Since joining the blogosphere, trending hashtags have led me into a realm of annual festivities that I never would have imagined even existed.
When the three words, “World Chocolate Day”, start appearing on everyone’s Twitter feeds, I can’t help but scroll through my gallery to see which of my decadent cocoa-filled treats I can upload before rummaging through my drawers at home for the remnants of an old Milka bar.
And when everyone starts sharing photos of pizza in honour of National Pizza Day, I allow myself to tuck into the doughy isosceles without even a glimmer of guilt.
On World Tapas Day however, by its very definition, one is compelled to dabble not in one treat but in dozens, from the meat to the veg, the savoury to the sweet and even a drop of vino, though like any good teetotaler, I make my spouse smile by reserving my glasses of Spanish whites for him.
Far be it for me to spoil the party with a no-show and I am all about the cultural integration so with a series of other watered down excuses, I tried to conceal my excitement as I accepted an invitation to the Spanish Tourism Board’s #TastePintxos Event at the Taste of London Festival.
16 years in this city and not one previous visit to said foodie and restaurant festival?! Perhaps you can see why I stick to travel blogging and not food.
Still, luck came our way as we made our maiden voyage to this annual Mecca for London foodies, since our visit happened to coincide with one of the most pleasantly balmy days of the summer, where the sky was smeared in unreserved sunshine and picnic blankets a-plenty covered the floor of the park.
The only portion of the night that saw me exercise any self-discipline whatsoever was the hour or so between arriving and the launch of the #TapasDay event being hosted by the Spanish Tourism Board – the Basque Country by Iberica evening.
Salivating over the array of restaurants featuring their best produce at the festival, I held on tight for the Spanish goodies I had come for and more than rewarded myself with calories when the event kicked off. I may have once participated in a Tapas Making Experience but I would be lying if I said I could whip up food of even remotely this calibre in the confines of my own kitchen.
Before they fed the masses, however, Chef Cesar Garcia and his team from Iberica London, revealed an insight into the tricks of their trade with a live demonstration of their cooking and a guide to the authentic ingredients being used and the inspiration behind the dishes.
Whilst the media guests around me fought it out amongst themselves, elbowing each other out of the way to steal prime photography positions, I soaked up the aromas of the cuisine whilst catching up with Kasha, who aptly filled me in on her past pintxos crawls in San Sebastian, a destination I hope to make it to within the next year or so.
Reaching the pintxos before the whole batch vanished posed a similar challenge to laying one’s hands on a platter of hot chicken tikka canapes at an over-crowded Indian wedding.
Fortunately, I have a shameful amount of practice in manoeuvring my way through a crowd to reach the sustenance.
Some might call it bad manners and some might call it greed but having been to my fair share of such events, I have come to learn, sometimes, it is simply a case of survival of the fittest.
Pintxos culture is all about standing up and eating, grazing away at the bar, whilst sampling on local wines. In many ways, it reminded me of Cicchetti tasting in Venice. Contrary to what you might imagine from some of my culinary escapades featured here and on social media, I actually don’t have an enormous appetite. No, seriously.
The concept of small plates, sharing plates, tapas, mezze and pintxos are, without a doubt, my preferred way to dine. It suits my “little and often” way of eating and I would much prefer to sample five different small plates of light bites than one enormous stodge-fest of a meal.
Highlights from our Basque country dinner included succulent skewers of olives, anchovies and Ibarra peppers, cod fritters and my absolute favourite, the ceviche cones, just as soon as I got past the fact that there was no ice cream inside these miniature wafers.
I would even go so far as to say I enjoyed the mushroom and prawn combination, flavoured in a pil-pil sauce, which is quite the compliment for a lifelong mushroom-phobe like myself.
Would I have absolutely devoured a tiny morsel of sugar to end the pintxos evening? Of course – after all, I polished off every last shred of dessert at the Spanish afternoon tea I had attended a while ago.
In truth, though, I am not even sure what the traditional Basque desserts are and throwing churros con chocolate into the mix, as my only guess, is perhaps about as informed as visitors outside the UK assuming that all Brits eat are plates of jellied eels.
Nevertheless, there are worse places to be in the midst of a dessert-craving than a food festival filled with some of the best restaurants in one of the world’s foodie capitals and so with a round of thank yous to the talented chefs from Iberica, we transported our full-but-dessert-doesn’t-count tummies around Regent’s Park.
My sugar-trained snout sniffed out the free Baklavas floating around the festival and felt a magnetic pull towards the too-good-to-be-true low calorie ice cream from Oppo, filled with flavours from the Amazon – not very Basque Country but who can blame a girl for indulging in a scoop when the weather in London is warmer than the Bahamas?
Many thanks to the Spanish Tourism Board for hosting us for an evening of fine Basque cuisine. All views are my own (although frequently influenced by my own greed and hunger…)