Listen up! In Spain there is a magical thing called jamon iberico. It’s cured ham made from pigs that are fed only on acorns. In my head, there is a magical lush green expanse where pink, pink pigulets trot around flipping smooth rocks over with their snouts and crunching on acorms that they ferret out from underneath.
In reality, I’m sure it’s just as horrifying as this episode of This American Life where they do nothing but eat and hang out in a concrete box and squirt out baby pigs thereby making sound guys vom.
How did I get there? I was intending on talking about our first stop in Spain, Madrid. We got our feet wet by going to the most Americaney joint in town, Casa Botin. But wait, there was a REASON why we went there – because it is the World’s Oldest Restaurant, certified by Guinness Book. Further, we were told about its specialty – roast suckling pig, which has crackling skin and is allegedly so tender that they slice through them with plates rather than knives, purportedly just to be fucking showoffs.
We walked into the resto barely before closing time – in SPAIN, where 9 pm is an afternoon snack. Go us. The kindly gentleman at the front led us to a charming corner table upstairs, squarely in between American couple #1 and American couple #3 (we were #2). Couple #1 was having a fight. The chick was a real gooshbag and was picking at her poor boyfriend. Apparently her friend had called him while the two of them were broken up and she JUST didn’t understand that. She said, “I guess I don’t have girlfriends because I’m not close to my mother.” He kinda grunted, and she said, “I JUST had a MAJOR breakthrough and YOU don’t! even! care!” and he, who must have noticed me and R2 INTENTLY listening while trying not to appear so [R2's mouth was open and he was straight up staring, so it was obvy] said, “I don’t care! Why are you telling me this! If we were on our first date I would think you were CRAZY!”
On the other side was a couple where the guy was, in R2′s words, a classic B-level frat guy (who still spoke more Spanish than we did *shame*) who we played the Drunk or Douchebag game with. We both decided on Drunk, and I thought it was rather cute how she would pick up her sangria glass and he would pound his fists on the table and shout “Drink! Drink! Drink!” and adoringly haze her.
We ordered garlic soup with egg, artichoke hearts with jamon, baby squids in their own ink, and the aforementioned pig.
The squids were beyond tender. Like chewing gum when you’ve had it in your mouth for three hours – but in a good way. The ink was umami-licious, and my Japaneezy palate didn’t even register that my food might be Fear Factor-ey to R2, who later confessed that he was scared of it. He who eats EVERYTHING! Shocked.
“Beyond tender” is a good descriptor for the suckling pig, as well. I stole bits of it away in the most wonderful way – by making tiny roast suckling pig burritos where the innards were swine and the “tortilla” was crackling, crispy fatty pig skin.
And if you know me, you know that I instantly snapped off the pig tail and crunched it up. It tasted exactly like a pork rind.
At midnight, we toasted R2′s hatch day with a swig of sangria that tasted like four-times concentrated Kool-aid, which he loved of course and made me shudder for a good minute.
The next day, we went to the Palace, which was, well, palace-y. Which unless you see it you don’t really understand just what it means that there’s a fucking HUGE palace where, like, two people were meant to live, and the whole thing is gaudy and gorgeous and gratuitous. We were not shown the kitchen (nor the aseos) but we did get to walk through the Smoking Room, which was designed to look like a Chinese opium den (Chinese things were very trendy at the time of Isabella and Ferdinand) and there was no furniture – just pillows that lined the entire floor. You don’t have to be a cat to be thrilled with that idea.
We lunched at the Palace cafeteria, where we had our very first bocadillo (sandwich).
Pardon the chewed-up-ness of this. I just tore into it and was almost three inches deep when R2 said gently, “Did you want to blog that though?”
We also had a Kas, which tasted like a Sprite.
This made me angry, because I went to Europe to get AWAY from sugared drinks and there wasn’t an agua con gas (fizzy water) in sight.
From there we meandered to Plaza del Sol, where we got some gelato and sat by the fountain where all the pickpockets in Madrid converge. We came up with a new abbreviation for them: “pee-po” and turned it into a verb “did you get pee-po-ed?” “nope, I didn’t get pee-po-ed yet” and watched a costumed character Homer Simpson walk around, along with a Winnie the Pooh. Winnie is already obscene in that he doesn’t wear pants, but THIS Winnie didn’t even have a shirt!
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by an awesomely atmospheric (dingy, dark, dirty, dotted with old video game machines here and there) cafeteria for a coffee, which was staffed by a big, burly, debonair man who looked so out of place – probably was a spy/assassin/spysassin on his off hours. R2 sidled up to the bar and, without betraying a quiver in his voice, said, “Dos…cafe…UNO…con…leche” and sat back, quite proud of himself. Spysassin said, “Skfj a;lkerja lwekjral skjdf ?” and R2 said, “?” and Spysassin said, “Do you speak English?” and R2 said, dejectedly, “Yes. Two coffees, please, one black and one with milk.” Fail.
So, quite awesomely, Sharisa and her hubby Tron were in Madrid at the same time as us, for one night only. Since neither of us had cellphones in Spain, we had made plans two weeks earlier to stay in the same hotel and meet in the lobby at 4:30 on the 18th after their train got in. But, R2 and I couldn’t get our act together (meaning we couldn’t wake up till 1:30 in the afternoon) and so I left a note at the front desk telling them to meet us at 7 pm instead. But when we got back to the hotel at 6, I spied the note in the cubbyhole for room 204 still sitting there. The attendant confirmed that they had not picked up the message. PANIC! They didn’t get it?! Did they wait for us at 4:30 and then give up and leave? Were R2 and I going to spend his hatchday sadly picking through delicious tapas with just the two of us??
I wallowed and then called their room to at try to leave a message. No answer. Dejection. I ignored common sense and immediately called again. And then – ! “Hello?” “SHARISA?!” “Hii Janay!”
YEEES! It turns out that they HAD gotten the message. In fact, hotel staff had typed up my (rather silly, tilde- and heart- and obscenity-filled) handwritten message and somehow beamed it onto their TV screen?
Reunited happily, the four of us went to La Latina, a cute neighborhood chock full of tapas bars. Our first stop was a place that I can’t remember the name of – Google Maps makes me think it was Taverna Txakoli but hard to tell for sure since they don’t have Street View here yet I guess. Perhaps Sharisa will enlighten us in the comments.
I. Was. SO. EXCITED! My first tapas bar – and a pintxo bar at that – where yummy things sitting on small slices of bread are out for the taking.
This was their “hamburger” pintxo – jamon, mustard, quail egg, and a cute french fry spear on top!
Why didn’t we get this? We’re stupid Americans, for god’s sake! Instead we veered away and got the following.
Sharisa’s spidey sense tingled. She said, “morcilla…I can’t quite remember what that is…” and trailed off and didn’t eat any of it. R2 and I dug in mightily. Couldn’t tell what any of it was but we liked it. We also had a classic pintxo with bacalao (salt cod) and red pepper on it, another one with tortilla con jamon y bacon (not tortilla like we know but an egg dish, kind of like a fritatta), and tinto de verano (red wine mixed with sparkling water/Sprite, depending) all around! [Thank you guys for teaching us this drink, as we drank it as if our life depended on it for the rest of our trip.]
Buoyed by the wine and company and sheer relief that we actually managed to meet up with Sharisa (who was walking around on a SPRAINED ANKLE! Way to rally, my dear), I was in the mood to make a sweeping gesture at the entire line of pintxos, shout “ONE OF EACH – FOR EVERYONE HERE!” and take off my top, but instead we went next door to Cafe Lucas.
Here, we got an English menu, where it said morcilla again. We asked our server what that meant and he said “blood sausage” to which Sharisa and Tron visibly blanched. I was rather shocked because Sharisa is the OG Foodie. The waiter also took notice and said, “This is my favorite thing!” so we ordered it, along with one we got that had pork and corn mousse on top with a soy glaze and some chicken one. The morcilla didn’t look like sausage at all – it looked like black sloppy joe. We all took a bite and made high-pitched “hmm!” noises. I quite enjoyed it, even the potentially icky lingering metallic taste at the back of my tongue.
We then went to Chato, but it was closed. So we went to the parakeet place, which had parakeets in a cage outside. Sanitation be damned! It worked really well – not a soul walked by without cooing, and the boids netted about 30% of passers-by when it came to actual people walking in and ordering.
Here we ordered my most favorite tapas dish in all of spain – bread with mojama (wind-dried tuna, which tasted like a softer, fishier turkey jerky) and a deep-fried almond on top. It sounds like nothing but was truly a revelation. We also got smoked cod with fresh tomato, which was intensely fishy but I didn’t mind.
We then meandered to another bar, which struck Tron as too claustrophobic, so we went to another place, more wine bar than tapas bar, but we weren’t feeling it so we left. But then we decided to go back, where the sort-of miffed bartender became even miffier when we asked for a tinto de verano. He only had REAL wine, apparently. Which was fine with me, as I was kiiiind of starting to perish from the sweetness of the TDVs. We all ordered riojas, and then, even though none of us is a smoker, and just because we could, had a cigarette INDOORS! What a country, what a country.
Next, we lolled our way into an open square and sat down to have a TDV al fresco. THIS server didn’t frown upon us for ordering our un-manly refreshment, and in fact served them to us with bendy straws. <3 Here, we talked about our favorite cities (cities that came up: San Francisco, Vancouver, and Sharisa’s favorite city in the WHOLE WORLD, Sevilla).
But then we realized that everywhere with food closed at midnight, so we scurried back down the street to find one last joint. We did, in the nick of time at 11:59, where a very growch man hacked off some slices of the hallowed jamon iberico and threw some patatas bravas into the microwave.
You see, each place has a huge leg of jamon on display, and that’s where they cut off the thin slices. And when an intruder comes in, you also have a handy and delicious weapon.
We then jumped in a cab, hoping to make it to a sherry place that Tron had gone to some night prior and loved – La Venencia, I believe. We walked in only to be told that they were closed, and no amount of imploring in mangled Spanish could change the owner’s mind. A pity, because my heart was pitter pattering seeing the old sherry bottles lining the walls, some with dust a centimeter thick covering them. Cooooooool.
Instead we went to a bar where they played Beyonce.
When we tired of that, we retired to our hotel, where we played with Tron’s iPad and Sharisa iced her ankle. We were so sad to see them go, but we were onto our own adventures, sans any Spanish ability and friends to hold our hands.