Cookery books deliver some of the best literature in the world. This is true. From a good cookery book one can get a sense of a whole new culture. A cookery book on the Mediterranean cuisine, for example, will give you a splash of that culture, little known insights, habits of the locals and of course, hopefully a good recipe or two.
It was from a cookery book I learnt Ras el Hanout, a popular middle eastern spice mix, stands for ‘Top of Shelf’ – literally indicating the best spices from the shop. When I went to purchase the spice mix I was a tad upset the owner located it from underneath a stack of other herbs and had to bend down to fetch it, rather than stretch up. Oh well, it still tastes delicious with chicken or in a curry.
Living in Espana for a period gave me a completely new palate. Tapas of course is widely regarded as a staple of Spanish cooking but it is truly Andalusian. Andalusia is the southern most part of Spain and a culture on to itself. The language is shaped differently this south. The Spanish language varies greatly from region to region, but it is particularly garbled in the mouths of Andalusia’s populate. They slice the words up, cut the endings off and talk in a direct staccato way. It is a dialect of its own. Of course, the Basque language in the north west of Spain is completely unlike anything else, anywhere.
I compare the Andalusian dialect to the Yorkshire accent here in the UK. Dropping the odd word or definite article “open door”, “Lets go ta Pub” etc. seems to be the closest replication the English have mustered.
Anyway, from the shores of Espana I learnt the origin of Tapas, so here it is:
Down in Andalusia it can get hot. Searingly so infact. The men would drink their beers at the bar or at tables outside. Flies would be a constant nuisance and would end up in too many beers. The solution: A small plate to cover the drink to keep the flies out and from there, someone started to put food in those plates. And the idea was born. Born from such a little act, Tapas has now come to be associated with everything Spanish. Or rather, whenever anyone thinks of Spain, Tapas crops up.
The music of Spain will be further commented on in later posts, as it is worthy of study. But here we must nod our heads to jazz. Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain fills itself with the revolutionary splendour of the Spanish civil war. Fluglehorns and trumpets play the centerpiece of the album; an adaption of Joaquin Roadrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez (adagio), which is the first song and takes up at least half the album. We will serve up this splendid piece of music below for you to enjoy. Best sampled with Tequila, Tapas and a Hemingway book handy – For Whom The Bell Tolls a brilliant slow-burner on the realities of the civil war is a good place to start. The album is worth a listen, to its critics it didn’t even slightly resemble jazz, but in reality it is based on Spanish folk music and it is best placed underneath that stack of cards.
By Tom Proctor