I'm now about a week into my 3-month sojourn across Europe, and I've finally got a day to get to my own things. Good thing, too, as I'm starting to lose track of what day it is, never mind what I've been eating or details of where I've been. Last week, we hit our first Spanish city, Bilbao. Famous for the Frank Lloyd-Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao is a bustling port city in Basque country, so my limited Spanish proved to be not so helpful with Catalán.
On our day off, I spent most of it at my computer catching up on work e-mails and such, but around 9, I left the hotel to head out to meet some of the catering crew for tapas and drinks. Because, really, if you're going to go out for food, the caterers are a good group to go with. Especially when one of them, like Dave, lived and cooked in Spain for years. I met them in the old town in a square filled with tables of diners and drinkers. It was here that Jess introduced me to a drink that I now love. It's a Martini Rossi, which is really just sweet vermouth on ice, but on a warm night, it goes down very easily with its hint of orange.
We then took a stroll through the very un-North American winding streets until we spotted a restaurant that looked good. It was clearly a family-run operation, and the sign outside boasted their specialty of bacalao "pil-pil". What that is, is thoroughly rinsed salted cod that's been cooked in a way to release and congeal the natural fish fats and oils. Doesn't sound all that appetizing, but trust me. I am generally loathe to put anything gelatinous or fatty in my mouth, but the way the globules reincorporated back into the meat as you ate it worked very well. And cod fish oil is good for you, right? There were also generous bits of richly roasted garlic that provided a nice nutty burst of flavour.
Even as the evening progressed, I started to lose track of all the dishes we ordered, (nothing to do with the wine!) but here's what I remember. The fries that came with a few dishes were fantastic. I don't know what kind of potatoes they used, but they had an almost cassava-like starchiness inside a lightly crisp exterior. The rabbit was fly off the bone tender. The fat on the jamón absolutely melted in my mouth. And the group of old men singing songs at the bar were utterly charming.