Thus far I have not had a good experience with Spanish food. Well, that’s not entirely true, not all of it has been bad. Tortilla (potato and egg tart) is generally nice and Spanish postres (desert) are pretty okay also. Perhaps it all depends on the places I have been frequenting to eat. For some reason I prefer to go to the grimier cafés around Barcelona. The ones at the corner of residential blocks with a games machine in the corner, ancient locals smoking fags at the tables, and stares galore for the extranjero (foreigner) who has wandered in and blurted out some flimsy Castilian. To me the charmlessness of these cafes is, well, charming. But one must beware of the noxious quality of bar food served at these places. Often the tapas will taste as if it has been sitting quietly in its section of the display case sponging up the odours of its neighbours, spending the day (the week perhaps, even the month) stewing and cross fermenting.
This confronted me a few days ago when I went into one of the only open bars I could find at 9am on a Saturday morning. When the stench of old cigarettes infused with every item of clothing I was wearing I knew that the bar was one of the charmless little hellholes in which I revel. I ordered a café americano and a croissant and took my place at the extreme end of the bar so as not to disturb the locals’ ecosystem. My coffee was acceptable, I don’t have high expectations of Spanish coffee it is what it is. My croissant, however, was not the delicious pastry I expected from an establishment such as the one I was in.
Evidently my pastry had been sitting in the display case, for god knows how long, right above some bacalao (cod) croquettes. Being kept out for too long in the same airless case as some codfish had transformed by croissant into the most peculiar little pastry. It had the texture of a loofah and the taste of some very unhappy codfish. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea but, between swigs of coffee internal retching, I managed to finish the sucker. But my masochistic meal experiences were not over.
Two nights ago while walking home after a long, aimless, ramble (like all my rambles) I was feeling particularly depleted of sugar stores and gained an instant craving for a coca-cola. This craving led me to another charmlessly charming bar a block away from the place at which I am staying. Staring locals: check, stench of cigarettes: check, games machine in the corner: check. Perfect. I hung my coat on the side of the fridge and walked up to the bar. I ordered a coke and then, for some stupid reason I decided to have a meal.
The cod croquettes did not appeal to me, nor did the lima beans with cod or any of the various cod dishes for that matter. The only option was a mix of olives, mini-gherkins and pickled onions that looked as though they had been fermenting in their oil under the lamps of the display case for days. I ordered them and instantly regretted it. I could no longer enjoy my coke because I needed to use it as a chaser for these toxic little bastards. It was a sizeable plate and I had but a toothpick with which to tackle it, nevertheless I managed to make progress and eventually complete all of them with a triumphant final swig of my coke I gathered my belongings and made for home.
Yesterday morning I woke with some vicious stomach cramps that chomped away at my insides. Ignoring them I spent the day in the centre of Bareclona, almost passing out on the train and having onset of nausea that I only managed to keep down through controlled convulsions and sheer determination. I thought it was the heat of the train and all my layers that had triggered the attack. I was wrong.
At night I sat down to dinner with my host family (Amelia and Josep) to a fantastic, freshly fried up tortilla. My favourite. I was doled out about half of the entire thing. I took my first mouthful, alarms bells shot off: I retched. ‘Oh god, oh god’, I thought, ‘Okay it is nothing, just pace yourself and drink water’. I enquired about the paintings on the wall as Amelia explained I took another bite, again I retched. ‘Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck’. There was no way I was going to get another mouthful down. There was only one thing left to do: ‘Perdoname, tengo nauseaso’ (Excuse me, I feel sick) was all I could manage. I threw up in my mouth, rushed to the bathroom and chucked.
Food poisoning. You fucking olives. I should have known you were as poisonous as you tasted..