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turning tapas into a dining experience…

"tapas or gastro-tapas..."

Tapas originated here in Andalusia, southern Spain and not as some would have you believe in northern Spain (Galicia) as I have seen written. I think that there is a bit of a jealousy by the northerners regarding the fact that the south gets the global credit and it doesn’t surprise me in the least to see the food revolution of molecular cuisine and extravagant cooking emanating from the north. It’s their way to sort of ‘get their own back’ on the southerners. Well, perhaps that’s one possible theory.

Regardless of where you are in Spain, I am pleased to report that the tapas tradition and culture is still flourishing. It dwindled for a while in this area but due to the efforts of like-minded individuals like my dear friend Nacho Ortiz and the introduction of social media, (and maybe the economic downturn) tapas have taken on a revitalised role within the local communities. However, for a tradition and culture that has being in place for thousands of years I find it amazing that only recently (from about 2005 or 2006), have there been formal competitions established whereby local bars and restaurants compete with each other for the title of the ‘Best Tapa’. Not only does it bring trade but it is a fun (and shouldn’t be taken too seriously) event. In 2009 here in Mojacar the first ‘Ruta de Tapas’ event was born, following the shining example of Nacho’s initiative in Almeria. Curiously for some, in Mojacar the Ruta did not occur this (potentially its third year). I’m well aware of the reasons why it failed to materialise but this is not for me to report.

On a more positive note however, a new type of tapas event was introduced (by me) following a request from a bar owner to do something different to bring in custom during this economically difficult time. Enter, the Duel of the Bars – a Head to Head Challenge involving two different bars located in the same part of the resort. That event took place last week and was a resounding success, to the extent that other bars wish to also replicate the event throughout other parts of the town. This is good news indeed, but what I was most interested to see was the high quality of the tapas produced. When you see the photos you can tell these are no ordinary tapas for this area, they are Gastro-tapas, although others tell me they are nothing more than you’d expect to sample in places like Granada and in the north of Spain.

The event was resounding success for two reasons. The event was not about who won the event. The event was about getting new faces i.e. customers in to each bar during a difficult economic period. Time and time again over the three days people in each bar said “Oh I’ve never been in here” or “I’d never have thought of visiting this bar – I’m really surprised, it’s really nice I’ll come back here again.” Objective one was achieved on the first day and continued each day. The second aspect was a by-product of great gastro-tapas presentation and the use of social media. That was to ‘showcase’ to the world, including the locals who couldn’t be bothered to support the event, the quality of the dishes that were coming out of two small kitchens, and what they were missing. These were truly first class and exceptionally high quality tapas by both bars.

Now we have more events to plan and execute, each with a twist of their own. Whilst the ‘Ruta de Tapas’ in its previous form may have stalled, this new and imaginative event may just resurrect the interest in a different format of Ruta in future – something I already have planned with some interested bar owners.

Finally, one bar owner has now cleverly started to market the ‘three event tapas’ as a mini tapas dining experience for those who’d like to eat them again or for those who missed the event. It’s a smart marketing move. Like anything it all takes time but this area of the resort, Mojacar Playa South is starting to make waves and people sit up and take notice. Watch this space for something new to come.