I find it odd that the first question the majority of people have asked after learning that I went to Spain was, “What did you eat?” I guess nobody is interested in bullfighting? They could care less whether or not I met any members of the Spanish Olympic baseball team? (I did not.) And not a single reader is curious about the high-speed electric trains that carry passengers to all sorts of intriguing locations?
Fine. But please remember that I am neither a food nor restaurant critic. Keep in mind also that I do not play one on NPR.
Most importantly, I was unable to locate a source of Pop-tarts while I was in the Old World. Thus, I had to rely on the ones I transported across the Atlantic in my carry on luggage.
If you are considering making the voyage to Spain yourself, don’t fret- they have plenty of food. Small markets that dot the narrow streets of Madrid are a great way for people to pick up items needed on a daily basis such as fresh produce, meat, bread, nuts and whatnot. For every one of those markets, I would venture a guess that there exists at least nine Korean-owned/operated groceries that sell canned and packaged products such as pickles, chips, cookies, soda and alcohol. Oh yeah, and etc.
As if that isn’t enough, you also have the choice of tens of thousands of small restaurants, cafés and bars where service is noticeably fast. I found it interesting that although these places do not have jukeboxes, they do consistently have two slot machines just inside the front door and usually one blaring television. It was also an interesting experience to find myself back in a land where public smoking is not only an option, but pretty much seemed to be encouraged.
Most days, my breakfast consisted of a sandwich mixto (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a Coke. Sometimes I would enjoy a sandwich mixto heuvo (pretty much the same thing with egg). Also receiving my five-K seal of approval was the toastada (toast with butter and jelly).
I really enjoyed looking at the photographs of these items that were used on the menus and plastered on the walls of the cafés across the city. I suppose the idea was to make ordering for people like me as simple as pointing. What made the photos most interesting to me was the awful color in the images where whites were represented by yellow, yellows were orange, oranges tended to appear somewhere between red and brown. Not always, mind you, but definitely more often than not. Very odd!
After strolling around the streets looking at art, people and buildings for several hours, it was time to eat again. Not in the mood for a big meal, the game plan was to pick out a table in a sunny area of an outdoor café and to settle in for a Coke and a look at another menu. Pleased with each discovery that Pepsi products were not available, I usually ended up ordering another sandwich mixto.
Practically every café/bar would provide Top-ums with drinks. These ranged from bowls of nuts, to plates of olives, bread or even crackers. Although the concept sounded appealing at first, my final thoughts on the platter of slices of cured ham, wedges of stinky cheese and hunks of dry bread is that it is a meal best served to survivalists.
One item that I particularly enjoyed was croquettes. Basically, these are fried balls of mashed potatoes with small chunks of meat inside. I did not like the ones that used fish, opting instead for the ones that were made with ham. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a piece of graffiti that I began to understand the sense of national pride Spaniards take in their croquettes. I believe this painting depicts the legendary “Croquette de Jaman.” I understand that parents recall tales of this unlikely superhero to children as they tuck them in for their afternoon siesta.
I did eat pizza in Madrid.
Compared to the heaping piles of food served everywhere here in the US, I was pleased by the appropriate amount of food served in Spain. I’m not sure if that is why I saw very few overweight people there, or if it because they tend to eat everything using tiny silverware. Nevertheless, the only exception to the serving-size rule I encountered was a bizarre combination of fried potato strips and chicken parts that most closely resembled some sort of failed science experiment. I would not complain about the taste, but I guess I wasn’t completely prepared for the impromptu study of how chickens can be butchered. Either way, less of that would have been better. Intriguing as I'm sure this dish must sound, I found myself unable to take a photograph of it.
I had some of this tortilla espana. It was mostly egg and cheese, with some potatoes and other items that I did not identify.
Finally, I offer this vegetable stew. No, I didn’t try this stuff, but I did get close enough to snap a photo.
Sitting on the runway prepared for takeoff for the 10-hour flight back to the states, I overheard the following conversation that forced me to put on my noise-reduction headphones earlier than I had planned.
Lady #1: “Would you like a piece of candy so your ears don’t pop?”
Lady #2: “No thanks. I’m too hungry to eat candy.”