After penning my first entry in this series, I realized that we suffered through too many comical miscommunication situations in non-English-speaking restaurants, from randomly choosing a toast spray in a Parisian café and ending up with honey (which I can’t stand) to trying in vain to find something – anything! – that we could recognize on a German-language-only menu in Mainz (which did not turn out all that bad in the end) to the fairly recent mishap of Babylonian proportions. I am not sure if I’ll recount all of them eventually, but they may dominate the proceedings in this feature. Furthermore, this next story again features mushrooms, if in a slightly different role.
Natasha does not eat cheese or eggs. She obviously uses the latter in her own cooking, but if the food is not prepared by her personally, a whiff of either will send the dish back to where it came from (or make it my responsibility to consume it – which I often do not particularly mind). There is not a good explanation for her aversion, and I long ago just accepted it as one of those weird facts of life.
The important corollary to this is that our restaurant orders have to be vetted, lest they contain those undesirables. And when the waiter communication is in a language other than English, French or Russian, the vetting responsibility is solely mine.
On our very first day in Madrid – our very first day in Spain, as a matter of fact, – after a couple of hours of early-morning exploration of the Old City under brilliant azure skies, we sat down for brunch at some outdoor café on a leafy plaza. There weren’t too many patrons at that time of day; we picked a table in the shade and sat down.
The menu was in Spanish and contained no more than a dozen items, every one of which was denoted by a name (“Madrileño”, “Quixote”, “Diablo”, etc.) followed by a list of ingredients. Most of the items had the same ingredient listed first, which I confidently identified as mushrooms. Natasha wanted to consult the phrasebook, but it was languishing somewhere in our luggage at the hotel. I confidently assured her that I learned enough Spanish ahead of time and knew what I was talking about. I offered her a combination of mushrooms and something that I thought she would like and she accepted. Me, I did not want to have mushrooms, so I ordered one of only three choices that did not have that same ingredient listed – some sort of crepe con queso.
We also asked for bread rolls, which Natasha immediately went after on account of being hungry.
People at nearby tables were getting their food ahead of us, and I noticed that they all seemed to be getting omelets. I did not think I saw the word tortilla anywhere on the menu, so at first I thought that there must have been a separate omelet menu that we did not see.
Then, our food arrived. Mine was a pancake stuffed with cheese and some other ingredients, just as I divined from the menu (after all, French crêpe is used even in the US, and the Spanish word is spelled almost the same).
Natasha’s was an omelet, with all of the stuff that I figured listed for that particular type, but not a mushroom in sight.
That ingredient that appeared on most of the menu choices? Huevos. Eggs! Which also explained all of the omelets at the neighboring tables. Mushrooms in Spanish is setas.
We ended up with two dishes, each of which had something that Natasha did not eat.
I ate both of them. Natasha declined to take a chance on one of the remaining menu entries (which did not have either huevos or queso among its ingredients) and instead demolished all of the bread and asked for more.
We had no less than four tapas stops later that day, which helped her recover. Still, she has not let me forget that blunder to this day. She is not above saying huevos whenever she thinks I am being over-confident. It does not help that the word sounds way too close to an obscenity in Russian.
Memoirs, Travel Memories