From tapas to paella pasta: Spanish food revisited

By Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Feb 21 2013 02:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2013 10:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Spain has played an important role in shaping Philippine cuisine during its more than 300-year rule in the country.

Popular Filipino dishes such as adobo, or meat simmered in a sauce composed of either soy sauce or vinegar, can be traced to Spain. There is also kaldereta, derived from the Spanish world “caldereta” (which means cooking pot), a stew made with tomato sauce, liver spread, potatoes, olives and bell peppers.

“There are many things in common between [Filipino and Spanish cuisine]. The ingredients used, even the words such as adobo and caldereta. It’s like tying food with familiar flavors,” Counsellor Enrique Feas of the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines earlier told ABS-CBNnews.com.

Aside from the usual paella (a rice dish that contains vegetables and meat or seafood) and cochinillo (roasted suckling pig), tapas or small portions of Spanish delicacies such as little potato omelets and sliced ham have become popular in the Philippines. Restaurants serving tapas and sangria abound in Metro Manila, each offering a unique take on the Spanish snacks.

One of the newcomers, Beso Cucina Vinoteka at the Bonifacio High Street Central in Taguig, for instance, serves toast topped with chocolate spread and chorizo, which provides a combination of sweet and salty flavors.

Chorizo and Chocolate on Toast (back) is part of Beso's tapas platter. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

“[Like Filipino cuisine] Spanish cuisine is all about mixing traditional ingredients with a very creative sense of innovation,” said Feas.

A taste of Spain in one meal

Casa Armas, one of the older Spanish restaurants in the country, recently held a tasting session to select food writers as a form of tribute to its original owner, Señor Jesus Armas, who found his way to the Philippines in the 1970s. Armas opened his first restaurant in Malate in 1995, offering his own recipes and his take on the dishes he grew up with.

Several years later, branches of Casa Armas opened in Jupiter, at the Podium mall in Mandaluyong, and at the Greenbelt mall in Makati (it was moved to Greenbelt 2 last year from Greenbelt 3), all of them promising to recreate Armas’ specialties.

Partners Laura Lim-Rodrigo and Lorlyn Lim-Almazora, who currently manage the Casa Armas chain of restaurants, said today’s menu at Casa Armas remains unchanged, from the extensive selection of tapas to the well-loved cochinillo.

The first stop of the culinary “trip” is Galicia, located at the northwest of Spain and is widely known for its fish and seafood, particularly octopus. Casa Armas served to us its take on the region’s signature dish, Pulpo a la Gallega, a type of tapas served with olive oil, paprika and a bit of salt.

The octopus came out tender instead of rubbery, with the sauce seasoned just right.

Pulpo a la Gallega. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Next up is Andalucia, said to be the birthplace of flamenco, bullfighting and tapas. Casa Armas served Calamares a la Plancha (grilled squid with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice) and Mejillones al Horno, (baked mussels with garlic and cheese) and Champignon a la Plancha (mushroom, shrimp and garlic grilled and served on toast and drizzled with olive oil). The three simple tapas went well with the Felix Solis white wine made from the Spanish grape variety Airen, which was smooth and slightly sweet.

Champignon a la Plancha. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

After Andalucia, we were “brought” to Basque Country, known for its stews and bacalao, or dried and salted cod. But instead of another seafood dish, Casa Armas served us a Spanish Leek and Potato Soup, which was warm, mild and comforting.

Spanish Leek and Potato Soup. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

Shortly after, we were presented with items from two different Spanish regions. One is a bottle of Arnegui Tempranillo (a full-bodied wine made from the Spanish grape variety tempranillo) to represent La Rioja, which is known for its wines, and a platter of Fideua (paella pasta) for the region of Valencia. While I still prefer rice over angel hair pasta, the Fideua still hits the spot, with the wine enhancing the taste of the dish.

Fideua. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

For dessert, Casa Armas served the Crema Catalana, the Spanish region Catalonia’s version of the French crème brulee. It was sweet but not cloying, and went well with the Syrah dessert wine.

Crema Catalana. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com

While Spanish cuisine continues to evolve, with countless innovative items poised for introduction, the current owners of Casa Armas stand by their promise of offering decades-old dishes which “as authentic as you can get.”

Quoting Armas, they said: “The food you taste today is the same as the food you tasted since the first day we opened.”

And with customers continuing to patronize its branches, it seems that Casa Armas is here to stay.