the best plate of starchy goodness, presenting their dip on small plates with crownings of olive oil and parsley. It’s shocking that such a simple, ‘peasant’ side dish could gain the respect of millions of Arab ‘followers’ – but I must say it has also captured my heart, this dish is a must try!
2 cups boiled and pealed broad beans
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin – optional
parsley, finely chopped for the garnish
Mash the broad beans. Add all the ingredients and mix. Serve on small plates with the ful spread into a thin layer. Drizzle with olive oil and crown with parsley.
It became evident while walking the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem that Indian cuisine had somewhat creeped into the culinary repertoire’s of Middle Eastern mothers. Table’s covered with garam masala, Indian rice soup mix, cardamon and curry powder filled countless shops. And this evidential influence certainly was true after analysis of my grandmother’s cooking repertoire. Teta is of course most famous for her Arabic dishes, however her prawn curry is renowned even amongst her indian friends. It’s so interesting that even a place so firm in their cultural history, and indignant of their national stance, can be so heavily influenced by foreign cuisine.
Teta’s Prawn Curry:
2 kilos of prawns
Whole bulb of garlic
3cm piece of ginger
1 bunch corriander
1 tablespoon Tom Yum Paste
1 cup coconut cream
1 tablespoon pataks mild curry paste
2 tablespoons peanut butter
Blend onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, chilli and tom yum paste. Transfer mixture into a heavy based pot and pan-fry until fragrant. Add two tablespoons of Pataks mild curry paste and 1 cup coconut cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Add two table spoons of peanut butter and add the prawns. Serve with coriander and chilli.
Walking into great big Arabic Patisseries as a child was akin to walking into a toys ‘r’ us store. I would run down the long isle of pastries with a selfish grin on my face, wondering what I would choose. But it was the humble short-bread that never failed to please. The firm sugary biscuit would melt as it touched my lips. It was a family fave! But what was even better was when Mum made a batch of her own at home. Eating searing hot shortbread still to this day has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures!
Mum’s Middle Eastern Shortbread:
1 cup Samneh (margarine and butter boiled, with the foam skimmed off the top; basically clarified butter but normal butter will work too)
1 cup Pure Icing Sugar
2 cup plain flour
Pine nuts or Pistachio nuts to garnish
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and shape into round crescents.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes and then bake in a 170 degree oven for 10 minutes. Leave to cool before serving (But I never do, its better searing hot!)
Although Arabic food is not the most glamorous of foods, I hold the opinion that the Arab cuisine has some of the tastiest dishes in the world. Arabs are renowned for their robust, hearty rice dishes packed with nuts, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon, and the list goes on. Flavour is definitely not lacking, even in their traditional peasant food! This feast was one of my favourites! We were travelling around Amman, Jordan in the midst of a rainy winter visiting family. After a long day we settled at my mum’s cousin Sami’s house for a classic Jordanian dinner; Arabic style rice topped with chicken, nuts, peas and carrot, a simple salad, big bowls of plain yogurt and a two huge platters of Kibbeh. It was a feast that I will never forget.