Ann Rickard is on the hunt for the best tapas in Spain

In search of the coun­try’s best cro­que­tas, tooth­pick by tooth­pick

Life & Style Weekend - - WELCOME // INSIDE TODAY - TRAVEL with Ann Rickard

WE’VE been on a culi­nary mis­sion. Our goal has been to find the best cro­que­tas in Spain. A cro­queta (cro­quette to us), as you know, is a mix of (usu­ally) meat or seafood in a bechamel sauce wrapped in bread­crumbs and fried.

Now that is a whole lit­tle pack­age of culi­nary bliss right there without say­ing an­other word.

If you’ve made them at home you’ll know there is a lot work in in­volved: first cook­ing the in­gre­di­ents, then mak­ing a bechamel sep­a­rately, then mix­ing it all to­gether, let­ting it cool overnight, shap­ing it into lit­tle balls or ob­longs, then dip­ping in flour, egg wash and bread­crumbs and fi­nally fry­ing.

That’s a lot of toil for a small bite. Eas­ier to visit Spain and visit the tapas bars on a cro­queta mis­sion such as the one we are on now, no?

Oh, how we love the tapas bars in Spain. The es­tab­lished-for-gen­er­a­tions bars are favourites.

They are usu­ally dim places with long wooden bars and tiled floors and beams and bar­rels about the place and with shelves al­most top­pling un­der the weight of wine bot­tles.

Some have gi­ant ja­mon (hams) hang­ing from the ceil­ing and some have a bloke whose sole job it is to slice pa­per-thin wafers of ja­mon in front of you.

Dozens of va­ri­eties of tapas are dis­played on the bar top. Take a plate, fight to get close, and then go for it.

The tapas sit on chunks of bread with top­pings skew­ered with a tooth­pick.

You pick up by tooth­pick, eat your fill, and then pay at the end by the num­ber of tooth­picks left on your plate.

We have had many tooth­picks left on our plates. You would too. Crab meat wrapped in smoked salmon, piquillo pep­pers with pun­gent cheese, tangy pick­led fish, ja­mon with squares of potato, spicy sausage with black olives – and that is just the cold stuff.

The hot stuff comes out with wait­ers who do the rounds of the busy bar with plates of sausage and fried fish and stuffed olives and then – here they come – the cro­que­tas. Ev­ery­thing else fades when these hot lovelies are waved in front of us.

We don’t even bother to ask what is in them. We like to bite into a sur­prise and, so far in our mis­sion, we have en­coun­tered Ibe­rian ham and padron green pep­pers, veal and black gar­lic aioli, creamy cod­fish and Cabrales cheese, and we are on day two.

There are a few the­o­ries about the ori­gin of tapas. The most likely is that long ago a small plate of bread, ham or olives was used as a lid to keep the flies out of a drink in rus­tic bars fre­quented by farm work­ers who liked a snack in be­tween toil­ing the fields. Tapa means lid, so that makes sense.

In Aus­tralia we know tapas as just about ev­ery­thing. You see “tapas’’ on menus when they are re­ally Greek mezze or Swedish meat­balls or Dan­ish pick­led her­rings or Ger­man bratwurst or spe­cial­i­ties from any coun­try other than Spain. But we are like that.

A per­son could spend a life­time search­ing for the best cro­queta in Sain – most tapas bars make that claim – and never come to a con­clu­sion. What a grat­i­fy­ing mis­sion.

Read more of Ann’s mus­ings at an­nrickard.com

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Go­ing on the hunt for the best tapas in Spain is dif­fi­cult, but some­one has to do it.

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