Phnom Penh has taken on a decidedly Latin flavour recently with several new Spanish restaurants and Tapas Bars opening in the capitol and ‘Tapas’ menus even appearing in decidedly non-Spanish venues eager to take advantage of a perceived new dining trend in the market.
Firstly, let’s address the issue of what Tapas actually is: Tapas is a vast selection of snacks, bites and appetizers in Spanish cuisine, they can be either hot or cold and be anything from olives skewered on a toothpick to a cube of tuna, a slice of cured ham on a slice of bread, a chunk of cheese, some chorizo or a meatball covered in a rich sauce and anything else in between.
Tapas is generally served in bars where patrons can order a wide selection of tapas to make up a meal, tapas is designed to not impede but encourage the main purposes of being in the bar, which are conversation and drinking.
The word tapas comes from the Spanish verb ‘tapar’ which means ‘to cover’ , legend has it that Spanish bar keeps would serve their glasses with a slice of bread used as a cover -to keep out dust, flies and anything else trying to leap into the glass and contaminate the contents. Soon the bread was being garnished with cured ham or chorizo and the salty nature of these dishes promoted more drinking. Smart bar keepers expanded on their range of tapas in order to promote even more beverage sales, which then saw the selection of tapas become as important as the wine.
Asian countries have their own equivalents to this style of eating and drinking, in China there is dim sum, Japan has its Izakaya bars and in Korea bars often serve drinking snacks collectively known as Anju.
For authentic Spanish style tapas in Phnom Penh you might like to try: Doors, Quinta Penas, La Plaza or The Latin Quarter, all offering a good selection of quality Tapas.
Now, let’s address the issue at heart, Spanish wines with tapas, the varied style and bite size morsels allow for a progressive selection of wines and creates an easy drinking atmosphere that lends itself to relaxed, fun dining with friends. Whether you prefer sparkling, white, red or even sherry, tapas works well with all of these styles as you select small dishes that suit your liking; if a particular tapa does match your wine or isn’t to your liking no bother, one or two quick bites and its gone and you move on to your next selection.
When dining on tapas I like to go native, Spanish wines for Spanish cuisine, to set the mood right. Some of my favourite Spanish wines are of the indigenous varieties uncommon throughout the rest of the wine world but thoroughly delicious once discovered.
Sparkling Spanish wine is called Cava and is produced mostly in the Penedes and Catalonia regions, made in the traditional ‘methode Champenoise’ manner and often using indigenous Spanish varieties, it is a wonderfully refreshing and inexpensive alternative to French Champagne. Great with green olives and lighter tapas dishes
Macabeo: grown mostly around Rioja (where it is called Viura), Penedes and Catalonia, a variety that retains good natural acidity producing wines that are crisp and fresh on the palate -often with green apple and white peach notes- great with lighter tapas dishes.
Parellada: Think Sauvignon Blanc with more citrus notes and less of the grassy herbaceousness, lots of crisp, refreshing acidity, these are wines to enjoy with lighter tapas drizzled in olive oil.
Xarel’lo: The wines have a rich mid palate and a creamy texture not unlike Chardonnay, complex fruit flavours of apricots, sugar banana, pineapple and peach with good minerality to the finish and structure. White meats like chicken and veal or try with ham and pork.
Tempranillo: Perhaps the most important grape in all Spain and the main variety in its most famous wine, Rioja. Tempranillo produces deep, brooding medium to fuller bodied reds with trademark leathery tannins and a rich mid-palate of dark berry fruits, tobacco, pan juices and spices. Excellent with meatier tapas dishes.
Garnacha: Know as Grenache throughout the rest of the winemaking world the variety produces stunning, ripe, fruity red wines with soft, fine tannins and flavours redolent of raspberries, musk and candied fruits. Another stunning red with meatier tapas.
Carinena: The great red grape of Aragon originated in the village given the same name by Pliny the Elder and produces rich, big reds bursting with ripe cherry and blackberry flavours, often high alcohols and notes of briar, tar, violets, mixed peel and Asian spices, excellent with robust flavoured tapas.
Having just played host in Cambodia to Gabriel Fernandez from the famous Spanish winery Torres, I’ve definitely got a taste for ‘Spanish Fiesta de Phnom Penh!’