New Mexico has the oldest regional cuisine in the United States. Native Americans have inhabited the Southwest for roughly 1,500 years and Santa Fe, the state capital, was established more than four hundred years ago. Northern New Mexico’s history and food are inextricably intertwined because as power shifted and cultures merged, so too did the local food. Santa Fe was the terminus point for both El Camino Real (from Mexico City) and the Santa Fe Trail (from Missouri). The influences of the Native Americans, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo settlers have shaped New Mexican cuisine. (more…)
For those of you who have dined on Spanish cuisine, you’ve probably experienced a meal completely made up of tapas. The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover” and refers to a variety of appetizer portions of food that could be cold, as in olives and cheese, or warm, like chorizo sausage or empanadas.
When it comes to the origin of tapas, there are several stories about how they came to be. A couple are based on folklore regarding King Alfonso X. In one instance, it is told that King Alfonso X, made sure that Castilian taverns serve wine accompanied by something to eat, so that the wine would not go straight to the clients’ heads.
Another story claims that while on a long trip, King Alfonso had stopped to rest in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and he ordered a glass of jerez or sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the inn keeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty. King Alfonso apparently liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or “cover” just like the first.
The Joy of Cooking cookbook; however, cites that originally tapas were slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andulasian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips to prevent fruit flies from hovering around their drink. As for the meat, it was usually ham or chorizo. Since both these meats were salty, their customers would actually be more thirsty and thus, order more sherry. Eventually, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with the sherry, which naturally increased their alcohol sales.
The evolution of tapas over Spain’s history came about due to the incorporation of ingredients and influences from other cultures and countries. Since the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans, olives and irrigations methods were introduced. The North African Moors invasion brought in almonds, citrus fruits and fragrant spices. With the New World, came tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, maize, beans and potatoes. All these other global influences in turn influenced what you eat today when you eat tapas.
When it comes to the tapas experience in Spain, it’s usually more of a bar crawl with food. Since dinner is served between 9 pm and as late as 12 pm, Spaniards would use the time between work and dinner to go “bar hopping.” Most bars or local restaurants would have 8 to 12 different tapas in warming trays. The food would be strongly flavored with garlic, chilies, paprika and a variety of other spices and usually cooked with a lot of olive oil. One or more choices that would be available include a type of seafood like anchovies or sardines in olive oil or a tomato based sauce. Also on tap would be various olives, cheeses and bread.
In cities like Madrid and in parts of Andalucia, when you order a drink, the tapa is free. Other cities have entire zones dedicated to tapas bars, with each one serving their own unique dish. When in Northern Spain, tapas are called pinchos because they normally have a toothpick to keep it from falling off the slice of bread it’s attached to. The toothpicks are used to keep track of how many a customer has had as well as denote the cost of the tapa depending on various sizes the toothpicks come
In North America and the United Kingdom, as well as in select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine. In these countries, patrons of tapas restaurants can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal.
Check out your very own Tapas Glossary below:
Allioli: Means “Garlic and oil” in Catalan. The classic ingredients are only garlic, oil and salt, but the common form of it includes Mayonnaise and garlic. A very strong garlic paste. Served on bread or with potatoes, fish, meat or grilled vegetables.
Bacalao: Salted cod loin served very thinly usually served with bread and tomatoes
Boquerones: White anchovies served in vinegar (boquerones en vinagre) or deep fried.
Calamares or Rabas: Rings of battered squid.
Carne Mechada: Slow-cooked, tender beef.
Chopitos: Battered and fried tiny squid. Also known as puntillitas.
Cojonuda: A kind of “pincho”. It consists of a slice of Spanish morcilla with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread. It is very common in Burgos, because the most well known and widespread Spanish morcilla is from there. In can also be prepared with a little strip of red spicy pepper.
Cojonudo: A kind of “pincho”. It consists of a slice of Spanish chorizo with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread.
Chorizo al Vino: Chorizo sausage slowly cooked in wine.
Chorizo a la Sidra: Chorizo sausage slowly cooked in cider.
Croquetas: A common sight on bar counters and in homes across Spain, served as a tapa, light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad.
Empanadas or Empanadillas: Large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables.
Ensaladilla Rusa: This literally means (little)Russian salad and is made with mixed boiled vegetables with tuna, olives and mayonnaise.
Gambas: Prawns sauteed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (with garlic), or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).
Pimientos de Padrón: Small green peppers from Padrón (a municipality in the province of A Coruña in the region of Galicia) that are fried in olive oil. Most are very mild, but a few in each batch are quite spicy.
Pulpo: Pulpo means Octopus, and it is usually served in small chunks in the oil in which it was cooked. In its most basic form, salt is also added. Pulpo, as with many of Spain’s seafood dishes, comes predominantly from Galicia due to the region’s access to the rich resources of Atlantic Ocean.
Pulpo a la Gallega (Octopus the Galician way): This Galician dish, known both as Pulpo á galega (Octopus the Galician way) and Polbo á feira (Octopus the fair way) in Galicia, is served hot in the olive or vegetable oil in which it was cooked. The octopus pieces are seasoned with substantial amounts of paprika, giving it its recognisable red colour, and sea-salt for texture and flavour.
Pincho Moruno: A spicy kebab-like stick, made of pork or chicken. Its name means ‘Moorish Stick’.
Patatas Bravas: Fried potato dices (sometimes part-boiled and then fried, or simply boiled) served with salsa brava, a spicy tomato sauce. Alioli is often served with it too.
Papas Arrugadas / Papas con Mojo: Canary Islands – Very small new potatoes boiled in salt water similar to sea water, then drained, slightly roasted and served with Mojo sauce , a garlic, spanish paprika, red pepper, cumin seed, olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and bread “miga” (fresh bread crumbs without the crust) to thicken it.
Puntillitas: Battered and fried tiny squid. Also known as chopitos.
Queso con Anchoas: Castilla or Manchego cured cheese with anchovies on top.
Rajo: Pork seasoned with garlic and parsley. A variety with added paprika is called Zorza.
Solomillo a la Castellana: Fried pork scallops, served with an onion and/or Cabrales cheese sauce
Solomillo al Whisky, or al Güisqui: Fried pork scallops, marinated using whisky, brandy or white wine and olive oil.
Tortilla de Patatas, also known as Tortilla Española: A type of omelet containing fried chunks of potatoes and sometimes onion. A variety containing vegetables and chorizo (similar to frittata) is known as Tortilla paisana.
Tortillitas de Camarones: Battered-prawn fritters.
Stuffed Mussels (Tigres): In Navarre, these stuffed mussels are called tigres (“tigers”) because of their fieriness.
Zamburiñas: Most renowned from the region of Galicia, zamburiñas are Chlamys varia, a type of scallop, which are often served in a marinera, tomoato-based sauce.
Ready to do your own tapas dining? Here are some restaurants for you to experience it for yourself.
1030 N 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Eclipse Di Luna
764 Miami Cir NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
3833 Richmond Ave
Houston, TX 77027
1100 Pike St
Seattle, WA 98101
The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
If you love Spanish food, then you know an ingredient heavily used in Spanish cooking is the chorizo. The Spanish chorizo is generally cured, sometimes smoked and can be eaten sliced with cheese or sliced and cooked in a variety of dishes. As with the Taco Bell and McDonald’s posting, it’s fun to go behind the scenes and in this case, we’re going to take a look at how the Spanish chorizo is manufactured in a small plant in Harbor City, California.
For those of you living in the LA area, a trip to La Espanola, one of only four Spanish cured meat producers in the United States should definitely be on your to do list. La Espanola is an unassuming white building on a small side street in Harbor City in the South Bay part of LA County. To some who may hesitate because of the drive, let me tell you, it’s more than worth it. First, let’s learn a little more background. In 1982, La Espanola Meats was founded by Juana Gimeno Farone, a native from Spain and her husband, Frank Faraone. When the couple relocated to California, Juana was disappointed that the availability of Spanish cured meats was extremely limited to almost nonexistent. After a lot of effort, she managed to find a Spanish food purveyor in Harbor City. After the current owners decided to retire, Juana and her husband bought all the remaining inventory and decided to start their own company.
27 years later, La Espanola wears many hats. Not only do they import, distribute and sell, both retail and wholesale, Spanish foods, they also manufacture Spanish-style sausages and cured meats using traditional Spanish recipes. Along with cured meats, other products that La Espanola imports from Spain to re-sell here include olive oil, olives, canned foods, candy, paella pans and more. As for their plant, it has the approval of the US Department of Agriculture and has state-of-the-art equipment, including mixers, multiple curing rooms and ovens.
On the day of the our La Espanola visit, many in the group arrived early to check out the retail store and as luck would have it, the store was sampling quite a few of their products including cheeses, cured meats, white anchovies and olives. I have to say it was difficult to display restraint. The quality of the product really was evident in how good everything tasted. I enjoyed the spicing of the cured meats and I could have eaten two plates of the white anchovies.
Walking around the small store was like a treasure hunt. It was just amazing the variety of products they had for sale. The various meats, sausages and cheeses were a definite draw, but so were the wines and the olive oils. Also on the shelves, I found sardines, quince, both an asparagus mousse and piquillo pepper mousse and so much more.
Soon, it was time for the tour and it was led by Alex Motamedi, a family member and it started outside where he first told us La Espanola’s history and we also got a chance to take a peek at the Paella that was going to served later in the afternoon.
After the talk, we put on our oh-so-fashionable hair nets and were walked into the inner sanctum of their plant. As an importer of cured meats from Spain, those meats arrive whole, are cut into larger pieces, sliced, put into a plastic wrap, vacuum sealed and are ready for sale.
The star attraction was really the sausages. First, Alex pointed out the various machines that go into the sausage making process from the grinder, the scale, the mixer and finally the sausage casing machine
Then we took a peek into sausage nirvana where row after row of sausages hung. The temperature, humidity and airflow in these curing rooms are carefully monitored. For a moment, we just stood there in awe. It was hard not to want to run in, grab a few sausages (some of which were actually taller than my 5’1″ height) and make a run for it. It was a beautiful sight of meaty-goodness.
Once the sausages have finished their curing process, they are taken out of the vaults to be cleaned and packaged. An interesting thing that Alex mentioned was regarding the white mold on the surface of the sausages. During this curing process, white mold grows on the outside while the moisture evaporates as the sausage dries; hence, you get a dry sausage. There’s apparently nothing wrong with the mold and while La Espanola generally cleans it off before packaging the sausage, they do get requests for the mold to be kept on for those customers who want to ensure the sausage was actually cured on location.
It was definitely a fun and informative tour and I always love going behind the scenes of a food factory because it makes you so much more appreciative of the work that goes into what lands on your plate. After the tour, we walked over to the covered patio for lunch which started with a tapas plate of cured meats, cheeses and olives.
Soon it was paella time and it arrived in a large platter right in the middle of our table. This was definitely an epic serving of rice, sausages, mussels, shrimp and chicken. I wasn’t even sure if we’d finish it, but I have to say we made a pretty good dent and along with espresso and Spanish cookies to end the meal, it was definitely an enjoyable afternoon spent at La Espanola.
A couple things I should mention in regards to the tour and the lunch. This was a private tour I had set up with Alex and at the time, he had mentioned that they were going to start limiting the number of factory tours. So if you want a private tour, he’s the person to contact, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll say yes.
As for the paella, it’s only available during the weekend and you need to make advance reservations for it. They only make enough paella for the number of reservations that come in. Even if you can’t do the tour or try their paella, La Espanola is really the place to go for Spanish cured meats and imported foods, so I definitely encourage you to check it out and hopefully, you’ve also learned a little more about the tasty Spanish chorizo sausage.
If you’re in the LA area, be sure to drop by La Espanola below:
For other Spanish restaurant options, look below:
739 N LaSalle Blvd
Chicago, IL 60610
52 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003
1653 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
700 Harrison Ave
Boston, MA 02228
Si Tapas and Spanish Cuisine
2207 Allen St
Dallas, TX 75204