Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ryan's First European Meal

As a little girl in France, I remember being allowed to get up and play between the appearance of each plate of food. Whereas in America, good manners demanded that we sit and listen to conversation and participate when invited, in Europe, the meal's time was so stretched that it was a mercy for even the best-mannered child to be allowed to get up from the table for some portion of it. We forget that we used to have lots of silverware because we needed a new one utensil for each dish... an upper-scale US meal consists of maybe some appetizers (and/or/including a soup or salad), a main course served with bread and a veggie side at the same time, and finished with dessert & coffee. In Europe, every dish is brought out in its own time, literally in its own dish. In Italy, every dinner had at least an antipasta, a salad, a pasta, a meat, a dessert and wine. So I'm used to meals that take 1-2 hours and restaurants where you're expected to linger long "at table." I was quite eager to share this side of my cultural upbringing with Ryan, who had never encountered the like. Last night, we got our chance!

In Spain, you've got to experience tastes of tapas, right? We'd decided Friday night would be it. I got up and made omlettes for all the boys (as we'd promised the first day...but then I was always too sick-feeling early in the morning), and then... had to go right back to bed. Dinner out seemed sort of an overly-optimistic goal... BUT God was merciful and we had quite the night on the town.

The Context: I ran into some fellow Drupalcon-ers (met Tuesday night at Moshe & Amy's) in Av. de la Catedral, and they told me where people were meeting for Tapas-dinner. Ryan, Balosz and Phillipe joined me and agreed to the plan, and we set out up Las Ramblas towards the address I had. That venue was crowded, though, and we were told we wouldn't get a table for at least an hour! So our fearless leader, Morten (known 'round here as 'the King of Denmark') led us on a march in search of food NOW. We followed somewhat reluctantly, having heard rumors of similar quests that turned into hours-long testings of muscular endurance... but this time, we found a place pretty quickly, and all of us piled in. We'd gathered followers on the way, so by now there were about 20 of us... and I was the only Spanish- speaker! Our host was very gracious, eager to please (I mean, who wouldn't be, with that much business at stake so "early" in the night!?)...and spoke no English. I played interpreter and negociator and we ended up with a sweet deal of 4 courses, drinks (wine, bottled water & beer), dessert and coffee for 25 euros (which is about $32 dollars). "All specialties of P. Vasco!" the server assured me. [Vasco is a region of Northern Spain tucked in the Pyrenees, called "Basque Country"] It was a hit all around, and people were declaring their affection and loyalty to "Mrs. Ubercart" afterwards, which was quite nice. =D Morten was especially glad when I asked them to bring out "mas cerveca" for the beer-drinkers, and they did.

The Meal:
First was tapas-- mostly spreads and meats we didn't recognize on baguette rounds, topped with olives or peppers. Yummy! Of course, there HAD to be chorizo, which is pork sausage-- it's so common the Spanish don't even count it as meat, but rather as a seasoning. I was a little wary of it; last time I ate it it left me vomiting with food poisoning for 3 days. But I figured it'd been 10 years; I needed to move beyond, lol. (so far, there's been no ill effects. =D)

Next came 'tortilla espanola'-- an omlette with in this case onions and parsley.

Third we tried a bean soup which was my favorite! I can't describe it... it was white beans and maybe some garbanzo beans. Flavored of course with chorizo.

And fourth came the main deal: thick-cut, rarest of the rare, steaks, served on sizzling stone griddles, for us to cut ourselves. All agreed that they were melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I haven't had the equal since Florence. I LOVE RARE MEAT!!! Ryan says from now on we'll order rare instead of medium... SO glad he understands my "unladylike" taste for "bloody" meat now!

Dessert was good, I'm told-- as it was cakes, I couldn't try it. On the whole, European cakes are drier and less sweet than their American cousins. Dessert came with Spanish coffee; tiny cups of expresso to be sweetened at your leisure-- strong and flavorful, but not bitter. I like it. :) Ryan surprised me and had tea.

Well, that was our culinary excursion. I REALLY want some paella before we leave, so we're going to try to find some tonight. Last night's waiter told be our group was welcome back any night, and that if I called him before hand they could make ANY menu we wanted, including paella (even though they had at first told us they didn't serve that there), so I guess we weren't a bad crowd. =D Speaking of our "crowd..."

Actually, though we enjoyed the food, most of my love for European culinary culture is due to the extended conversation it entails. The guys we've met at this conference are such characters! Most of them, I learned this morning, are part-time developers, meaning they do it on the side because they want to. THAT, I've decided is why they're such a diverse and fun group: they all are smart, but they do their nerdy thing only part-time. The rest of the time, they're in the real world, and that real world spans several continents and multiple countries. That many cultures rubbing shoulders when everyone is smart makes for very lively, interesting conversations!

And that, my readers, will be another post. :)
~Mrs. Übercart
PS- we only got 2 pictures of the whole dinner before the camera died. :(

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