Tuesday was the first day that Chef Paco from Barcelona whipped up a tapas tasting in the kitchen of Risas Lounge on the Nile Maxim boat and it went down like this:
Chef Paco took it up a notch on the well-known street tapa called montaditos, which is normally a very simple dish of slices of bacon and cheese montado or "mounted on" a slice of bread.
His first montadito was of crabmeat on a somewhat fluffy, light version of blue cheese. The next, a duck breast bacon with a sauce on a slice of French-style bread. The overall favourite was a salmon fumee on a sort of cracker that tastes like aish fotoush!
Sticking with the seafood motif, Chef Paco offered large, breaded and fried shrimp-on-a-stick with a romesco sauce that you wish you could take home in jarfuls to dip everything you have in your refrigerator at home (the sauce is made of a choice of ground nuts with garlic, olive oil and peppers). This was also well-liked among the group.
The very typically Spanish salad was the most mediocre of all the tapas, with white asparagus, arucula and strips of marinated red peppers for colour on a bed of lettuce.
The most curious dish of the night was the black paella. The black ink from the calamari stains the rice a dramatic deep, dark, shiny black. The ink does give a slightly different flavour from the usual paella, but the guest is pleasantly surprised by the smooth, subtle taste. The fact that the dish still has all of the basics: moist rice mixed with seafood, safron and other spices, makes it still feel like one is eating paella.
Of course the best traditional drinks to accompany tapas are sangría (a wine-based drink with spritzer water and fruit chunks) and gazpacho (a drink made of mostly raw tomatoes and bell peppers blended to a liquid consistency).
Chef Paco (centre) Chef Mostafa (below) with chef's crew
In Spain it is quite difficult to find reasonably-priced good food just by a gander through the streets. It seems that eighty percent of the places are just one of a dozen neighbourhood spots to get coffee and see neighbors, serving only the basics: bread, ham, cheese, and if you're lucky a slice of tomato, with cold, gooey, unappetizing-looking tapas. And then there are the remaining 20 percent that truly excel in offering creative tapas, although keeping within traditionally Spanish flavours. This top tier is what Chef Paco showed the guests at the tapas tasting on 14 May.
In this kind of ambiance, Ahram Online asked one of the organisers, Amr Shamel, a few questions.
Ahram Online: Why did you decide to bring in a Spanish chef to do a tapas tasting in Cairo?
Amr Shamel: We wanted to try something completely different. It's an issue of differentiation for us: we don't want to compete with everyone. No one offers Spanish tapas, just the Arabic tapas (mezza's). Because the Spanish use a lot of seafood their tapas are much lighter and most people like that. I love tapas, so we're doing a tasting to get the feedback to test the concept itself here in Egypt.
AO: Would you open a restaurant then, if the feedback was favourable?
AS: Sure. We'd pay special attention to the atmosphere. Going for tapas is not like going to a place where you go if you're hungry, eat right away and then leave. The idea is sharing, sharing, sharing with others: eating together, dipping, using your hands [as he says this, he happily, animatedly mimicks grabbing something from the centre of the table and then from the left and then the right]. Staying and talking for hours, drink, etc. It's the vibe of sharing, going to relax.
Most people go out to eat with their friends. I was always eating with my friends. This is similar to Spain, where they spend time with their group.
AO: How familiar are Egyptians with Spanish tapas?
AS: They have heard about salmon a lot, and tapas and paella, especially when some of their friends and family go to Barcelona and come back to Egypt talking about them.
AO: What is the biggest misconception in Egypt about tapas?
AS: They expect that tapas are mostly seafood; they don't know tapas are so varied. Tapas change depending on the season and availability. They know it is light food, but they don't truly understand that great "atmosphere" I was talking about.
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Spacing for the tasting is limited and reservations are a must: +2.010.9738.8888 or +2.012.738.8888
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 May, 7pm - 10pm
Maxim Boat in Zamalek (across from the Marriott Hotel)