Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.
“To go to bed at night in Madrid marks you as a little queer,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon, while musing on the nightlife of Spain’s capital. Clearly, Papa had never gone hungry on vacation, because there I was in a musty Madridian hostel, tucked in bed, and picking wearily at lumpy oatmeal at 6 p.m. Being a little queer was the least of my problems – I’d have killed for a cheeseburger.
When planning my trip, I’d salivated over visions of golden paellas cram-full of fresh clams and calamari, succulent, leathery strips of jamon and rosy pitchers of fragrant sangria. It was going to be great.
“You’re going to love the tapas!” friends told me. But I paid no attention. I’d never really liked the concept of tiny, overpriced plates of food, plus I used to work in a tapas restaurant (and that’s the best way to turn you off anything).
During my first evening in Spain, I asked my server at Sevilla’s popular Taberna Coloniales for his favourite dishes. I was famished. But as small dishes of glistening stuffed eggplant, deep-fried cheese fritters and marbled strips of jamon iberico materialized before me, I recoiled. I don’t like deep-fried food, particularly deep-friend hunks of cheese. I grabbed the menu, there wasn’t much else to choose from. With a sinking feeling, it occurred to me that these greasy morsels of food were, indeed, the cornerstone of Spanish cuisine.
“Never mind,” I thought, gingerly poking the now-oozing eggplant. “I’m in Spain. How bad could this be?”
Pretty bad. The tapas was fried, loaded with goat cheese, served on white bread or dripping in oil, but I returned every day, determined they’d win me over. My pride barred me from beelining to McDonald’s.
Everything else about Spain was endlessly impressive: those lush royal grounds of Sevilla’s Alcazar, the wailing wonder of flamenco, Moorish architecture in Granada’s Alhambra. But in between these highlights were mealtimes that I came to dread.
By the time I arrived in Madrid, the thought of patatas bravas, croquetas de jamon or anchovies was enough to make me gag. I lived on oatmeal and paella. One morning, while lining up for the Prado art museum, I struck up conversation with a Canadian family. I broke my silence: “If I have to eat another tapa, I am going to scream.” Immediately, the twentysomething daughter lit up, and in a hushed voice confessed she’d enforced a “tapas diet” herself. “I mean, you can’t eat this stuff forever,” she said, with a knowing look.
That’s when it clicked.
I’d always thought there was a tacit law among travellers forbidding us from complaining about the food. Even if you’re hospitalized after some dodgy fish tacos, they’re still the best thing you’ve ever eaten and you’ll stand by your million Instagram photos. But we can’t like everything: Those tacos were crap, and (from now on) I’m going to say as much.
My last evening in Madrid, I set off for Puerta del Sol, the large square where I was meeting an old friend for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in years. But first, the matter of what restaurant. Before we could go another step, I stopped and turned to her.
“How do you feel about Indian?”
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