Spain has a significant but often overlooked influence on global food. At the height of the Spanish Empire, it was one of the largest empires in history, in terms of square footage. Due to its prowess on the ocean, the Spanish Empire stretched around the world. This accounted for significant tracts of the New World and places that are not thought of as Spanish (or American for that matter) colonies, such as the Philippines. Spanish food has been influenced by this infusion of flavors as it has likewise left its mark on these same territories.
French historian Jean-François Revel wrote Spain is "the last large European country in which cuisine really varies from province to province." In spite of its ability to tidily fit inside of Texas, Spain has seventeen regions. Each of these region has its own flavor and style. Spanish food is infused with flavors from the New World and North Africa. Explorers brought back kidney beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and sweet peppers from their excursions into the Americas.
The focus of this post is the southern region of Andalucia. With only nine miles of sea between them and a long history of groups (read: armies) traveling (read: invading) North and South, Andalusian food is also heavily influenced with North African cuisine, particularly Morocco. Houston's place to try Andalusian cuisine is Andalusia Tapas Restaurant and Bar. These North-South connections are evident in the entertainment at the restaurant which includes both flamenco and belly dancing. The food also shows these influences. Although Houston does not have an stand alone Moroccan restaurant, there are a number of Moroccan dishes at Andalusia. We tried the lamb Tajine. Tajine cooking is a Moroccan specialty cooked in a, traditionally, clay pot with a cone shaped that creates a "dutch oven" effect.
Tapas are originally from Andalusia. In its original form, tapas were a small plate of cured ham or cheese that doubled as a snack and as a dust cover for your glass of wine. Today, tapas run the gambit of an inclusive sampling of Spain's culinary delights.
Andalusia serves dozens of varieties of tapas: hot, cold, vegetarian, and seafood. We tried the potato tapas (Patatas Bravas) with Aioli, a mediterranean sauce made mostly from emulsified olive oil and garlic. This choice might strike you as an odd for our blog which is unapologetically international; roasted potatoes are, well, American. This is absolutely true, but the fact that the Spaniards use potatoes in cooking speaks to one of our international passions, that of fusion and travel. For Spaniards, potatoes are international.
Tapas are a delightful way to try a number of dishes without overcommitting to an entree. With their dozens of Tapas to sample, if you need one more reason to visit Andalusia, they make one of the best sangrias in the city.