Now that Spain has declared another national state of emergency and imposed a night-time curfew between the hours of 23:00 and 06:00 in an effort to help control a new spike in infections, bars and restaurants will have to adapt their businesses accordingly over the coming months with plans to possibly keep the state of alarm measures in place until May. For the bars in Spain it is especially challenging and there is now just one question on everybody’s lips. Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed Spain's tapas culture?
Traditionally the Spanish have loved to congregate and converse (loudly if possible) in the cool interior of a typical tapas bar with clay-tiled floors, Serrano hams hanging, drying from the ceiling and a bar top overflowing with colourful, tantalizing little portions of food, tempting to be eaten. You’d normally fight your way through the crowd to the bar and shout to get served, anyone who has ever followed their nose around a Spanish town or village will at some point have entered a tapas bar or bodega because, participating in the "tapeo" (tapa-hopping) has been part and parcel of the Spaniards social scene for centuries.
I was in Bilbao recently and Covid-19 has now completely changed the feel of the Basque taverns. People must now social distance and only a certain number are allowed up to the bar at one time. Where sometimes bars used to have up to 150 different types of pintxos, now they might have around 30 types because there's fewer people; residents and tourists alike. In San Sebastian, the city council has ordered that all pintxos must now be completely covered at the front and sides and the case must be translucent so that customers can see what they're ordering. Any bar not complying with these measures can be fined. The main difference to the pintxo scene however is that customers are no longer allowed to touch the pintxos, meaning that a large part of pintxo culture is missing. Now customers just point to what they want and are served by the bar person, much like in many bars across the world and this is slowly killing Spain’s unique pintxo and tapas culture. I suppose the question is; can it adapt and change in order to survive? I sincerely hope so, I for one really miss the buzz and frenzy of a packed tapas bar stacked full of delicious food.
The literal translation of tapa is "top" or "cover" and although there are various theories to their origins the most plausible one is this...the sherry houses of Andalusia placed a small plate over the glasses of wine to protect them from fruit flies and dust .a slice of bread and a tiny piece of local ham were placed on top to entice clients to the wine bar, and the saltiness of the ham helped to sell more sherries, before long the cooks from the bars would be creating evermore elaborate dishes to attract more customers and out-do the competition, and so the tapa was born and tapas restaurants around the world continue the tradition of small, shareable bites to enjoy with wine and friends. It has often been said that "participating in the "tapeo" provides an opportunity to feel the pulse of the nation".
Tapas can be as simple as you make them, slices of Serrano ham, marinated olives or fried anchovies. Here are a couple of classic recipes for you to make at home.
(Brave or bold potatoes)
Ingredients: serves 8-10
6 large potatoes
2tbsp tomato puree
1tbsp Sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove (crushed)
1tspn cayenne pepper
½tspn Ground cumin
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
Peel and cut the potatoes into 3cm dice. Deep fry them in hot oil until golden brown and crisp. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt. Spoon over the brava sauce and serve immediately.
GAMBAS CON GABARDINA
Most tapas bars serve a dish called gambas con gabardina which translates as ‘prawns in an overcoat’. The prawns are shelled, leaving just the top part of the tail attached, then dipped in batter and deep-fried in hot oil until crisp.
Ingredients serves 4-6
30 prawns, deveined & peeled but with the tip of the tail left on
2 large eggs
1tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
a pinch of paprika
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and paprika. Add the beer and leave in a warm room for 20 minutes. We are looking for a nice thick batter.
Heat about 2 inches of oil in a small pan over high heat. Dip each prawn into the batter (holding by the tail) and add to the oil.
They will cook very quickly. Cook for about 1 minute until golden brown.
Remove to a paper towel to absorb the oil. Serve hot with a little garlic aioli.