The mains in Spain

April 2008

So what's happening in Spanish avant garde/molecular food? Well, by no means did I eat at any of the front-runner restaurants, but I got the feeling that the old and the new are beginning to mix and mingle a lot more. And I'm not the only one. Carles Abellan of modern-as-tomorrow tapas bar Comarç 24 in Barcelona is quoted in Paul Richardson's wonderful book A Late Dinner (an intriguing and informative tour of Spanish cuisines old and new) as saying, "We've taken to creative cooking with tremendous speed and now we're missing a certain kind of food", as his justification for putting an old-fashioned dish like rice with cuttlefish ink and garlic on his menu. "Finding a rice like this," he said, "is like putting our feet on the ground … and, anyway, if everything was modern, it would be boring. Don't you think?"

Well, yes. And perhaps that's it. As modern as Spanish food is, its roots are still deep in Spanish culture. "The glittering edifice of Spanish food," writes Richardson, "is built on the solid foundations of the old."

Which explains why one of my favourite meals was in Madrid at a desperately ordinary little place called La Caserola in the Barrio de las Letras where I had the €9 daily menu: two courses, sweet ½ litre of wine and bread. Why did I love it? It gave me a feeling I get nowhere else, certainly not in novelty-obsessed Sydney, where a new restaurant can open, fill up and be so five minutes ago in the space of a week. Permanence and tradition. The Spanish say, yes, we will embrace the new, but why should we turn our backs on the old?

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