I don’t believe you have to travel to the exact place a dish was invented to have an authentic food experience. Cooking at home, you can easily and cheaply take in a cuisine and consequently, a culture. The same goes for dining out. Whether you’re eating a meal in a restaurant around the corner from your home, or find yourself away from home yet miles away from a dish’s roots, a food experience can be just as good as (and sometimes even better than) what is considered traditional.
The first time I ate gazpacho was one of these authentically untraditional (rather unusual and unSpanish, too) experiences. It wasn’t that the gazpacho tasted untraditional (or unusual or unSpanish), just the location from where I bought it from, along with the spot where I sat eating it was a touch unexpected.
This inaugural gazpacho was in London, England. Cold, wet, grey-skied London, England. A modern city full of life, culture, innovation, chips. One of my favourite cities I’ve ever had the chance to visit. I’ve only ever been greeted with warmth in London, even if the weather has other plans.
Emotional warmth of Londoners aside, England isn’t necessarily known for its ‘cold soup for a hot day’ recipes (or at least I don’t think so). Yet there I sat nearly a decade ago, fuelling up on my first-ever cold soup, Spanish gazpacho, before going to take a tour of the Tower of London, gazing out at a sea of tourists and Yeoman Warders.
I took the container of soup out of the refrigerator section of Pret or EAT–I can’t remember specifically which one–shuffling up to the cashier, plastic soup spoon and napkin in hand, ready to make my purchase. I didn’t know how to pronounce the soup’s name, so I carefully avoided having to. But then they said it. It just rolled off their tongue: gazpacho. I don’t know if it was the smooth, sophisticated British accent, but I was a cold soup convert, feeling classy as hell when bringing my gazpacho back to the table to sit with my dad, brother, and sister. They looked on curiously, being very polite as to not comment on my food choice. My cold tomato soup. For a girl who grew up eating Campbell’s doctored with dried basil, this was miles away–figuratively and literally.
During that trip, every time we tucked in to fuel up with a coffee or tea or snack at a Pret or EAT (for the life of me, I can’t remember–leaning towards EAT though), I took the gazpacho out of their refrigerator and greedily devoured it, my plastic spoon making that teeth clenching scrape against the styrofoam.
I can say with great certainty that my gazpacho experience wasn’t “authentic” in the from-Spain way. It was, however, authentically tasty and exciting to me. My “Tower Gazpacho” opened me up to a dish I never though I’d enjoy and introduced me to Spanish cuisine. In particular, manchego cheese with its chevron rind and tapas, which was ultra-trendy at the time (early to mid-2000s), were all I wanted to eat for months after our trip. I felt extraordinarily international for someone who had never been to Spain, all thanks to a cup of cold tomato soup in England.
Exploring a cuisine, whether that be through your own kitchen or not quite its place of origin (I was pretty close though), doesn’t make it inauthentic. And good news: most dishes are absolutely and easily replicable in your own kitchen, few more so than gazpacho. It’s the soup that brings me back to that grey day in London surrounded by Beefeaters and costumed Anne Boleyns. Mine uses fresh produce from the market and springy herbs from my backyard. I even think it’s best eaten on a cold, wet afternoon with circling gunmetal clouds overhead. It’s Tower Gazpacho 2.0.
Tomato, Cucumber, and Mint Gazpacho Recipe
This Spanish cold tomato soup is accented with crunchy, refreshing cucumber and fresh mint. Chives and sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar) perk things up. This recipe only takes minutes to make, just make sure you leave some time at the end for the mixture to fully chill, which takes at least 4 hours–plan accordingly or make the day before.
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds plum or roma tomatoes, halved
3 Persian (baby) cucumbers, diced, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons diced fresh chives, plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (a very fruity, peppery one is best), plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
- In a blender, blend tomatoes until roughly pureed, leaving a little texture (no big pieces). Add to a large mixing bowl or pot along with remaining ingredients, reserving a bit of cucumber for garnish. (If you’re using a metal bowl like I did, transfer to a glass or ceramic non-reactive bowl for storing).
- Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, overnight if you have time. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional diced cucumber, chives, and a thread of olive oil. Serve chilled.