Cuisine focus: Spanish/Tapas

How popular is the concept of tapas and Spanish cuisine in the region?
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Marta Yanci's crab and mango salad with avocado cream; she says sourcing ingredients is a challenge but it is possible to find substitutes for some.
Marta Yanci's crab and mango salad with avocado cream; she says sourcing ingredients is a challenge but it is possible to find substitutes for some.

How popular is the concept of tapas and Spanish cuisine in the region?

Marta Yanci, owner of boutique catering company Marta’s kitchen: People in many countries have accepted that you can have a full dinner based just on tapas. This concept hasn’t sunk in here yet, but things are slowly changing.

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Jose Vincente Jorge, executive chef, Wafi restaurants: Spanish cuisine and tapas are growing very quickly in the GCC region. The number of Spanish restaurants opening and chefs coming to Dubai is increasing — for example, I have just heard of five or six new restaurants opening soon.

Lilaya Artero, manager, Salero Tapas & Bodega, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates: The popularity of Spanish cuisine is definitely on the rise in the region. Europeans are already very familiar with Spanish food. There is also much similarity between Arabic mezzeh and tapas, because both revolve around the idea of sharing small plates of delicacies placed on the dinner table.

Antonio Saez, chef de cuisine, Catalan, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts: The concept of tapas and Spanish cuisine is still new in the region, but the response at Catalan has been very positive. But then, Catalan is closer to fine dining cuisine than casual tapas.

Oscar Poquet, chef de cuisine, Al Hambra, Madinat Jumeirah: Spanish cuisine and tapas are experiencing a boom in Dubai. Tapas are a way of understanding life. We believe our tapas to be tasty, sociable, friendly and healthy.

What is the competition like between restaurants serving this cuisine?

MY: I’d like to think we work together rather than compete. A successful Spanish restaurant in the region generates attention for the cuisine as a whole.

JJ: Chefs don’t compete with one another. We keep in touch as much as our jobs allow, and work together to bring in products we need from Spain that are difficult to find here. We are always ready to help each other out.

Sudqi Naddaf, executive chef, Salero: Spanish restaurants in Dubai do not focus exclusively on tapas like we will. But then, though not entirely the same concept, one could say that Latin-American restaurants are also competition in terms of the overall experience.

OP: Competition is always healthy. It helps us to improve and develop. Spanish chefs in Dubai have good relationships with one another. I am always happy to hear about new Spanish establishments because it’s good to see demand grow for Spanish style food and tapas dishes.

What is the supply stream like?

MY: Many ingredients that Spanish chefs would consider essential are not available, or only available at very high prices. I try to find substitutes for certain ingredients, and in this way also adapt tapas to the flavours of the region. Certain ingredients, however, are irreplaceable.

JJ: New restaurant openings have definitely increased demand, which has meant that suppliers are bringing in Spanish products. Spanish products are among the best in the world and it now easier to find fresh Spanish fish, seafood meat and vegetables in Dubai.

LA: Dubai is ideally located and it is easy to source products from all around the world. We are very lucky to have access to so many high quality products.

AS: Our supply stream is actually quite good. We use local suppliers for certain things but also source products from Spain and Catalonia — for instance olive oil and other traditional ingredients. I cannot cook without my olive oil.

OP: The product quality on offer has certainly improved over the past few years. Spanish products are in high demand in the region, which means we can work closely with suppliers to obtain the best in what we need. Spanish suppliers are increasing globally as Spanish food becomes more popular.

What challenges to do you face?

MY: From a catering perspective, I sometimes find myself trying to convince clients to experience a true tapas night. People think the food might not be sufficient, but it always is. Sourcing certain ingredients is also a challenge.

JJ: The most important issue is consistency in the quality of ingredients. Dubai can be a difficult place to ensure regularity, and I find that you have to work with the bigger suppliers if you want consistency.

SN: Importing some of our products can be challenging because everything needs to be fresh. We have had to carefully select our suppliers. Qualified Spanish chefs are also rare in Dubai — it can prove difficult to convince them to relocate because of their attachment to Spain. We have been lucky to find a wonderful chef.

AS: For some items, the lead time for procurement can be quite steep. Certain things can take quite a while. The prices too are sometimes higher than they could be.

OP: Fresh products coming from Spain, and indeed all Mediterranean countries, are seasonal and subject to four different seasons per year. It’s inevitable that some ingredients won’t be available at certain times of the year. So it’s important to have good suppliers who are consistent in delivering excellent quality. It would also be nice to have more Spanish chefs in the UAE.

What does the future for Spanish cuisine in the Middle East look like?

JJ: The future looks fantastic. Spanish hospitality in general has been doing a great job over the past eight or nine years, and the results of that hard work are being seen now. But there will always be room for improvement.

LA: I believe Spanish cuisine and culture are set to become even more popular in this region. Celebrity chefs are on the rise, and the likes of Ferran Adria are true ambassadors of Spain. People have gotten to know Spanish cuisine thanks to him and his innovative techniques.

AS: Spanish cuisine has gained a lot of popularity all over the world in the last decade, with amazing chefs like Ferran Adria and Martin Berasategui being great ambassadors of our traditional flavours and grandmother’s re-invented recipes. I am proud to bring a bit of this culture here in Abu Dhabi, and I believe, based on the feedback I have received until now, that our guests really like our food. Spanish cuisine definitely has a promising future in the region.

OP: Spanish cuisine and tapas are proving very popular as a business concept all over the world, and in the region. I have come across figures indicating that around 100,000 new tapas bars and restaurants are set to open across the world.

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