MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2011 (STAR) By Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - Many people remember great memories when they see or smell something familiar. For others, however, their gustatory membrane helps them recollect beautiful experiences. Food, indeed, has its own way of reconnecting people with their beautiful memories.

Of late, I have been dreaming of alluring Madrid. Blame it on a tapas festival called Flavors of Spain, a celebration of Spanish food and gastronomy in the Philippines that depicts a way of life in Spain and its people.

I dare say that the history, culture and religion of Spain are evident on the plate. It is true, to some extent, that what we eat says something about who we are. But in no country is it more pronounced than Spain. Ingredients, cooking methods and many entrees are traceable to the country’s beguiling past. And Spain’s most famous food chorizo, cocido, gazpacho, bacalao, paella and its smorgasbord of tapas selection are steeped in history as they are not without the Moorish influences, Jewish flair or creations courtesy of Catholicism.

At an intimate press do last week, J Gamboa, owner and executive chef of the famous Circulo restaurant on Pasay Road in Makati City, set the mood by making us start our tapas dinner with “65° Egg” with Jamon Iberico, olive oil, Pedro Ximenez vinegar, piment d ‘espellete, croutons and smoked maldon salt. Before we scooped a bite into our mouth, J was quick in garnishing first our delightful dish with grated truffles. There was silence in the room when we had our first dish. We took the cue to compare our gustatory notes when Alfredo Roca, managing director of Fuego Hotels Properties, began to break the silence and went non-stop about praising the food.

Fuego Hotels is one of the sponsors of this year’s Flavors of Spain together with the Economic and Commercial Office of Spain and the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX). This is the ninth year the gastronomy event, which runs the whole month of October, is being held in the country.

Circulo is one of the six top restaurants that participate in Flavors of Spain. Other restaurants that present their individual Spanish tapas menu are Tapella by Gaudi in Greenbelt 5; Gaudi in Serendra; Terry’s Selection in Pasong Tamo, The Podium and La Fayette Square in Salcedo Village; Barcino Wine Resto Bar in Greenbelt 2, Greenbelt 5, The Fort, Julia Vargas in Ortigas and Power Plant Mall in Rockwell; and Chef Marco at Purple Feet, which is inside the Wine Depot branch in Reposo, Makati.

We were only on our first tapas plate at Circulo tapas are Spanish appetizers that are presented in small servings and eaten before a meal or instead of a meal and already I was imagining my past visits to Spain.

The last bite I took of Jamon Iberico reminded me of the many a tapas bar my good friend and Allure creative director Luis Espiritu and I visited in Madrid a few years ago. There we found out that nights in Madrid didn’t end until mid-morning the following day. In many bars and pubs, the last orders of tapas and beer and wine could be had way past 4 in the morning. Yet in other tapas bars, the happenings were just ripening at that time before everything quieted down at 10 a.m.

Just when I was happily ruminating on the past, J served the yummy mejillones (steamed black Chilean mussels) with Rioja Blanco and the pricey saffron. The sweet tang of the sea was still traceable in the dish. The soft meat of the mussel tickled the palate.

J’s mejillones brought me a million times to my sweet, sweet sojourn to the Galician region of Spain where I went to harvest yummy cockles in the waters of Cambados.

And when J served the polpo (baby octopus) simmered in olive oil and paprika, I couldn’t help but be transported to the tapas bar beside the St. James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where I shared a plateful of polpo and a pitcher of sangria with an obrero and a pelegrino.

The US pork rib paella that J served elicited applause from the group. Mikel Arriet Arruiz, acting GM of Club Punta Fuego, even closed his eyes as he savored the goodness of the dish. Jingjing Romero, president and GM of Stratos public relations firm, couldn’t contain her favorable appreciation of the pork rib paella that, with shrill thrill and utmost reverence for the dish, she scraped the bottom of the paellera to mine for the prized tutong. How everybody envied her on the table. Soon they followed suit.

For a sweet ending, the Circulo executive chef served cherry chocolate soufflé. I wanted to crucify J for that wonderful sensation the dessert created in my palate. (I was an epic failure in my attempt to pass on the dessert.) Beneath the soufflé was a treasure of cherries. I never knew cherries are sweeter when they are hot. Simply divine!

The month-long Flavors of Spain is a gastronomic excursion. Let the tapas festival begin!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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