Spanish food is almost a home food. No, I was not borne in Spain, the use of spices, high carbs content, and basically non-health food (no offence to anyone) …. That’s spanish food for me. My first experience with Paella happened in 2008. It was a team offsite at the Mont Blanc, in Tarragona, Catalonia, around 120 km from Barcelona.
I was a bit taken aback with its first sight when the host brought it in a big pan (almost like a big kadhai typically used in Kolkata for making Chaamp). I thought it was Khichdi mixed with sea food. My disappointment was more as my colleagues were quite enthusiastic about the lunch and told it is going to be “PAYA”. My poor Indian soul started imagining and almost salivating thinking about soon to be served paya soup but the sight of a khichdi that too decorated with Shrimp and oyster was heartbreaking. I was so shocked that I could not even digest the long speech of Andreu gave about the origin of Paella (pronounced as “Paya”), how the farmers in Valencia started making it more than 1000 years back and how it became almost a national dish of Spain over the years.
Finally,took a spoonful of Paella and what continued afterwards is a long journey into this amazingly simple yet delicious food and its multiple versions over the last 10 years. Post 2008, visited Spain over 15 times and always made it a point to taste different versions across.
But today’s whole credit goes to Indrajit Lahiri, aka Foodka for introducing me to Raj’s Spanish Café. The food, the ambiance, the host and more than anything, Rafael who came all the way from Madrid to cook Paella made it probably one of the most memorable culinary journeys for me.
Before coming to the food, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by the overall feel of the place. The very first look of Raj’s Spanish Café at Sudder Street will give you the exact feel of a café in Spain. The aroma of coffee, nice olive oil, open air sitting area and wall full of graffiti made the place extremely authentic.
I was accompanied by Orijit Bose, another regular visitor to Spain. We were trying to locate the place when an old young man grabbed us and greeted us in Spanish and without even asking our preference, handed over a plate full of Paella and with a broad smile said, “bon appetit”! A welcome to remember for a lifetime. I felt at home immediately. Raj later introduced me to Rafael who had a terrible past and have no one left in Madrid to go back. Rafael is 68 and goes back to Madrid every three months in order to renew his visa. He makes the paella himself.
The Paella was extremely authentic in its texture and was served exactly as in Spain. What I missed is the spread of sea food as it was made only with chicken.The surprise element was the addition of sliced boiled egg in it. Probably Rafael added the boiled slice of egg whites to give it a feel of Squid. However, the strong flavor of Olive oil was missing in it. I cannot blame Raj for that as I know how difficult it is to get perfect olive oil in Kolkata.
Apart from Paella, we had roasted chicken. And I must say, this is the best Chicken Roast I ever had in Kolkata, if not in India. When I complimented Raj about the roasted chicken he gave a smile and asked me to go and check the oven at the back. No wonder why the chicken tastes so complete. The smoky, garlicky chicken drenched in olive oil with perfect burn almost melted in my mouth. Roasted Chicken is a simple dish but don’t know why people make it so complicated and add unnecessary sauce.
Coming to the roasted chicken, I must say a few words about the mashed potato. To me scrambled egg and mashed potato are form of art. It is simple yet it requires special skills to make them. The simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve and the Mashed Potato they made here was awesome. It was perfectly buttery, fluffy and extremely smooth.
I had a jealous glance at the thin crust pizzas which they were serving to Catherine, a lovely young lady sitting next to me. But my stomach was so full that I had to give it a miss this time. But trust me will come back soon.
Raj requested to have soufflè di cioccolato. Though I am not that sweet lover, but this was unbelievably tasty. The hot chocolate mixed with a scoop of ice-cream – a delicious dessert for any season.
Last but not the least, the double shots of espresso. This is one thing that I miss in Kolkata. With due respect to most of the coffee shops, here the concept of espresso often ends up in serving a small cup of black coffee. But this one was exceptionally well made. For sure there’s enough to come back to to Raj’s Spanish Café.
Overall, thanks a lot. For all who love authentic Spanish food, this place is a must for visit.
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome …
I can be reached at 9903528225 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunando Banerjee is an avid traveler who has traveled or is travelling all across the globe due to his nature of work. Apart from a very successful career in IT , he’s an avid foodie and an integral part of the web series Foodka along with Mir Afsar Ali and Indrajit Lahiri.
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