After reading and trying the recipes for traditional Spanish dishes in the book "Menu del Dia," we wanted to know more about Rohan Daft, its author and how an English journalist came to write a Spanish cook book! So, we asked him for an interview via email, and he agreed.
Your book contains so many classic Spanish dishes, and you mention that you collected those recipes and stories during a long journey around Spain. Where did most of the recipes come from?
The recipes in "Menu del Dia" came from a wide variety of sources - friends, parents of friends, chefs, market stall holders, olive oil producers, fishermen. I shopped in different markets pretty much every day of the week and asked the stall holders how they cooked certain ingredients or prepared certain dishes that I'd heard of. That was my grounding in Spanish food - and the Spanish language. Then, as I met more people, I was invited to their houses to eat... and they were all too happy to show me how they ate.
Then I started to explore other parts of Spain and discovered what a diverse country it is which, to me, makes it the special place that it is - Asturias reminded me of Scotland; Galicia is also a more than a touch Celtic but the language sounded more like Portugese than Castillian Spanish. Andalucia was completely different again.... Spain is a wonderful collection of different cultures, languages and, not least, eating habits.
What sparked your interest in Spain and when?
I'd always wanted to live abroad for a while (at least!) and was going to move to Marseille, another place I like a lot. Then I was invited to Barcelona for a week - I'd only been to Spain, to Majorca, once before as a child. I really enjoyed it - especially the food markets (everyone talks about the Boqueria in Barcelona, but that is only one of 42 markets) - and decided to move there for a while and see what happened.
Is there one particular regional cuisine in Spain that you enjoy more than the others? If so, which one?
I adore 'pincho crawls' - moving from bar to bar for a bite or two and a beer or glass of wine in each - in the Basque Country and the long, sit-down feasts of roast lechazo and cochinillo of Castile-Leon and the centre of Spain. But my real passion is fish, so if I had to choose a favourite region (or two!) I'd say Galicia for the calderetas (fish stews) and the Mediterranean coast from Catalonia to Almeria for the fish based rice dishes. Arroz Negro made with cuttlefish or squid with a good, garlicky allioli (ajoaceite) is a big favourite - the Catalans are particularly good at that.
Your book includes not only a bibliography, but a "Resources" section listing retailers in Spain and the US. Do you have any shopping suggestions for Spanish ingredients and cooking supplies for our UK readers?
UK readers can find a lot of products online now. Brindisa has some good stuff. And you can get paella pans and burners from a number of companies.
What would you like readers of your book to get out of it?
What I'd like readers of Menu del Dia to get out of the book is an understanding that the Spanish rightly pay great reverence to less revered products such as lentils, beans and sardines as much they do to their 'delicacies' like jamon iberico de bellota, saffron and shrimp. Food is valued in Spain and remains above fashion. Small traders flourish and people eat seasonally, making the most of and enjoying to the upmost what is available. There are relatively few set recipes in Spanish cooking. It's a reactionary thing - you react to what's available on the day - which invariably means at the market - and prepare it as you will!
Anthony Bourdain traveled the world in search of "the perfect meal." If you were to put together your "perfect meal," what exactly would it contain?
My perfect meal depends totally on where I'd be eating it. If I was on the beach in Almeria or thereabouts I can't think of anything better than a glass of ice cold gazpacho made with a good, peppery olive oil - lucio, perhaps - a rice with clams and maybe some shrimp, and then a mango from the Costa Tropical. A cold Cruz Campo beer would go with it perfectly. In a colder climate I'd probably opt for herrings and sour cream and potato vodka!