Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 2 (Part 5)

By the time we got back to Príncipe Pío, the sun had just about finished setting, and we were hungry. We found a local and busy looking restaurant to get some dinner. Unfortunately for us, we were once again surprised and caught off guard by the lack of English spoken in Spain, and we found that no one at the restaurant spoke English and they did not have an English menu. Luckily, Felix spoke German, and he had picked up his father's old German to Spanish phrasebook while visiting his father in Munich. After much debate and guessing, we discovered that the phrasebook, with a basic dictionary was no match for a typical Spanish menu, with its strange names for foods. When the server came, we just pointed at an item in the menu which appeared to be a dish meant for two people and ordered a cerveza for each of us. Over the next while, we would learn to start any order of food or drink with the word "cerveza."

The dish turned out to be a huge plate of tender, flavourful chunks of beef steak, some potatoes, and the most wonderful form of pepper I have had, later to be identified as a special variety of pepper called Pimentos de Padrón. These tiny Padrón peppers were pan fried in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, becoming very soft, juicy, and tender, some with small charred spots. It turn out this is the only way to prepare these delicate peppers and they are never used as an ingrediant in any other dish. The shape of the peppers was reminiscent of a slightly elongated habañero, and had very thin dark forest green walls. They were very flavourful and savoury, and had a slight sweet taste to them. Some of them were also slightly spicy. This combination of meat, starch, and a new and delicious vegetable was most welcome after a long day of walking and exploring. As a bonus, the beer came with a plate of olives, and as if having the best peppers I've ever tasted wasn't enough, these were the best olives I have ever tasted. These were tender and flavourful and was not sharp like the pickled olives I have previously tried and enjoyed. I loved these olives so much I ate every single one. I later found out that these olives were prepared by a traditional Spanish pickling method, curing them in a solution of white wine, shallots, and other spices.

When we returned to the apartment, we found our Couchsurfing hosts had lit candles all over their apartment and told us that Raquel had forgot to pay the electric bill... again. We spent the rest of the night chatting. It was this night that we picked up a great tip from Sebastian, a French Canadian, to visit Merzouga when in southern Morocco. He had a wonderful time there, and said his experience was surreal, as he had gone from hiking the freezing glacier fields of the high Atlas to trekking the burning heat of the sand dunes of the Sahara in a day. Unfortunately for us, we will not have time to hike in the High Atlas, but we decided we should seriously consider visiting the desert as Sebastian had indicated it was not far from Ouarzazate, our next destination.

Settling into our tiny room for the night, one sleeping on the bed and one sleeping on the floor, we filled up the entire floorspace and made it impossible for any of us to move around. We talked about the adventures we were going to have went to sleep dreaming of exploring the unknown.

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