I’m visiting my parents again. My dad is in a long queue for a new knee on the Spanish national health service, so after my conference I trotted a couple of hundred kilometres down the coast to boost his spirits by spending all his money.
I love Catalonia and Valencia a lot, and in theory I love Spanish food: their fruit and vegetables are all quite casually like the winners of some UK competition for growing for size, succulence and flavour at the same time. Their hard manchego cheese is excellent, and they can do a mean line in nuts and legumes. With that in mind, what you get in restaurants is often disappointingly meaty and fishy. They also have a longstanding and torrid relationship with ham, about which sadly Lévi-Strauss is no longer with us to write a fascinating if stomach-turning thesis.
We found out a few days in that a local restaurant, intent on spoiling their marvellous Greek salad with unadvertised jamon iberico, has finally, reluctantly listed it as an actually advertised ingredient on the menu. Ironically, though, this meant I felt comfortable going back. It seems an offence against propriety, to order something with itemized ingredients but then demand an absence of something not even listed; now it’s on there, I could ask explicitly for a Greek salad without that unGreek bacon in it.
At another restaurant yesterday I saw under “Bocadillos” (baguettes cut lengthwise and determinedly not French) the option “Queso” among the long, long list of meats and seafood. Already rather hungry, I decided that would have to do. The conversation went (roughly translated):
“Cheese baguette, please.”
[Consternation] “… What, just cheese?”
“I don’t know. It’s here on the menu.” [points]
[As though I was clearly yet sorrowfully entirely insane, but with the air of a last-ditch effort to convince me otherwise] “You just want cheese?”
[Worried I might get ham] “Yes, please.”
If my Spanish had been better, I might have added: it’s not my menu. It’s yours. The power is also yours to have a sandwich-based cuisine that permits more than one ingredient without throwing ham or fucking tuna all over the shop like you’re the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. I can’t dictate how you embrace and ultimately the international language of sandwich into your own local culture. But it was much easier to just say sí.
In the end, it was quite nice cheese. Could have done with some salad, mind you.