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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Dazzle Me with An Evening of Tapas in Madrid

A tinto in one of my favorites, Casa Paco

As my loyal readers (both of you) probably realize, I haven’t written in a while.  I know you’ve scratched your heads and tossed through sleepless nights, but there’s no need to worry.  I’ve been traveling and one of the places I traveled was to a small village of a few million people, nestled in the beating heart of Spain.  Everybody’s  heard about Madrid, the capitol of Spain.  Bullfights, flamenco dancing, Hola! and buenas dias.  Yes, but how about cuisine and quaint customs?

Spanish cuisine is not close to Mexican, or Peruvian, or Argentinian.  Nor is it close to German, or French, or Italian.  But rather than dwell on the broad spectrum, let’s concentrate on one little word you’ve probably heard before: tapas.  Yeah, I know, so-called tapas are so au current they’re served in mall-restaurants all over the U.S.  But, let me tell you, those are not the same tapas you’ll eat in Spain.

 Tapas are to Spain what hors d’oeuvres are to France, an endless variety of little tasty tidbits to accompany an afternoon slosh of beer or wine.  While you swap lies with friends, at a tiny table in an outdoor café, tapas help you keep your strength up.   You order a beverage and the cheery waiter brings you a small dish without you even asking.  Slices of chorizo, or cheese, some olives, or potato chips, a small slice of Spanish tortilla, or even some boiled shrimp.  Then there are more elaborate creations of fish and meat and vegetables, some made into pastes and others more recognizable.

Did I say "waiter" instead of "serving-person-who-could-be-either-sex"?  Yes, I did.  In Spanish drinking establishments, the servers are more than 90% men. I arrived at that statistic after hours and hours of careful research.

Time to stop for a moment and reflect on cuisine and culture.  In Spain, prime dinnertime is 10:30 at night.  Spaniards start off the day with a coffee and perhaps a pastry between 9 and 10 in the morning, often in the same bar they drank in the night before.  Then there’s a break for wine about 11.  Siesta arrives about 1 p.m. and lasts until 3.  Small shops close, and the back streets of Madrid, which are lined with small shops, look almost deserted.  Siesta is more than lunch and a nap.  It’s family time.  Important time.

All of this means when you eat lunch about 2 p.m. and wait until 10:30 p.m. for your next meal, something’s gotta give, which brings us back to tapas.

Tapa time is around 6 p.m. until 8.  You gather …. Wait a sec, where do you gather?  Ok, time for another digression:  Bars are not generally called bars in Spain, they’re called tascas.  Not hard to remember.  You eat tapas in a tasca.  Often you drink and nosh, then move on for another drink.  We call that tasca-hopping.  And in the morning, as I mentioned, they serve coffee and pastries.  So when a youngster tells his teacher, “My momma drops me off at the bus stop and goes to the bar,” he’s not spilling family secrets. it’s a grand idea, as a matter of fact, I…anyway…

Quick Spanish lesson.  Want a draft beer?  Ask for una caña.  How ‘bout a red wine?  Tinto.  White?  Blanco.  All come in a small size.
Tortilla Español
 A couple of paragraphs ago, I mentioned Spanish Tortilla.  So, what’s the diff?  A Mexican tortilla is thin and flat, made from corn, or wheat flour, while a Spanish tortilla is a thick, round omelet, with a filling of sliced potatoes, and large enough to share with a group of your favorite inebriates. Spanish tortillas are often served at room temp.

Now that you’ve got the rules and the lingo down, I’m looking at my watch and think it’s time to don those dark glasses, open the top button on the shirt, roll up the sleeves and hit the streets.  You need a little money, but not too much.  Uno tinto, or una caña will cost you about 1 to 3 Euros, and remember those little plates of tapa are usually free.  Oh, yeah, put that dazzling smile on your face! An evening of tapas in Madrid awaits! 

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