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A Tapas Journey

CEBU, Philippines — It’s the dream of many foodies to be able to travel to Spain – to walk up and down the “calles” of Madrid or the “kaleetan” of Bilbao (Biscay, Basque) to eat tapas or pintxos. This is also my dream and I have already prepared a “wish list” of what tapas to order. Tapas or appetizers, served hot or cold in Spain, has evolved to a more sophisticated cuisine and its patrons hop from one restaurant or bar to the next to order its numerous variations until it becomes a complete meal itself.

There are many versions of the origin of tapas. Some say it began in Andalusia with sherry drinkers covering their glasses with pieces of bread or meat to prevent fruit flies to get to the sweet sherry. Moreover, meats like ham or chorizo were very salty and it encouraged more alcohol to be consumed. Another version is that King Alfonso X of Castile made a royal decree prohibiting the service of alcoholic drinks unless it was accompanied by food or “tapas.”

Spanish cuisine has so many delicious dishes that appeal to both the Oriental and the Western palate. This cuisine is easily understood by Filipinos since Spanish dishes have long dominated our dining tables and sometimes we forget it is foreign in origin. As early as 1918, Pura Villanueva Kalaw wrote in the book, “Condimentos Indigenas,” stating that dishes like “Calamares en su Tinta” and “Leche Flan” are Spanish foods frequently served by Filipinos.

Marco Polo Cebu recently held its 10th year of celebrating the Sabores de España, the most popular of the hotel’s culinary journeys. The slicing of the Jamón Serrano signaled the opening of the 2017 Sabores de España, and guests of honor during the slicing were former Honorary Spanish Consul Jaime Picornell, Guest Spanish Chef Gema Pido, Amigos de España President Amparito Lhuillier and Marco Polo Cebu GM Brian Connelly. Select members of Cebu’s media had the wonderful opportunity to sample some of Spain’s culinary delights, tapas like the “Aceitunas y Queso Manchego en Vinagreta” (olives and cheese), “Tortillas Espanola/ Tortilla de Patata” and “Bunuelos de Chorizo.” The latter contains a sausage, excuse me, that can only be made by a Basque resident in Cebu (particularly the ex-pelotaris) or a Cebuano trained in the Basque culinary arts.

Fishes (anchovies & tuna) and sweet bell pepper were the dominant ingredients in the appetizers prepared by Chef Gema Pido. Anchovy fillets were marinated in vinegar or a mixture of vinegar and olive oil and then seasoned with garlic and parsley before they were made into “Boquerones Fritos” (Deep-fried Fresh Anchovies), “Boquerones en Vinagre” and “Huevos Rellenos con Anchovies.” Tuna was used in to make the “Croquetas de Bacalao” (Fish Croquettes) while the peppers were used for the “Pimentos Al Ajo De Jenez” (Roasted Bell Peppers) and my favorite –  “Pimentos Rellenos con Atun” (peppers stuffed with tuna).

With so many kinds of delicious tapas, we have yet to see a restaurant in Cebu offering only tapas, exclusively. It must be the Cebuano predilection to eat rice in a meal in order to be really satisfied. Even in this day and age, Cebu residents still look for a serving of rice to fill their stomach – carbohydrate substitutes like bread or potatoes will not fill that gap.

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Dessert was “Pan con Chocolate Aciete Oliva y Sal” paired with Spanish coffee preparation which involved a ritual of flaming the mix before serving. Brandy, anise and orange liqueur were added to the brewed coffee before it was poured into the glass and then topped with cream, and then served. (FREEMAN)

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