The people of the Balearic Islands, off Spain’s west coast close to France’s influence, are known for their zesty food and zeal for life. George Semier, in his article, The Culture of Tapas, in Saveur Magazine, describes tapa, tapas this way, “The tapeo—or tapas-bar spree—invents itself as it goes along: conversations with strangers, spontaneous introductions, the unexpected appearance of an old friend or ex-lover… Anything can happen on a tapeo, and often does. The tapeo reflects the Spanish approach to life. This itinerant tasting and tippling stems from an unabashed love of play and pleasure.”
Mahon is the capital of Minorca, second largest Balearic Island, first settled by the Tunisians. Later, the Romans, Arabs, Greeks, North African pirates, French and the British called her shots. The latter finally ceded it to Spain in 1802. Today, Mahon is a trendy vacationing spot for Europeans. The two-level picture, taken from an upper deck of Holland America’s m.s. Prinsendam during one of its world tours, shows the magnificent 250-step Georgian staircase approach to Mahon.
Though not all agree, it seems Mahon and her battling past earned the town credit for the creation of the condiment, “Mahon-naise.” This is said to have come about when Louis XV dispatched General Duc de Richelieu, to Minorca to rid Mahon of Engishmen entrenched there. To celebrate victory, the story goes, the General, quite the bon vivant, was apt to host his guests at elaborate banquets in their altogether. On this occasion, the General challenged his chef to come up with a special sauce made from eggs and cream. There being no cream, yet plenty of olive oil, the chef proceeded to very patiently accomplish his first emulsion, blending eggs with oil. Voille! “Mahon-naise,” later mayonnaise. It’s a reasonable stretch to believe mayonnaise became more of a favorite as garlic mayonnaise, also called Allioli, tart and spicey, so suited to the flamboyant, partying people of southern Europe.
Countering the Richelieu victory sauce theory, Clifford A. Wright, cook, food writer and research scholar discusses the topic in his book, A Mediterranean Feast, The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs. He states, “The first apparent mention of anything resembling Allioli is in the writings of Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), who was a Roman procurator in Tarragona on the Catalan coast for a year and writes that when garlic is ‘beaten up in oil and vinegar it swells up in foam to a surprising size.’ There is no doubt in my mind that mayonnaise was an evolutionary development from allioli,” claims Wright.” (His recipe for Allioli appears at the end of this story.)
The zest of Allioli is a natural for many tapas which actually have practical origins. “Tapa,” in Spanish means “lid.” A lid for a tapa in earliest times was a piece of bread, a slice of meat or a small dish with the small snack on it. These lids covered the wine glasses and served two purposes. First it kept the wine clean and the flies out. Secondly, it seemed to hold down drunkenness, for no one was drinking many hours of most days on an empty stomach. Originally, tapas were free. Once chefs became innovative, an industry was born. Now many bars feature as many as 75 different tapas. Fino and Manzanilla sherry is the preferred wine.
Some tapas examples:
· Chorizo croquettes served with garlic “mahon-naise”
· Marinated chicken breast and peppers served with garlic mayonnaise
· Red pepper, sweetcorn croquettes served with garlic mayonnaise
· Crab claws served with garlic mayonnaise
· Allioli potato salad
· Served in cold dishes such as hors d’oeuvres, eggs, fish, meat, vegetables, olives
· Used as a base for remoulade, sauce andalouse, sauce montefrio (curry flavor), rouille (cayenne, saffron)
· Served with paella, local lobster Serrano ham and roast pork