Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spain for foodies


Spanish restaurants dominate world’s top 10 list, so is it time for a tasting?

090423-SpainBasqueCountry The Basque Country (above) is famed for its cuisine. Munoz (below) fuses Spanish with Chinese flavours.

It used to be that when one thinks of Spain, it’s flamenco, tapas, bullfighting and Gaudi’s dripping La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona that comes to mind. Soon, one can add fine food to the list of associations, if it hasn’t been already. On Monday, it was reported that Spain’s El Bulli had topped S Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the fourth year in row. More importantly, three of the top five restaurants were from Spain. Mugaritz and El Celler de Can Roca took fourth and fifth place after Britain’s The Fat Duck and Denmark’s Noma.

So, is it time for foodies here to loosen their belts and pack their bags for a tour of Spain? Today sat down with up-and-coming chef from Madrid David Munoz — who is in town for the World Gourmet Summit this week — and his wife Angela Montero for their take on the culinary revolution in Spain and tips for travelling gourmands.

090423-SpainMunoz Indeed, Munoz, who co-owns Madrid’s award winning DiverXO restaurant with Montero, is very much part of Spain’s new wave of innovative cooks, fusing Spanish with Chinese ingredients to produce startling flavours. His potato omelette looks like a tiny Chinese dumpling, to be enjoyed with a sip of jasmine tea.

Why do you think Spanish restaurants are so highly rated now?

There’s been a burst of culinary innovation that started with Ferran Adria from El Bulli. He opened the way for chefs to experiment with their cooking. Also, there’s been a liberalisation of thinking in the past 10 to 12 years. The Spanish had been oppressed under the Franco government, but now people are experimenting with things — in food, in fashion. The young make an effort to learn English. It’s a new way of thinking.

Where should travellers go for a culinary tour?

Madrid has a lot of places now. Catalonia and the Basque Country are also good regions for food.

The Basque has incredible cuisine. Even in the a pub, they eat very well. They have a way of cooking, they do a lot of stews. They have very good gastronomy and now, they have very good restaurants. Mugaritz and Arzak, the fourth and eighth top restaurants in the world, are from this area. Travellers should try the cod. It’s salted then cleaned with water. When cooked, the flavours are very different. A lot of people like it this way.

Any tips for finding the best places to eat?

When you see a country, you take a guide but you only see what the guide shows you. To know what’s going on, talk to the people. Ask where they eat. You have to interact with them to find out what’s best.

What must visitors try?

Iberico ham. It’s what distinguishes Spain from other countries. In Catalonia, they eat espardenta. It’s a small animal found inside a sea cucumber. Chinese people would eat the outside and throw away the inside. In Spain, we eat it. It’s very expensive — one kilogramme costs €150 ($293). It tastes a bit like baby squid. Very nice. Jennifer Chen

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 23-April-2009

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