Half Day in Spain (-ish Restaurant)

-Chef Bibhushan Raj Joshi

Tortilla de Patatas’, ‘Fideos de Verduras’ and ‘Natilla—these were the dishes that Chef Bibhushan Raj Joshi of El Mediterraneo prepared at the cooking event organized by healthylife. With the presence of seven participants, the event was held on 11 December at half past three. More like a Spanish cooking class, the event gave all the participants an extraordinary experience which they hadn’t had before.
“The Spanish don’t eat similar kind of food every day unlike us Nepalis who prefer daal, bhaat and tarkari every time. Varieties of dishes are what they want to taste every day,” Bibhushan Raj Joshi began the session with this note. He further talked about Spanish food culture that includes a dizzying variety of ‘tapas/appetizers’. Also, he mentioned that eating seafood every day, prepared in many different ways, is typically Spanish. Considering that Spain is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean, the Cantabrian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, it is only natural for Spaniards to have a love affair with seafood.
However, realizing that one of the participants is a vegetarian, the chef chose the dishes which were free from the touch of meat and seafood, except eggs. For tapas, a Spanish omelet made from eggs, potatoes and onions, Tortilla de Patatas was cooked. The dish which represented the general Spanish food culture was very easy and simple to make. With a twist of ingredients in the regular omelet that we make, the dish was ready to be plated after 20 minutes. To food entrepreneur Tasneem Shahani’s query whether other vegetables could also be added, Chef Joshi replied with ‘yes’. About the presentation, he also said, “this dish has an advantage; if one side looks too brown while cooking, you can flip to the other side and place the better one above.”
Being a chef, it is always important to do multi cooking and Joshi was doing the same; side by side he was making pasta for the main course. To prepare Fideos de Verduras, which means pastas with vegetables, it was more than easy. In the stew made of onions, capsicum and carrot, the chef put the sautéed pastas and mixed thoroughly until it was time to add a little amount of vegetable stock and salt. Thereafter, this second dish just needed a few minutes to dry.
One noticeable thing about cooking Spanish cuisine was the use of olive oil. In the menu, it was written ‘all dishes are cooked and prepared in olive oil’. When questioned why, the chef replied, “Spain is a Mediterranean country where production of olive is huge and therefore, olive oil is an integral part of Spanish cooking.”
The participants present at the event realized that all the dishes were down-to-earth, uncomplicated, and based on locally available ingredients. One of the participants, Anjana Shrestha, who is a beautician with a love for cooking, therefore mentioned, “Our mind is so narrow that we couldn’t even think creatively to use regular ingredients and turn boring routine dishes into new and tasty kind through a few simple steps.” Poppy Niraula, another participant, who was once a beautician, learnt Continental and Italian cooking and interior designing but left all for the sake of her family, also promised to cook the dishes demonstrated on that day for her family. She said, “The feeling that I get while cooking with my children and husband is great. And since I have learnt a new recipe today, I‘ll take this advantage to share the happiness with my family.”
After all three dishes were demonstrated in the restaurant kitchen, the participants sat on one side of the table. Forks and knives were set. One by one, plates for everyone were served. The pasta and triangular shaped omelet slice looked mouth-watering. Complementing the dish, the chef had also plated a piece of bread layered with tomato and olive sauce and cheese. Eventually, every participant picked up their fork and knife and some started cutting the omelet while others started with the pasta. Just as they took a bite, one could see surprised facial expressions. I too was curious to know how it tasted; so, as soon as they finished their share of food, I forwarded the question to them. Tasneem Shahani replied, “You know, I am not familiar with Spanish food and have never tasted it before. But, during the demonstration, I found the recipe and the ingredients very easy and common yet the taste is so good and delightful.” She added, “The pastas are cooked perfectly. Unlike Indian food, it is so light. And, moreover, it fits in the menu for all times—breakfast, lunch or proper meal. So, I am looking forward to make it for my guests as well.”
“My son is very fond of eggs and potatoes; he always wants them on his plate. This recipe which includes both ingredients will be just perfect for him,” shared Sunita Gurung, a housewife. As I was gathering feedbacks from the participants, Shanti Rai, also a housewife, stated a different line, “It was in America that I once had Spanish food and I was told that bean is used in a wide ranges of dishes. However, I didn’t find so today.”
The participants of the event could learn and understand the recipe of the dishes prepared within just half an hour. The ingredients were locally available—making it easier for the learners to find them. If the chef had chosen complex dishes, it wouldn’t have been possible for them to learn within a few minutes.  The wise chef had indeed thought for long before deciding on the dishes for the program which, no doubt, elicited positive responses.
On the other hand, the dessert was yet to be served but everyone seemed to have forgotten about it. When I asked Tasneem Shahani about her expectation from Natilla, she replied, “Oh yes! I completely forgot about it. Now as my memory of it is back, I am really looking forward to it. I am very curious as to how it might taste since the ingredients were very simple.” Everyone grabbed their spoon and dug into it. The dish made from milk, cinnamon and cardamom powder, sugar, egg yolks and cornflour, played the role of dessert just fine.
Karishma Agrawal, owner of Pranik Healing Center, was very eager to say something. So, I let her express her opinion. “In fact, we really enjoyed watching the demonstration. Despite being a vegetarian, the egg dish and the dessert looked very tempting,” she said. For her, the chef had served baked apple to replace egg omelet. At the end of the event, everyone showed their gratitude towards the restaurant team; healthylife team merged into the same group. And, at the same time, Bibhushan Raj Joshi also thanked us all. “For 10 years, I spent my time in Spain and learnt Spanish cooking. Today, as I have finally got a chance to share those experience with my own countrypersons, I feel really proud,” said he. “Also, we Nepalis have been following the culture of not experimenting with new dishes and recipes. We eat to satisfy our hunger and that’s it; there is no concept of regarding food as luxury. Therefore, I would like to persuade all to try different varieties of food once in a while,” he added. Lastly, he ended up with a statement in Spanish “En España la comida se come despacio y saboreando” which means ‘In Spain, the food is eaten slowly and savoring’. I assumed that this diplomatic line was for those who eat in a hurry with no pleasure; just to fill up hungry tummies. And, that included me as well! n

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