Now where had we got to?
And so C is for Cuisine (and Catalonia and chorizo)
This one’s easy. Spanish or perhaps more specifically Catalonian Spanish cuisine is definitely my favourite kind of dining. The heady aroma of smoked pimenton, sea fresh razor clams, paella, chipirones (deep fried baby squid), spicy chorizo sausage, stuffed pimentos, Manchego cheese and patatas bravas, washed down with Estrella lager, chilled rose wine and a brandy seasoned in Jerez sherry casks, all of these things take me back to happy meals shared with family and friends in places like Barcelona, Cambrils and Ibiza. The sharing, wit and conversation as important an element as the wine, food and sunshine.
Strange thing is that despite spending many of my childhood and teen holidays on the Costa Brava, I never sampled real Spanish cuisine until I went back to the country as an adult in my mid twenties. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the package holidays we went on tended to be full board with the dreaded ‘international cuisine’, as the hoteliers competed to supply menus they thought would appeal to the mass market Brits, Germans and Scandinavians who descended on the new resorts along the Costas. As you would expect trying to provide a gourmet experience on this kind of basis was doomed to epic failure. My overriding memories from these trips tended to involve watery soup, breaded pork and quite indeterminate meat dishes in gloopy sauce.
The one exception to this was the churros, which we discovered at the chip shop in Estartit. Little did we know at the time that these strings of deep fried pastry made the perfect breakfast with a cup of thick chocolate for dipping. Many years later I watched an English holiday maker spoon baked beans on top of churros at a breakfast buffet in Lanzarote, I suspect he thought the Spaniards were a bit mad!
It wasn’t really until the 1980s that I discovered just how much I actually liked real Spanish food. My own pet theory is that Spain went through a resurgence of confidence in its cultures following the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975 and this was reflected in the attitude to its cuisine. This was particularly the case in Catalonia where brutal repression of culture and language had taken place. Then in the warly 1980s groundbreaking TV cooks, like the irrepressible Keith Floyd introduced the cuisine to a TV public eager for new experiences and flavours. And before you say ‘Surely not’, don’t forget it was only in the 1950s that Elizabeth David’s cookbooks introduced French and Italian food to the greater UK public.
Now after saying all that, my favourite restaurant is a Hungarian one on London’s Soho!