In his four part television series on Spanish food, Rick Stein travelled the length and breadth of the country experiencing what all those who live in the country have known for some considerable time.
The quality of what is on offer when dining outside has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years. As part of his tour, Rick Stein sampled the Spanish obsession with eating snacks before dinner or as lunch itself.
Tapas in much of Spain but, in Basque country, it is called Pintxos.
In San Sebastian, Rick Stein expressed his excitement at eating this way.
Rick said: “In San Sebastian the whole town goes crazy for pintxos. The name refers to the cocktail stick, or pintxo, that holds all the elements together. There’s 200 pinxtos bars in san Sebastian alone.
“The whole idea with tapas is that you go from one bar to another. Each will serve a speciality. The Basques are extremely convivial people and will think nothing of giving four or five bars a go. Even their pintxos are heartier than their southern equivalent.
“You are spoilt for choice here. Green peppers with octopus onion and olive oil. Anchovy fritters. Spanish tortilla. Fried hake. Fried peppers.
“I like the idea of having a couple of snacks before lunch. That is very acceptable to me. I find it a bit hard to start lunch at half past two or three o’clock, but I could get used to it.”
Moving to the south of Spain, Rick Stein went to Seville, a city of 3000 tapas bars.
In the oldest tapas bar in the city, El Rinconcillo, Rick Stein met Roger Davies, an expat from Wales who lives in, and loves, Seville.
Roger told Rick: ”Every Friday and Saturday people like to be out and enjoying themselves in a great atmosphere. With friends, I will go to four or five different tapas bars, have a drink and some tapas. Depending on what we want to eat we will go from one place to another. You can do that in Seville because there are so many tapas bars to choose from.”
Rick took time out to consider whether tapas truly can work in other countries. Places like the UK where there are few such bars and where the culture of drinking late at night has a completely different feel to it from that he experienced in Spain.
He said: “There’s no doubt that tapas came from Spain. I’ve been going to Spain all my life, but for many years the word tapas in Britain didn’t refer to anything remotely Spanish.
“In the UK you’ll be in for a wait, whereas in Spain, the preparation is done beforehand and the actual service is like lightning. But proper tapas is appearing in Britain at long last.”
While he sampled a vast range of tapas or pintxos on his travels across Spain, Rick Stein said there was one food he would always look out for and judge a tapas bar by.
“The way to spot a great tapas bar is to check out the menu.
“It’s got to have Iberico ham. That’s absolutely the centre of any tapas, you’ve got to have good ham.”
Photo credit: Flickr FAJM http://bit.ly/pp38yz