Ah tapas! A benefit of living in Andalucia is that it remains one of the few areas of Spain in which tapas are served free with wine, beer and mosto (grape juice). And there’s nothing better to mop up one too many Barbadillos or that risky glass (or three) of costa than some ‘carne en salsa’ with bread, a mini-paella, a few chunks of battered merluza (white fish), or a small plate of Russian salad... although the quality of one’s ‘tapita’ can prove variable.
Alas, there are some forms of tapas that are tricky for the squeamish English expat to stomach, although I can only speak for myself – others may be braver. “It’s a gift,” the father of my children once told me when a plate of large prawns arrived at the table. “You’ve got to eat it. It’s rude not to.” Well, heavens forbid, I mistrust most seafood and anything that resembles a large insect is a no-no in my gastronomic world. Thus the prawns had to be discarded discreetly. Furthermore, I don’t enjoy being served (a) small, low-grade sausages in tomato sauce that resemble slightly damaged mini-penises – a current regular in one local bar - or (b) tough old goat. Although cerdo (pork) is a local favourite, sometimes the carne stewed in the salsa is of debatable origin. Talk about an unwanted gift... how do we deal with it to avoid offending respected members of the Spanish community, such as bar owners? Unfortunate dilemmas can unfold...
After I ordered a round of drinks in a local bar the other night, a huge plate of carne en salsa with chips arrived for the adults and ninos. But - urgh - it tasted about as enticing as the sole of my shoe after a walk on the dusty campo. “What is it,” I asked my companion, suspiciously. “Is it rabbit?” “No,” he laughed. “It’s goat. You have to eat it.” I grimaced. “Why don’t you eat it,” I huffed, “we can’t leave it all on the plate.” After failing to bribe the kids to consume some “old goat”, I speculatively eyed a customer’s small dog that was sitting under a table nearby. And then I wrapped a few chunks of the meat in a napkin and furtively shoved them on to the floor under our table. “How childish,” said my companion, visibly tutting at me and looking as if he might blow my cover. When I visited the loo, the dog came over, tried to eat this delightful package and choked. Oh dear!
Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident of ‘tapas trauma’ during the last week; or of errors of judgement concerning animals. Two nights later, I decided to take my boys (aged 19 months and three) and their half sister (aged seven) for a suppertime walk to the play park and then for ‘una tapita’ at another local bar. Fuelled by sugary treats, the kids merrily rolled around the play park, covering themselves in dust and grit. We then headed to the bar, where somehow the grit from the play park ended up all over a chair, conveyed by my bemused three-year-old. If this wasn’t enough to thrill the owner, the kids soon spotted a couple of stray cats and were enchanted by them. “Cat, cat!” said my 19-month-old excitedly. The seven year-old, trying to be helpful, quickly transferred our baked potato tapas, which was covered in allioli (garlic mayonnaise), on to the pavement for the cats’ delectation. Unfortunately, the cats’ impromptu supper was served indiscreetly in front of a window behind which the owner was lurking. Meanwhile, both glasses of mosto and vast swathes of allioli were spilt on to the tablecloth by the over-excited kids, who were concentrating on ‘los gatos’ and not on personal coordination. The owner emerged from the bar, surveyed the devastation in front of him, and started ranting in a strange ‘Spanglish’ combo that it was “no normal”, which was fair criticism, and then added a few comments about “wild animales”. Did he mean us or the cats? I really wasn’t sure. Feeling extremely sheepish, I herded the children home – after all, it would be easier to eat some tinned Ravioli from England in the safety of my own home than to perform an unwelcome version of “Animal Farm” in public.
My nerves were so bad after this excursion that it was necessary to procure a small bottle of post-bedtime costa from a little bar safely around the corner – the owner of which we’ve managed not to offend. Yet.