Food has always been at the center of Spanish life. In a storied nation where people eat four to six meals a day, food is celebrated and highly revered, and considered a vital part of its cultural DNA.
But unlike other gastronomies that bank on elaborate and intricate plating, the heart of Spanish cuisine maintains rustic simplicity, keeping its home-cooked nature and following an unwritten tradition: To respect a really good ingredient by doing as little as possible to it. What comes out from the kitchens — both at home and in restaurants — are dishes that are straightforward, honest, and uniquely flavorful.
Even for restaurants outside its borders, the representation of Spanish food culture must be clearly aligned with the high standards of quality practiced for generations. To guarantee the authenticity and credibility of restaurants claiming to offer authentic Spanish dishes, ICEX Spain Trade and Investment has created the new Restaurants from Spain certification program.
Launched in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, Restaurants from Spain serves as an instrument for the support and recognition of restaurant initiatives to bring forth the flavors of Spain to other parts of the world, and maintain quality standards and criteria the Spanish cuisine takes pride in.
From Germany to the United States and Singapore, more than 170 establishments have already been certified, making them reference points for food enthusiasts seeking the taste of Spain.
‘Restaurants from Spain’ arrives in Vietnam
Vietnam’s openness to foreign influences has allowed international cuisines to thrive in the country and penetrate the growing market. The streets and hidden alleys in major tourist cities like Hanoi and Saigon, and the vibrant island of Phu Quoc feature hundreds of restaurants offering menus that used to be unfamiliar to the Vietnamese palate.
Spanish restaurants have particularly gained significant popularity over the years. The introduction of Paella Valenciana, patatas bravas, and gazpacho here have made gastro-curious Vietnamese crave more Spanish flavors.
Today, dozens of dining venues are offering wide selections of Spanish dishes — exclusively or the general Mediterranean cuisine — bringing a piece of Spain to this Southeast Asian land.
Taking its mission to recognize and certify Spanish restaurants as ‘authentic’ and acknowledged ambassadors of Spain as a brand, Restaurants from Spain was introduced to Vietnam on July 20th, with the awarding of the coveted certification to six establishments.
The continuous downpour last Wednesday didn’t dampen the mood at LYND Restaurant & Lounge, where Vietnam’s first-ever awarding of Restaurants from Spain certification was held. Dozens of members of the Spanish community in Vietnam as well as officials from the Economic and Commercial Office of the Embassy of Spain in Vietnam witnessed an intimate and meaningful celebration.
Restaurants from Spain certificates were awarded to Ibérico Tapas & Vino, Lynd Restaurant & Lounge, Octo Tapas Restobar, Olé Saigon Restaurant, SOL by Melia Phu Quoc's OLA Beach Club, and Tomatito Saigon — also considered some of Vietnam’s most promising F&B establishments.
Mr. Néstor Santos Franco, Economic, and Commercial Counsellor and the one who handed the certificates to the restaurant representatives, said, “The Spanish cuisine is the central point in the promotion of Spanish food and wine. It has been the basis of the launch of Restaurants from Spain certificate, under the principles of objectivity, traceability, and transparency, to reward all these establishments based on the roots, quality, and products of the Spanish gastronomy.”
With six certified restaurants, Vietnam is the second highest awarded country in Southeast Asia, next to Singapore, which boasts 15 certifications.
Stijn Gradussen, director at Tomatito Saigon, shared that it took about six months of paperwork and evaluation to finally get a nod from ICEX Spain Trade and Investment. But it was a journey worth taking.
“Tomatito has been around for a couple of years in Saigon. It exudes an authentic Spanish vibe — in a very fun way. From the decorations on the walls to basically all the items you can find there, it’s all about Spain. We are famous for our Salmon TNT and paellas. But there’s so much to choose from, we have about 67 dishes on our menu.”
Ignacio Martin, managing director for Melia Hotels International Southeast Asia, was also very ecstatic about the recognition given to Sol Melia Phu Quoc. Importing ingredients straight from Spain, the restaurant offers top-notch Mallorcan flavors that capture the essence of the country it embodies.
“It’s become easier for us to import ingredients from Spain through suppliers. It’s important for us to make sure that all of what we put into our menu are authentically Spanish. And with a pure Spanish chef, we’re making it possible for the true flavors of Spain to come out in every dish we serve,” said Madrid-native Ignacio.
As the Spanish cuisine uses very specific ingredients, importing these to Vietnam has also become a vital part of the two countries’ trade partnership. Pimenton de la Vera (smoked paprika), azafran (saffron), cerdo Iberico (Iberico pork), aceite de Oliva (olive oil) and arroz bomba (bomba rice) are some of the quality Spanish ingredients that are intrinsically connected to every Spanish dish.
Criteria and certification process
The Restaurants from Spain certification is not an easy feat, and the process that goes through with it is no easy task, as emphasized by Mr. Santos.
“We have used technical criteria, inspired by auditing methods and quality certifications applying the principles of objectivity, verification, practicality, and transparency. The evaluation process analyzes the origin of the ingredients, the legitimacy of the recipes as well as the whole experience offered.”
Basic criteria for getting certified as authentic quality Spanish cuisine include: (1) At least one person who can speak to the clients in Spanish and who can explain the concept behind the restaurant and its menu, (2) Predominance of Spanish dishes and recipes 60%, (3) PDO / PGI ingredients from Spain, (4) At least 5 wines and 30% of the wine list are PDO/PGI wines(5) A chef who is qualified to prepare Spanish dishes and recipes, and (6) Communication media platforms that show the Spanish identity of the restaurant.
Establishments that check all these criteria are then evaluated through an on-site visit by representatives from the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office. Interviews with the owners and chefs will be conducted, and the dining space, kitchen, and menu, including the wine list, will be assessed. The final evaluation and decision come from ICEX Spain Trade and Investment in Madrid, Spain.
With a Restaurants from Spain certification, restaurants will have priority access to suppliers and providers of Spanish products, as well as information on new products in the market. Staff will also be eligible to participate in the Spanish gastronomy training program and wine specialist courses.
More importantly, as these restaurants become official ambassadors of Spanish cuisine, they bring with them the pride of the Spanish flag and its dynamic culture wherever they are in the world.
To apply for Restaurants from Spain certification, visit Food and Wines from Spain website.