In Ronda we remembered the need for churros too late, on our last day. We went out looking for them "first thing", but "first thing" kind of ended up being almost not morning anymore, and when we stopped to ask some old old Spanish ladies where we could find some, they basically gave us directions to somewhere that was closed and then said "But hey what's wrong with you, why would you want churros in the afternoon anyway, you need to come back tomorrow morning".
Fair enough. I guess it's like ordering a cappuccino in Italy in the afternoon, people look at you like you have a hot dog hanging out of your nose. So we left Spain without our churros, I'll have to wait to find out what "the real thing" tastes like. Pictured above are the ones from the churros truck I knew existed in Groningen but had never tried. We located it this past Saturday "morning". Not bad, not bad, but you know me, I have a bit of a fetish for "real things".
These photos are from our way-too-early-again trip to the airport. Above: creative fencing solutions from The Captain's neighbor, I believe that's a rusty mattress frame. Below: picturesque town I don't know the name of, and being back at Schiphol with Schiphol not feeling anything like Schiphol.
Ronda felt very familiar, not only visually but rhythmically: living in Siena for half a year in 2000, you got used to the busloads of tourists showing up at 10 or 11 in the morning, cluelessly oozing their way through the streets in disoriented, overwhelmed clumps until 18:00, then rushing through a 45-minute dinner and being gone by 19:00.
Ronda seemed very much the same way. We encountered no tourists after dark until we ended up going to Casa Maria for our final meal out in Ronda. This was the place that the Nelske said was kind of special and that we should check it out "but she hadn't been there in a long time" (not foreshadowing this time), and I looked on TripAdvisor and found out it was "#1 of 183 Restaurants in Ronda", which is not always a good thing, but it does usually seem to mean that you'll have a pretty good customer service experience and decent food.
So we went to Casa Maria after tapas at Almocábar, and were led upstairs to the dining room, where immediately a couple of warning bells went off, triggered by (for starters) the enormous English menu on the wall:
Which didn't used to be there. Also the three other tables with diners at them were speaking Americano really loudly, at each other. In other words, three tables full of Americans who had been strangers when they started the meal were now bonded by proximity, tourism and volume, and were kind of barking/howling/whining at each other the way my adorable countrymen seem to do.
That feels harsh. But they're the only people in the restaurant, sitting one foot away from each other, literally shouting with strained but obligatory enthusiasm and camaraderie. Timewise I was really grateful that they were discussing the desserts that were in front of them ("Oh. My. God. These. Cherries. Are. Sooooooo. Boozy!!!!!! I swear to God if I have any more of them I'm going to be totally WASTED!!!" Peals of laughter. "I know, right?" "They're going to have to carry us out of here!!!" Which seemed unlikely given the sizes of everyone involved and the comparatively svelte dimensions of the staircase, but OMG that sounds so bitchy!!!!).
There were no Spaniards in the room. And the regulation Spanish tapas bar TV that was present was playing some kind of baaad internet radio, no images. And though we'd just had tapas at Almocábar, our waitress really really really wanted us to order 4 plates of food. Un poco de todo.
The whole thing was weird, and a little pressurized, and felt 100% like a tourist trap. But as the Captain said, "Well, really, what can we do at this point. We get the poco de todo", so we did, and....somehow it was all really delicious. expertly roasted asparagus (asparagus season just started); queso frito con mermelata (fried goat cheese with quince marmalade); pan con tomate y sal de volcán ) bread with tomato and volcanic salt; and fabas con trufa y piñones (fava beans with pine nuts and a shitload of black truffle). The Americans left, some actual Spanish people showed up. We had a nice dinner I think. Afterwards the Captain re-connected with the owner/chef ("Hey you're the vegetarian from Norway who lived in the old farmhouse"...mmm, kind of) they sent us off into the night with a bottle of their house wine. Etc.
Ronda at night again, Saturday evening around 19:00.
Actual interesting, evocative text to follow eventually.
Almocábar was the "fanciest" place we went this week: tapitas were €2.50 each instead of the €1 or €1.50 they were at San Francisco. I wanted to say "everything seemed slightly less relaxed," but it's hard to imagine how things could've been any more relaxed and less pretentious than they'd been at San Francisco and El Socorro and pretty much everywhere else we went.
If it looks like we're the only people in the bar, that's because we are: it's 20:00, too early for dinner. But by the time we were ready to move on to the next place, people had started to trickle in, and at least one party brought their own potato chips with them, demonstrating that even a slightly more pretentious place was still pretty informal.
Below: El Capitan + giant capers, lupini beans/tremoços/altramuz, pickles; the fuera de carta "vegetarian platter" of good queso, good walnuts, and those little crunchy boring baseball bats; pluma Ibérico, pork with candied piquillo peppers; queso manchego with orange marmelade and great olive oil; magret de pato, duck with strawberry jam and Pedro Ximenez raisins.
I know my blues don't match, OK? I'm not about continuity, I'm about fucking art.
These shots are from (above) our failed churros hunt and (below) our lunchtime visit to Zahara de la Sierra. Another example of natural beauty that, on a Saturday afternoon in every other country I've ever been to, would be mobbed with picnickers, boaters, fishermen, etc. Here: nobody nowhere.
At the bottom: tortillas de camarones (fried shrimp omelette), and yet another example of the slightly revelatory (not a word?) Andalusian approach to salads: really boring iceberg or Bibb lettuce, lots of outstanding olive oil and a healthy amount of salt. Possibly a splash of lemon juice or sherry vinegar. Which all kind of sounds like the Italian approach to insalata mista, but this was so much better: it always looked like it was going to be the lamest, most unconsidered garnish ever, and almost every time it ended up being totally gone.
So we found this book at Casa Mimosa called The Fine Art Of Small Talk. Really depressing, even for someone like myself who is nearly incapable of small talk and should need all the pointers he can get his hands on.
Checking out the Amazon blurb makes this book sound like essential reading for me: "Do you spend an abnormal amount of time hiding out in the bathroom or hanging out at the buffet table at social gatherings?" Replace "bathroom" with "kitchen" and "buffet table" with "beer/wine station" and then well my answer is yes, yes I do.
But the solutions offered within were a bit, eh, I don't know, superficial? Which is maybe what small talk is and why I can't do it. But there were helpful hints like "Really try to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying," or, if you are trying to gently change the subject, try something assholey and narcissistic like "That reminds me of something that happened to me the other day", etc etc etc.
One of the sections in the book had to do with "How to Talk to an Acquaintance You Haven't Seen in a While": in other words, someone you're not exactly friends with, but you've seen them and conversed with them enough times to know a little bit about their life...but, you know...you haven't seen them in a while.
The Captain and I read through this section with great mirth. There were lots of Don'ts. "Don't ask them how their romantic partner is doing," because there's a chance that things haven't worked out and this will lead to an uncomfortable moment. Don't ask them about how their specific job/business is doing, because well in this economic climate there's a good chance they've been fired or are bankrupt. Don't ask about their parents because they're probably dead. Etc.
So we read this, and laughed, because yes, The Captain is also shitty at small talk, but come on: we're adults, do we really need a 200-page book on how to talk to people?
The next night we were discussing where to go to dinner. I'd found this place that the Captain coincidentally used to go to quite a bit back in the day but she hadn't been there in quite a while, like at least five years or something (this is called foreshadowing), she was interested in seeing how it looked these days, it had been renovated recently, etc.
We go in, sit down, the owner comes over in the direction of our table and slows down a bit with a puzzled smile on her face, and says to the Captain, "Don't I know you?" The Captain of course says "Yes, I used to come here all the time," etc. At which point the dialogue example straight out of The Fine Art Of Small Talk begins happening. But it's the "Don't" example:
Captain: "Wow, great to see you. Hey, how's your husband?" Owner: "Well, he left me four years ago." Captain: "Oh man, that sucks. Well it looks like the place is still running great, business is going good, right?" Owner: "Well actually, no, business isn't very good, the renovations cost a ton of money..." Captain: "Ehhhhm.....is your mom still working in the kitchen?" Owner: "Yes, but she can't see very well and is constantly burning herself or cutting off her fingers and toes, etc etc etc"
OK I made up the last answer but the rest is all totally true. And although the actual conversation happened in very fast Spanish, I knew exactly what was being said because I'd read this exact conversation in the "Don't" section of the small talk book the night before. It was AWESOME.
OK, there's more about that, but....the food, you ask. Above: jamón and queso manchego. Below: another serranito, this one was a little too big and dry, a problem rectified via allioli and olive oil. That plate in the background is something mysterious that was one of the best things I ate that night, called maybe a purpeta? Kind of a pork meatball in gravy on fries.
Anyway, this post will be finished sometime soon. Below: tortilla de patatas, more eggplant with cane syrup (just offscreen), and a flamenquín, which I'll explain eventually along with the rest of everything else.
This was probably my favorite meal of the week. For a lot of reasons, the first one being that we'd just walked 3.5km up a fucking mountain for over an hour and we were dying of thirst. El Capitan had been singing the praises of this refreshing summer drink for a day or two, it's called tinto de verano (ehhhh, "red wine of summer" according to my Spanish), and it's basically red wine and carbonated lemonade.
Which you wouldn't think to put together, would you. I wouldn't, at least, but then again you know I don't like to think. Anyway the version we tried the day before had been, according to El Capitan, "not fizzy enough" and "possibly store-bought" (vs homemade). To me they were just unspectacular. The version pictured above, however, was pretty spectacular, light years away from the previous day's example, perfectly refreshing and just a great idea for a drink (apparently it's not necessarily as simple as red wine + carbonated lemon drink, let's go to our foreign correspondent Zora O'Neill for a Special Report).
Then the food started coming out. After spending the previous two lunches demonstrating how little I knew about Real Spanish Food, I was no longer in charge of ordering things, and well thank goodness for that. Above is a €1.50 pincho de camaron, which was the first truly great thing I'd eaten in Spain and was, like the drinks, just about perfect. Lightly grilled shrimp with great local olive oil, salt, and a squeeze of lemon. Simple and unbeatable.
Also pictured: something that was supposed to be croquetas de setas (wild mushroom croquettes), but the Captain's finely honed vegetarian palate quickly detected an essence of pork. The next time the waiter came by she (interestingly) didn't mention it, but instead asked if we could have a plate of sauteed setas, and the waiter frowned at the croquettes: "Those were supposed to be croquetas de setas weren't they". The Captain wiggled her eyebrows and said yis and a look of horror flashed over the waiter's face before he dashed off to get the non-porky croquettes.
This is a serranito, a €1 multi-pork sandwich with both serrano ham and a very thin piece of "pork steak", along with a padrón pepper and a piece of tomato. Simple and good, though both versions I tried benefited greatly from a generous splash of olive oil.
This is a lot of things. From left: another €1 pork sandwich that I can't remember the name of; a tortilla de bacalao, super; the plate of sauteed setas, great; the missing croquetas de setas.
Ensalade russe. El Capitan said I had to try this because it's on every menu. It is totally my kind of thing, but I was kind of saving my last bit of space for this:
Masita de chorizo. Another strong candidate for my favorite bite of the trip: it's a chorizoburger, invented a few towns over in Setenil. Pretty much just a fresh chorizo sausage made into a patty, fried, and served on a soft bun. €1.
Then, the walk home, back through the town and straight down the mountain this time, no dramatic scenery, just another 3.5km downhill, heading for Casa Mimosa and la siesta.
This is an often-NSFW, mostly gluten-free kitchen notebook that also occasionally threatens to turn into something else and fails, thus remaining its same old cryptic and superficial self. These posts begin to fail to explain (start at the bottom).