It has always amazed me how eager the Sydney food scene is to absorb reinterpret the so-called ‘traditional’ and ‘peasant’ foods of other nations into overpriced, ‘exotic’ wank. Besides the prohibitive prices of foods like tapas, Brazilian bbq and Cuban food, these reincarnations of cuisines which claim to be ‘inspired’ or ‘influenced’ by various countries almost always miss the point of the cuisine they claim to ‘draw inspiration’ from.
In Spain, where dinner is generally served at around 10pm, bars will offer tapas; small, simple, tasty, cheap morsels of food that you eat standing up to stave off hunger and stop you getting too drunk. This fulfils the dual purpose of soaking up alcohol and stimulating thirst. The point of tapas is not to fill you up. It is not even really to have a ‘meal’. People don’t sit down at a table, order a variety of drinks and food and then have them all brought over, eat, drink and pay at the end. In Australia, this style of serving is rare, and tapas becomes just an item on a menu, not a cultural practice.
What baffles me about this mistranslations is that restaurateurs and I presumably have a similar experience when we go to a foreign country. We’ll be walking the streets of whatever town in Spain as the bars will start to fill up with people socialising, drinking and snacking. The overall impression is of vibrancy. Life. Hospitality. Community. I look around me and think ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could bottle this and take it back home?’
Obviously we all view holidays through rose-tinted glasses. But it seems to me that many restaurateurs are viewing theirs with dollar-sign eyeballs. They want to bottle this experience and take it back to Australia, but they also want to pour half of it out, dilute it with water, mark up the price and sell it. They are translating a cuisine completely literally and without any of the nuance that comes from the culture it’s a part of. They take the food of Spain and plonk it down on an Australian restaurant table.
Now, it’s a fair point that Australian diners may not want tapas-style dining, just tapas-style food. Clearly a restaurant cannot force people to order this way or they won’t have any customers. I have noticed though that more and more pubs are serving tapas, and this seems more in line with tapas’ whole ethos.
The most basic tapas recipe is tortilla de patatas, sometimes known as tortilla española. In Spain you can buy it in supermarkets and chop it into wedges. It can be eaten hot or cold and consists of eggs, potatos and sometimes onions. I add garlic to mine but that’s completely optional. Serve with tomato sauce or aioli. Or plain.
Tortilla de Patatas
2 medium potatos, peeled
½ a medium onion
2 cloves of garlic, optional
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Microwave or boil the potatoes, whole until cooked but not mushy. Leave to cool slightly. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt.
Finely slice the onion and finely chop the garlic, if using. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them into thick slices.
In a very small non-stick pan, heat the oil on a medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then the garlic. Once the onion is golden, take the pan off the heat and turn the heat down low.
Add the potatoes to the pan. Mix them gently with the onion and garlic to combine but try not to break them. Pour over the egg mixture, making sure it gets into all the gaps, and place the pan on the heat.
The tortilla should cook very slowly and begin to firm up. Some people like it quite runny in the middle, some like it well cooked. I like mine firm so I leave it until almost completely set, 5-10 minutes.
When your tortilla is solid enough to flip, use a large flat spatula to do so. It won’t need much time on the other side as it is just to cook the top.
So, dear reader, what tapas dish do you crave?
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