Unfortunately, due to my agenda of soul-searching and figuring shit out, I was unable to partake in some of the cultural revolutions happening around me. And by “cultural revolution,” I mean “all the food.” Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat – I should have, but didn’t. Worry not, that’s on the agenda for my next trip to Spain.
During my Thursday in Toledo, Simone and I sat down to typical Toledanese fare – I let her order, since I was the American and she was the resident – and the chickpea/spinach dish was divine. The lemonade-like thing we had at an outdoor cafe area reminded me of home, and it was a nice touch to end the day.
While I didn’t partake in a lot of formal dining experiences, any time I stopped in anywhere for a beer, there was free food. Chorizo and what was supposed to be patatas bravas (but they were really just soggy fries), quiches, empanadas, grilled cheese with ham (I definitely have to try this), potato chips….it’s like getting free bread in a restaurant just because you walked in and sat down. I think the Americans could definitely learn something from Spanish restaurant hospitality.
Before I knew it, it was my last night in Spain. Nearly time to go home. I decided that with my last few Euros, I’d find (yet another) hole in the wall, and treat myself to something delicious. I wandered and wandered and wandered – until I came across a place with animals. How can you not eat at a place with a giant cow next to a giant pig, jutting out of the wall?
Terra Mundi actually worked out to be a great place to eat – it wasn’t crowded, and the servers all spoke excellent English. It was a fairly small place, and so now I freely admit I spent part of my night eavesdropping on a couple seated near me – he was British, she was American, and they had been doing the long-distance thing for a while. It was their first meal back together – he’d arrived from Rome and she’d been in Madrid. It was sweet. I’m a sap.
Upon the advice of the server, who was this adorable, smiling girl, I ordered lamb and a glass of wine. “Bring me anything,” I told her. And bring me, she did. To my dismay, it was a basket of bread. I dislike bread – so much so, I’ll eat the toppings off a bruschetta or an arepa, and just leave the sad, soggy starch alone. The only way I’ll eat bread is if it’s a super hard crust, and even at that, I’ll usually leave the insides.
But because more than one glass of wine was on the menu, I figured I might try to absorb some of the alcohol. And this was the most incredible, most phenomenal, most amazing bread I’ve ever had. The crust was tooth-breakingly hard – I needed two hands to snap it and then rip off a piece. And the inside of the bread wasn’t starchy or doughy – it was slightly sourdough-flavored and very good. The bread photo was taken after I had already eaten some of it. I should have asked for more. Hell, I should have asked for the whole loaf. Or five. I wonder if you can smuggle bread through customs?
I tend to get slightly homesick sometimes, and it’s then when you need a good, old fashioned burger. I love me a delicious burger with all the fixings: lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, mushrooms, onions, whatever you’ve got. However, I’ve learned very, very disappointing lesson that no one does a burger like an American. The sandwich at Nebraska was….shall we say interesting, and the burger at the terminal in the airport (because I had to eat something, and it was the only open place!) was by far the most puzzling one I’ve ever had. “Bacon” was a slice of ham, and “French fries” were matchstick potatoes. There was not a single packet of ketchup to be found – instead they gave me a not-quite-normal MUSTARD to dip my fries. Who does that?! If I hadn’t had the Mahou, it might have ended far worse.
One can’t expect a lot of airplane food, so “chicken marsala” was…well….you can see it. Not exactly how I wanted to conclude my vacation in Spain, but I also suppose I shouldn’t be picky.
My culinary adventures, though few and far between, showed me a lovely side to Spaniards. The wine, the food, and even the bread was delicious, and exactly what I was hoping for from a place where I had previously figured they always ate paella, seafood, and beef. And sure there was paella, and sure there was beef. But there were also friendly faces, LOTS of ham, and fun, silly attempts at American food.
When I got off the plane at JFK, the first thing I said was, “I’m starving, and I need a burger.” We drove to our old haunt, and I ordered my usual, and while I missed the rice and ham, I was very, very happy to come home to familiarity. But I did order mustard for my fries.