Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's all a blur of eels and Albarino

specialty of the house: ears
Do you know what aspect of the Mediterranean lifestyle I can not get my head around?

Wine at lunch. I've tried. I tried yesterday. I looked around the restaurant at all the handsome Spaniards  drinking wine. My sister-in-law Amy was drinking wine and her husband Jaime was drinking wine and Ann was drinking wine and I was drinking wine and it was extremely fun in the moment, but even as I drank I knew that the rest of the day would be ruined. It was. Is there some trick to this daytime wine business?

Let's see what other silliness we've been up to in Spain while other people were midwifing our goat babies.

Oh, right! More wine. The other night my brother-in-law Jaime took everyone -- kids included -- on a Santiago de Compostela bar crawl. The bars we went to on Tuesday did not resemble any American bars I know of. They are small and plain with tile floors. The best way I can think of to describe them is to say that they sort of resemble barber shops and the people who serve you are grave-looking older men. Does this sound unappealing? These places were very appealing. When you drink, you also eat, if only a single mussel with hot sauce. Each place serves a particular snack that people expect when they walk in the door. Kids are both welcome and ignored. Or at least ours were.

Some highlights:

We went to a bar that serves wine the old-fashioned way, in ceramic bowls.
looks like Chinese soup

We went to a bar that serves a platter of pig ears when you order a drink.
The ear was both fleshy and cartilaginous and while there was nothing at all offensive about the flavor, I could not eat it.
The men ate ears.
We ended up at a restaurant with a lot of food on the table, including several plates of mushrooms in cream sauce (almost the best thing!!!), a couple of tortillas, and a bowl of tiny eels. The eels were delicious and reminded me of ramen.
But when I thought about what I was actually eating, I didn't want to eat them anymore. Stupid brain.

I'm not going to describe anything we've done that wasn't food related, but I do want it on the record that we have visited churches and museums and have been all-around responsible tourists.

Yesterday, there was a big, convivial group lunch at another restaurant where we were served peppers stuffed with creamy salt cod (best thing!!), grilled octopus, cheese, cold cuts, squid in its own ink, wine.

And then -- a totally bleary afternoon. That's what all those Mediterranean romanticizers omit! After the gushing description of the crisp white wine and the exquisite pasta or wild boar or paella under the Mediterranean sun in a dreamy olive grove there should be a description of a bleary afternoon.

In the evening, we went out in a big group, again including kids, and walked around this small and magical city. More fascinating bars. One bar consisted of a small subterranean room with a blazing hearth and stone walls on which pilgrims had taped notes and drawings. Another bar was like a trendy American cafe and served tiny portions of paella in cups. Then we went to a restaurant with iron rings on the walls left over from when the building was used a stable and Jaime ordered tiny eels on toast, mushrooms on toast, crepes filled with spinach, ham. Wine. Wine. Wine. Owen and Javier sat at the end of the table, drawing and talking and eating flan until we all went home at 2 a.m. There were still people everywhere out on the streets.

It's very different. I think it would be fun to be Spanish. I might be fundamentally too introverted, but Owen would make a great Spaniard.

Tomorrow, we go home.

My father says they have begun chasing the chickens.


  1. Jennifer; you should bring back home a couple of cans of pimientos piquillo; you can stuff them with brandade.


  2. Are your kids actually eating any of this?

  3. "Stupid brain." You crack me up.

  4. And don't forget to bring home some saffron.

  5. In 1999 I spent a few weeks traveling in Spain, and in one city (Toledo? Avila? Segovia? can't remember) we ordered a tapas platter, and it came with those tiny eels. I had my suspicions, so I asked the server what it was, and she said, "Algulas." My traveling companion asked me if it was pasta, and I said, "No, I'm pretty sure it's animal, not vegetable," all the while trying to find the word in our Spanish dictionary. We ate them, but I felt very queer about it for hours afterward.

  6. I think I would lie awake for hours convinced I felt eels swimming around in my belly, no matter how well I had chewed them.

  7. The thing is, after the wine for lunch you are supposed to have a siesta....

  8. Maybe you would become accustomed to drinking wine during the day, but I am with you. Once I drink wine, I am totally nonproductive the rest of the day. I feel logey and not quite right. I lie about and have a slight headache. I don't like eating things that resemble their original form. I cannot eat suckling pig. I am sure I would get over this if I was hungry enough, but it really turns me off.

  9. More baby goat pictures, please.

  10. You are making me homesick for Galicia. My in-laws are from there and we visit almost every summer, but probably not this year. *sigh* Now I'll be thinking about pulpo and albariƱo all day... Thanks for sharing your adventures.