I was a junk food-isolationist eater before I went to Spain for a semester in my junior year. “Sheltered” was an understatement. My biggest eating adventure was putting ground black pepper on my potatoes (please refer to blog: http://www.keepmaryoutofthekitchen.com/blog/no-potato-famine-here from March 17, 2015).
But I am social, so I went out and drank little beers, “cañas”, with my friends. When you get a caña, una cañita, a little beer, you are also served a tapa, as a snack to buffer the beer.
Besides being a sheltered eater, I was, and am, also extremely self-conscious and worried about offending people, so when the nice bar tenders set a little plate of food in front of me, I ate it. A potato chip with an anchovy reclining on it like Goya’s Maja? Crunched in my mouth and washed down with that cañita. A sardine? Dang! “¡Una caña mas!” to swallow that.
One blessed day, though, a bit of tortilla española was placed in front of me, golden, and yellow, blonde and beautiful. It was a perfect blend of potato, egg, and a sweetness of onion. Spectacular. I forgave the sardines, even the anchovies, because of this potato revelation.
I was relentless, drinking beers just to get more tortilla. Of course, I could have just ordered some, but that seemed almost like cheating. Plus, I was learning about foods that had never crossed the threshold of my mouth. So, I went bar to bar, drinking and eating.
One day after class, I went to a bar with two friends, one from Puerto Rico and one from Argentina. We settled against the bar, ordered “tres cañas” and waited. I sighed when a small white plate with sardines was placed in front of us. I had learned that the fresh sardines off a grill were tasty but these ones from a can…I sighed and small, “Ohh…” escaped.
My friend said, “You know, you can ask for something else? What’s your favorite?”
My friend stopped the waiter, “Could you please change out the sardines for a little tortilla?” she asked, the “ll” seduced to skip happily with her Argentinian accent. The waiter willingly whipped the sardines away and came back moments later with a plate with three little portions of tortilla perched on slices of baguette.
“Who eats potato on bread?” I thought, my mom’s worries of carbohydrates suddenly overwhelming my desire for the tortilla. The waiter saw my hesitation and encouraged me with a scooping motion of his hands toward his mouth. Who was I to disappoint?
I slid the slice of bread holding the tortilla off the plate and into my hand and carefully lifted the treasure to my mouth. And lo! The bread enhanced, did not take away from the glorious creaminess of the tortilla. The crust of the bread complimented the barely there edge of the tortilla, a balance so perfect that even the caña was forgotten for a second.
Oprah talks about “aha” moments. This was life changer for me. That I could ask for what I wanted and it could be given to me in the form of potato and bread.