Damn, still not Spanish enough!

Spanish Tortilla Tapas

I just popped out to a favourite local bar, where my favourite barman, super-friendly, 50-ish, thick white hair and humour as dry as a brick, brings in his home-made tortilla every day.

Un pincho de tortilla’, I said, ‘but don’t heat it up, I’ll have it just as it is’.

I’m not fond of microwaved tortilla, so usually add this specific request.

‘Si si,’ he replied, followed by some incomprehensible mumbles, and two minutes later, I was presented with an enormous slab of steaming microwaved Tortilla.

Damn. At this point it dawns on me that the mumbles I’d missed in his earlier reply must have been something like ‘Si si,…but you can’t eat it cold, it’s much better heated up.’ Subtext: you don’t know what’s good for you, I’ll bring you your tortilla how you really want it, piping reheated-hot!

Now, if I was Spanish enough, I would a) have complained at this point and demanded what I’d asked for, namely cold tortilla, and I suppose b) understood what he’d mumbled in the first place! I like to convince myself that after 11 years I’m pretty much 99% bilingual in terms of understanding spoken Spanish, but this guy’s mumbles cause me no end of trouble!

The real issue here though, is the incredibly well-intentioned ‘you don’t know what’s good for you’ subtext that led to the hot tortilla (which was very nice in the end, of course). It happened earlier in the year when I was in the same bar with my father.

Dad wanted a ham and cheese bocata (roll). ‘Una bocata de jamon iberico con queso manchego’, I asked my white-haired mumbling barman friend.

‘Ha, yeah, right!’ he answered, with a look of wry disbelief on his face, ‘Jamon iberico and cheese in the same peice of bread? Are you mad? Jamon York and cheese yes, but certainly not Iberico! There are some things you just don’t do!’

‘Errr, a jamon iberico bocata and a seperate plate of manchego cheese then?’ I ventured nervously…

Asi es, now you’re talking,’ he smiled, and that, of course, is what we ended up with.

The universe could rest in peace, things had been restored to how they should be. Iberian ham and manchego cheese together, yet separate, como Dios manda.

If I was just a little bit more Spanish after all these years of concerted effort, I would have know that in the first place!

Oh well, maybe after another 11 years…

24 thoughts on “Damn, still not Spanish enough!

  1. Annie Bennett

    All too familiar scenario. One of my greatest achievements years ago was convincing the owner of our favourite economico in Madrid to make a tortilla de trigueros y queso. Asparagus AND cheese, in the same omelette? Oh yes, and with chips too. But not four chips, lots of chips… and HOT chips, if it’s not too much trouble.
    Have you tried Carles Abellan’s revamped ham and cheese sandwich using jamon iberico and mozzarella when in Barcelona? Fab, but think it’ll be a long time before it filters down to the bars here in Madrid.

      1. Annie Bennett

        At another long-gone economico in Chueca back in the 80s, we once asked the waiter where our extra portion of chips had got to, only to be told “The cook has just put them outside to cool down”.
        Re ordering dos primeros,I have never met with any resistance there…

  2. Marta

    Ha, ha, your barman is a genius! I guess you’re one of his favourite customers, otherwise, why would he bother changing things? And I agree: Iberian ham and manchego cheese together, yet separate (juntos, pero no revueltos) 🙂

      1. ValenciaSon

        Would it be too acerbic to tell el señor that you have already decided what is best for yourself? I mean this kind of behavior gets my New Yorker in me, up.

  3. EntrepreneurSolo

    However many times you ask for steaming hot milk in your coffee in Valencia it always comes lukewarm because it is better for them and you. In Asturias where I used to live you could happily chat for an hour and still burn your tongue when you try it.
    What’s the difference?
    Maybe they do it subconsciously because of the climate.
    Therefore it is winter, dip ergo sum (sic), the tortilla needs to be hot.

  4. sihaya

    As far as I know, not mixing iberico and cheese (or several things, as asparagus and cheese) in the same bocadillo is only “forbidden” in Castilla. In Valencia we happily mix jamon, queso, tomate…whatever you may think of is good “entrepa” (between bread, literally translated and valencian for sandwich)

  5. Ben Curtis Post author

    By the way, there are now ‘nested comments’ here, so you can reply directly below a persons comment, without having to do all the @ business lower down… if that makes sense!

  6. American Girl

    I remember going to a restaurant and I wanted two items off of the “primero plato” list instead of one from it and one from the “segundo”. Long story short . . my request was denied.

      1. Pippa

        I had a menĂş del dĂ­a last week in a place where there were probably about 150 people at the time, I asked for two first courses and had no problem at all.

  7. Kaley

    I ordered gazpacho a while back when all my (American) friends and I were out to dinner. I didn’t want menu del dia, as I wasn’t very hungry, so I just ordered the soup. The waiter told me, “You do know this is cold, right?” with a very skeptical look in his eyes. When I only hate 3/4 of it, he took it away, saying, “See, I told you you wouldn’t like it”!!!

    Sometimes I think accent, especially American accent = you do not know what you are talking about in regards to Spanish cuisine.

  8. Richardksa

    Re chips: I keep threatening to start a school to teach Spanish cooks how to make proper chips amd not the greasy, wriggling worms that they usually serve!
    Re tortilla: I thought my friends would club together to deport me when I put peas in the tortilla!
    Re mumbling: Oh heavens yes! After a long intercambio where I slapping myself on the back for having maitained a long conversation in Spanish, I was approached by someone asking directions and understood nothing. I was quite depressed until I realised that the Spanish mumble a lot. This definitely includes the teenage children I live with.

    1. ValenciaSon

      I swear the chips I tried in several different locales in Valencia did not suffer that wormy condition you describe, Richard. Of course, I’m talking back in the 80s.

  9. Lee

    I had a half hour argument years ago with the owner of a bar in Malasaña. I didn’t want Fanta orange with vodka, but orange juice (that nasty bottled kind but whatever.)She flat-out refused and said it wasn’t on her official price list so she couldn’t serve it. And then there’s the place in Lavapies that has Bloody Marys on the drinks list, but won’t add Tabasco. “It’s too expensive”. I swear I’ll show up one day with my own bottle…..

  10. Michael

    This reminds of the movie ‘Five Easy Pieces’ back in the 70s with the scene of Jack Nicholson trying to order toast.

    From Wikipedia:

    The movie’s most famous scene takes place in a roadside restaurant where Bobby tries to get a waitress to bring him a side order of toast with his breakfast. The waitress refuses, stating that toast is not offered as a side item, despite the diner’s offering a chicken salad sandwich on toast. Bobby appeals to both logic and common sense, but the waitress adamantly refuses to break with the restaurant’s policy of only giving customers what is printed in the menu. Ultimately, Bobby orders both his breakfast and the chicken salad sandwich on toast, telling the waitress to bring the sandwich to him without mayonnaise, butter, lettuce, or chicken, culminating in Bobby’s responding to the waitress’ incredulity at his order to “hold the chicken” with “hold it between your knees!”

  11. espanglish

    When I lived in Seville, I had a similar experience in a bar where we had ordered something served over toast. The bread was burnt to a crisp and getting such an argument about what could and couldn’t be considered burned.

    All that aside, I just adore Spanish barmen. I like their attitude much better than overly chirpy American waitresses who tell you what medications they take for their bipolar disorder long before they ever ask what you would like to eat.


  12. RHE52

    New to the forum/NFS. ¡HOLA TODOS! Just a quick question really for Ben Curtis. Regarding this article titled “Damn Still Not Spanish Enough” wherein you posted a picture of a (wonderfully, scrumptious) tortilla. Would you mind telling me where / which bar they make such wonderful looking tortillas?? (We have visitors coming soon and would love to take them there.) ¡MuchĂ­simas gracias!

    Un saludo cordial.

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