Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Coveting my neighbor's food

My mother loves to look at what other people are eating. We all think the grass is greener on the other side but my mom takes it to a whole new level. When our dog was still alive, she would take him for walks and brazenly look in the windows of restaurants in our Sucho-dong neighborhood in Seoul. Sometimes, she would even hold him up to the window so he, too, could see what people were eating. Who knows what the diners thought, seeing a middle-aged woman and a Yorkshire terrier watching them eat, but she didn’t care.

Weird tics diminish with each generation, so when I was in Madrid, eating with Anne at Maceiras at Calle Huertas, 66, I didn’t have the courage to stare full-on at the three boys eating at the table next to us. But I wanted to. Maceiras is a Galician tapas bar, Galicia being the region in the northwest corner of Spain, renowned for its seafood, and these boys were taking full advantage. Being on Huertas, a street known for its bars, Maceiras had an English menu (and a French one, and a German one), but Anne and I still had trouble picking our food. Our neighbors, on the other hand, had obviously hearty appetites and they ate wave after wave of food: a big bowl of razor clams, 2 plates of steak and French fries, and so many other things I couldn’t quite identify and so could only gaze upon with wonder.

Our meal itself was very good, but I think we could have benefited from their sure-footed expertise. It turns out an empanada in Galicia is neither a flaky turnover or a maiz tortilla filled with mole amarillo, but a bready, almost casserole-like dish in which some filling of fish or meat can be found in the middle. Hearty and I’m sure satisfying for a hungry Galician peasant, but not revelatory. Similarly, Anne and I felt just okay about the croquetas. There was nothing wrong with them, they weren’t greasy, but I think they must be like French fries here for Spaniards, standard and beloved and so they are on every menu.

The pulpo, or octopus, however, was excellent, meaty and succulent.

The mushrooms sautéed with jamon were also very good, though probably not as nutritious as we told ourselves they were, being one of the few vegetable dishes we ate in Madrid.

The restaurant was bustling, with plenty of tourists looking for good cheap food, but plenty of locals, too. It was busy but warm, and I loved its rough-hewn tables and even the amateur, unstylized bird on their bright green sign. I also loved how the wine was served in small white bowls; I just love drinking things in bowls. Must be my Asian blood.

Perhaps if I were as brazen as my mother, I could have asked those boys what they were eating or even asked for a taste, but sadly, I am not.

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