A drink at a bar before lunch is a must for Spaniards. It’s a time to socialize and talk about “football, weather and women” with a quick bite of tapas before a family lunch and siesta at home. Spanish cuisine is about local ingredients, fresh herbs and spices and simply cooked meals; but it’s also about kitchen experiments and molecular gastronomy. Born and raised in Spain, and having worked in various cities there for 10 years, Chef Jose Martin Ruiz Borja, the new executive chef at the Renaissance Mumbai Hotel at Powai, says he is traditional—he likes his cooking simple and ingredients fresh. One bite of Salmon a la Riberena, and we knew he’s a man of his word. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What is the most important meal of the day in Spain?
Lunch is the biggest and most important because the whole family comes together for the meal. Lunch is about three courses, with a simple salad of greens and tomatoes with an olive oil dressing followed by stew, which could be a lentil soup or chickpea soup with lots of meat in it. The main course is either a meat or fish—grilled, roasted or pan-fried with garlic and fresh herbs along with vegetables. Dessert is usually fruit.
Flash in a pan: Arroz Negno Con Langostinos; executive chef Jose Martin Ruiz Borja in his kitchen at the Renaissance. Kedar Bhat / Mint
How do eating habits differ from region to region?
The south is surrounded by the coast and they eat a lot of seafood: monkfish, sea bass, crabs, lobster—everything that’s available. In the north, people eat meat along with the seafood. Everything is either stewed, grilled, roasted or boiled. Our cuisine has a Mediterranean influence.
What is the history of tapas, the most famous Spanish dish?
Tapiyar means socializing, and that’s exactly when tapas is served. People in Spain like a small bite with their drink when they’re socializing in a bar. It’s a tradition that before lunch, people in Spain go to a bar to get a glass of wine or beer and socialize. Tapas could be anything such as Spanish omelette, seafood salad, mini sandwich, cold cuts, chorizo (pork sausage), cheese and Spanish ham. Many bars in the south serve tapas free with alcohol.
What is fast food in Spain?
Spain has all the international fast food chains, such as KFC and McDonald’s. Spain doesn’t have a culture of street food. We only eat at home, in bars or restaurants.
Which other cuisine is popular?
Italian and Chinese. People love pastas and dim sums and spring rolls. Although I believe in retaining the authenticity of food, these cuisines are changed to suit the local palate by adding extra ingredients such as herbs, saffron, cumin and turmeric.
What is the origin of paella?
There’s is no clarity about the origin but traditionally, people would cook leftovers of the day with rice, and that came to be known as paella. Paella in Arabic means leftovers. The pan in which the dish is cooked is also known as paella. For any celebration in the family, or for family gatherings on Sundays, paella is cooked. A big dish of paella is prepared with a traditional family recipe, which is slightly different in every household. Originally paella included rice, vegetables, rabbit, chicken and saffron. Now people even add seafood or anything else they like.
What are the popular desserts?
Crema Catalana is like the crème brûlée, and is popular throughout the year. Turron is a rich dessert made with a base of almond, honey and sugar paste, usually for Christmas. Churro is a doughnut-like pastry, made with fried dough and served with hot chocolate. It’s a typical Sunday morning breakfast.
Which ingredients can be found in every Spanish kitchen?
Onion, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.
Spanish chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli has become the Mecca of molecular gastronomy. Did many restaurants in Spain follow suit?
Ferran Adria created this new style of cooking—and other restaurants do try it in some way. Many restaurants experiment with molecular gastronomy. And these days, you can even find green olive or cheese bonbons or melon caviar served as tapas.
Salmon a la Riberena
Salmon a la Riberena. Kedar Bhat / Mint
(Pan-fried salmon with Spanish ham and apple-sage sauce)
3 tsp olive oil
5 tsp butter
200ml fish stock
3 tsp mixture of white wine and apple juice
5 tsp sage
Salt and pepper to taste
For tomato sauce
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp garlic
Cook the ingredients for the sauce for around 15 minutes till the tomatoes are soft.
Pan-fry the salmon in butter and olive oil and keep aside. In the same pan, add the bell peppers and wine, reduce, add the fish stock and reduce to make sauce. Add the sage.
Now pan-fry the ham until crisp. Place the salmon on a plate and ladle the sauce and the tomato sauce around it. Arrange the ham on top.
Arroz Negno Con Langostinos
(Black rice paella with scampi)
240g parmal/arborio rice
5 tsp black squid (calamari) ink
½ onion, chopped
3 pods of garlic, chopped
¼ tsp cumin
1 capsicum, chopped
500ml fish stock
8 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the rice for 20 minutes and set aside. Pan-fry the onion and garlic until golden brown. Add the calamari, capsicum, cumin and black ink. Add the fish stock. Cook for 15 minutes and add the rice. In another pan, saute the scampi. Serve the black rice with the scampi and add a few drops of extra virgin oilve oil.