As we pulled up outside the Andalusian bar, I thought we couldn’t be pub-crawling home. Having been subjected to so many culture shocks in the past few days; I was now prepared for anything or so I thought. However, I was about to be initiated in the art of eating Tapas and the civilised attitude the Spanish have towards food and alcohol.
Crossing the door, I was greeted by intoxicating aromas and a temporary loss of vision. As my eyes adjusted to the weaker and more subdued light, I encountered an oasis. Tiled from ceiling to floor, the walls announced their southern origin, their lustre winking cheerfully, decorated in simple line drawings, all in tones of the same deep rich blue. The real masterpiece was the bar and almost as long as the bar itself, was a refrigerated glass cabinet, which protected and promoted the widest most mouth-watering collection of snacks I had ever seen. Here they were, Tapas the Real Thing. The language barrier would not be a problem, I could point, but what did I point to? Was I allowed more than one? They were at least small.
My fascination and bewilderment was clearly my hosts’ delight. They solved my dilemma with true Spanish hospitality. The decision was simply taken from me and I was invited to sample a selection of the best: pickled anchovies, serrano ham, potato omelette, and a cup of gazpacho. When I thought we’d finished, another plate of what looked like onion rings arrived. Biting into the golden batter, as crunchy and as light as it looked, my teeth instantly hit with resistance; I recognised from my spell in Rhodes that I was eating squid. The fascinating thing about squid, if people are able to get over their squeamishness, is the contrast between it’s flavour; a delicate hint of white fish and it’s textures; tight and dense, take too big a bite and it’s like having a spring let loose in your mouth. My brother declared them to be like chewy fish fingers. I love it, so never give up on an opportunity to have a go at Calamares a la Romana, battered squid somehow doesn’t quite capture the exquisite character of the dish. I love octopus too, but I haven’t got to the Galician bar yet.
In between mouthfuls, we made a smattering of conversation; my handbag sized bilingual dictionary the most eloquent participant in the conversation. Everything lubricated by the glasses of Fino – dry amber coloured sherry, producing that comforting sensation when just the right amount of alcohol is taken. Without doubt, the real warmth came from the welcome given by my new work colleagues. I had managed to learn that all the teachers had tried to find out where I was living and as Ana Carmen was the nearest, she had been appointed to drive me back to Madrid after school. As I left the bar that day I knew deep inside that this time round, the trip abroad was going to better, much better.
This is another extract from the book I am writing on my life in Spain. I lived mainly in the Rioja Wine region, this is when I moved to live in Madrid before I discovered Rioja.