When you think of Asian food, the first things to come to mind would probably be heat, flavour and colour. Mix those three words in a Madrid context and despair abounds. But, thankfully, that is no longer the case since Ricardo Alexander, along with his partner Alain, lit up the dreary culinary experience in Madrid with their Asian Street Food endeavour by the name of Tuk Tuk.
Is it possible to ascribe the vivid description of Asian food to the person behind it? See what conclusion you will reach after reading article.
MuchBites took the Spotlight On… series and discovered the interesting life of Ricardo Alexander in an interview that could easily have lasted a lifetime due to the fascinating life Ricardo has had.
Background and Life Before Tuk Tuk
We started our interview with an intriguing snapshot of Ricardo’s life. As it turned out, in a period that spanned roughly 20 years, Ricardo had crossed paths with Jean Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan and, in this same period, Ms India. Following a series of backtracking questions, Ricardo explained that he had moved to Madrid 8 years ago. Prior to that, he had spent 5 years in Bangkok. Before Bangkok, he had been living in Hong Kong for 10 years; then another 2 years between the Philippines and India; a year in China; and 6 months in Malaysia. To fully understand the reasons why Ricardo had moved to Asia, further backtracking was necessary. This was done after having eaten the delicious Gai Pad Grapao Kai Dao rice bowl he recommended. Given his rich history in Asia, this recommendation of a mildly sweet yet punchy chilli dish made for a great lunch.
Going back to the subject matter. Although born in Yorkshire, United Kingdom, Ricardo actually grew up in Durban, South Africa. His parents owned a restaurant that was sadly bombed by the ANC for reasons unbeknownst to mankind. No doubt this restaurateur background played a part in what we know now as Tuk Tuk. After the bombing incident, the whole family moved back to the U.K. Following a period of 10 years in good old Yorkshire, the Asian adventures began. The main motive for moving to Asia was to work in the film industry. This is where he made a total of 60 films that included some of the afore mentioned stars. In fact, as if this had not been enough, last year, you would have seen Ricardo working on a film with John Cusack.
In all of this, it can be quite difficult to figure out how Madrid and Tuk Tuk came into the picture. As the story goes, Ricardo came to Madrid with the band he was in called Drunken Monkees. The motive of this trip was to release an album they had made and try to break into the E.U. music market. In this music career, Ricardo had played with Green Day and Linkin Park. However, as luck would have it, a European Music Career was not to be. So Ricardo moved on to greener pastures.
With all the different pieces in place about this whirlwind of a life on 3 different continents, it becomes apparent that there is a definite link between the heat, flavour and colour found in Asian food and Ricardo as a person.
The Journey to Tuk Tuk
Industrious as Ricardo is, he quickly found himself owning 2 bars in Madrid. In the process of settling into the Mediterranean life, he often frequented Asian restaurants to relive the culinary genius of the food he had become so accustomed to. But, as many an expat in Madrid well knows, the Asian food scene is somehow poorly represented. In all honesty, there are only so many disappointing restaurant trips one can make before one decides to take matters into one’s own hands. For Ricardo, this heralded the birth of Tuk Tuk.
Tuk Tuk first opened its doors a little over a year ago, in 2014. The restaurant was initially opened as a takeaway, but to his surprise, people preferred to sit in and eat. Although set up as a quality fast food restaurant in the manner reminiscent of a Kebab shop come Chinese takeaway, people were still adamant on sitting in. Before long, one had to book a table, else risk disappointment. Thus, it all developed from there; from the unintended restaurant to the 3 strong restaurants in the Tuk Tuk family.
Through this journey of discovering the eclectic life of Ricardo, the inner motivation that spurred this complete change in life was based on a love of food. Ricardo explained that while in Asia, he used to frequent the street food markets to see generational cooking in progress. It fascinated him that each of the many stalls found in the markets focussed on and specialised in one particular dish. The recipe for this dish would have been passed on from generation to generation and in essence, would have remained the same.
In his spare time and to de-stress, he often cooked for himself and others around him. This gave ample opportunities to experiment with what he was seeing. Although not having trained as a chef, he spent much time learning food history through the plethora of documentaries that were available to him on TV whilst in Asia. To this day, he remains fascinated with how Asian cuisine developed from a variety of influences. These influences had much to contribute to the spice palette, methods of cooking and so much more, into what we now know and love as Asian food.
So the birth of Tuk Tuk was only the logical conclusion following “interesting” food experiences in Madrid. The menu at Tuk Tuk is mainly influenced by the dishes he knows and loves and is very well acquainted with. The dishes give the diner that authentic comfort food feeling that Ricardo was so longing for in Madrid. We can all rest assured that we are in the hands of the professionals.
Tuk Tuk away from Madrid and at Home
Many are the questions that could have been posed to Ricardo during this interview, but time would have failed us. However, a few questions did remain that needed answering.
It had delighted my little heart finding out that Ricardo was a Yorkshire native. What untold wonders of British/Asian fusions would be in store for the future? This question was posed to Ricardo. He admitted that he was partial to the odd HP brown sauce and the full-English breakfast shenanigans. He also admitted missing the roast dinners with their parsnips and crispy potatoes. Thus, it was only logical to ask whether in the future we would see some type of reinvented Asian Yorkshire pudding. Sadly, the answer was a diplomatic “No” for the time being. He kindly explained that fusion would only become a necessary evil once Asian food in the market had reached saturation point, of which, in Madrid, this is far from being the case.
Since I am a lover of Yorkshire puddings, we toyed around with the idea of a toad in the hole with some green curry sausages and a possible curry based gravy. Genius right. Well, the conclusion of the conversation did not leave much to hang on to that hope. But, he kindly shared a recipe for one of my favourite curries from Tuk Tuk, The Bicol Express.
Follow this recipe and enjoy the magic of Tuk Tuk in the comfort of your own home.
Bicol Express Recipe
250g Pancetta (cubed)
4 to 5 Red Chilli (guindilla in Spanish)
1 Medium Red Onion
1 tbsp Bagaoong (usually available in Filipino shops)
300ml Coconut Milk
1/2 tbsp Chicken Bullion
Fry the pancetta in 2 tbsps of oil until its starts to brown
Add the medium sliced red onion and fry briefly
Then add the bagaoong, chicken bullion and coconut milk
Bring to the boil and cook gently for 10mins
Turn of the heat and add the chillis for that extra bite and chunk
Until next time on MuchBites Spotlight… its happy cooking.