Ibe­rian food fi­esta with a dash of fla­menco

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK | CULTURE - By MAG­GIE BEALE

at El Cid might even in­spire your taste­buds to sing.

The mod­ern Ibe­rian Peninsula in the south­west cor­ner of Europe com­prises mainly Spain and Por­tu­gal. There’s also tiny An­dorra, Gi­bral­tar and a lit­tle bit of France. Here in Hong Kong we are fa­mil­iar with some of the re­gion’s spe­cialty cuisines, es­pe­cially the food from Spain. And nearby Ma­cao has en­joyed a long-stand­ing love af­fair with Por­tuguese foods.

Spain's cap­i­tal Madrid is per­haps best known to tourists. While Madrid is very col­or­ful and ex­cit­ing, I would say my first en­counter with the “real” Span­ish food was in Seville, as I drove up from Morocco af­ter an African trek some years ago. Seville is the largest city in the prov­ince of the same name and is sit­u­ated on the plain of the river Guadalquivir. Be­ing just 95 kilo­me­ters away from the Pa­cific Ocean, it is the only river port in Spain. Fish from both river and sea fig­ure on the menu, on a daily ba­sis. I re­mem­ber tast­ing sword­fish and squid among oth­ers. There's no short­age of meats, veg­eta­bles, and del­i­ca­cies such as snails ei­ther.

There's also that won­der­ful sum­mer­time as­set — gaz­pa­cho, or the cold soup, made from raw veg­eta­bles, bread, vine­gar, wa­ter, salt and olive oil that is clas­si­fied as “salad” in Spain! The word gaz­pa­cho comes from the Ara­bic word for “soaked bread”. And it shows that although the Ro­mans had a cer­tain culi­nary in­flu­ence, it was the Arabs who brought many dif­fer­ent foods to Spain.

Apart from the ever-pop­u­lar paella, one of the most well­known Span­ish foods is surely tapas — the tiny tasty snacks meant to ei­ther stim­u­late or sup­press the ap­petite. There are as many sto­ries to the ori­gin of tapas as there are va­ri­eties of this de­lec­ta­ble snack. It has been said that in the 13th cen­tury King Al­fonso X of Castile de­cided to eat and drink only in small amounts af­ter he had felt health­ier by eat­ing in mod­er­a­tion dur­ing an ill­ness. So every­one else in his king­dom be­gan fol­low­ing his lead. To­day tapas are easy to lo­cate on Miche­lin-starred menus as well as in pop­u­lar bars, although th­ese are hardly ever served at home!

Also a pop­u­lar choice is the very fine ham jamón ibérico, at least 50 per­cent of which is the flesh of black Ibe­rian pigs. You could get this in Spain, and Por­tu­gal.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of din­ing Sevillana style in one of Hong Kong’s fine restau­rants is some­times en­hanced by a per­for­mance of fla­menco mu­sic and dance. For a num­ber of years the au­di­ences here have been cap­ti­vated by the likes of the leg­endary Span­ish dancer and fla­menco artist Carla Ra­mona, who was most re­cently seen at the Y The­atre in Chai Wan.

Fla­menco is a genre that comes with many vari­a­tions. The Roma gyp­sies are ex­po­nents of sev­eral of its forms. Fla­menco is an emo­tive ex­pres­sion of mu­sic, song and dance that in­fuses Span­ish folk­lore with sounds from the Le­vant, North Africa and In­dia. The gui­tar player guides the en­sem­ble with­out be­ing too pre­cise. Singers and dancers get a lot of room for im­pro­vi­sa­tion. The male dancers use very heavy, stomp­ing steps while the fe­male per­form­ers pitch in with gen­tler, more sin­u­ous move­ments.

An­dalu­sia in south­ern Spain is the very heart­land of fla­menco, although the dance genre has its roots in re­gions such as Mur­cia and Ex­tremadura. “Cante” is the vo­cal ex­pres­sion of fla­menco, and it is sung by ei­ther men or women, of­ten with no back­ing singers. Such songs are amaz­ingly ef­fec­tive at stir­ring up an au­di­ence who would some­times join in with the oc­ca­sional heart­felt “Ole!” of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

As it is with Span­ish cuisines, fla­menco too has vari­a­tions based on tra­di­tional styles, de­pend­ing on their ex­po­sure to re­gional in­flu­ences.

On re­flec­tion, what bet­ter way is there to spend a jolly evening by com­bin­ing good tra­di­tional food with the many va­ri­eties of high-qual­ity Span­ish wines avail­able here in Hong Kong and throw in a lively show of fla­menco. It’s about the dance and mu­sic of pas­sion that ranges across emo­tions and will prob­a­bly add to the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I can't think of a bet­ter way to cel­e­brate.

Ole!

The de­li­cious seafood paella served

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