gambas in malaga
Ugh, look at him. Leaves SF for one minute and starts introducing his newsletter in Spanish. Yep. Shamelessly so. Nabs, I know you’re going to call me out on this, so this is me preemptively ducking from your jab. See you in Lisbon?
I traded the luscious parks of Madrid for the sunny strip of Malaga on Tuesday. On the train, I realized I’ve been in this country for fifty-five days—definitely long enough to form some unsolicited opinions. At the behest of absolutely nobody, here are a few reflections:
Spicy food does not exist in this land 😢
My friend’s friend carries a little spice keychain with her when she visits restaurants here. When presented with an insufficiently spiced dish, she brandishes her concealed weapon and sprays chilli pepper onto her plate. If the offending dish lacks salt, she reaches into another compartment for a dose of sodium. I hear there are other sections for cinnamon and black pepper. Initially, I thought this was excessive but then a few of us ordered "extra spicy potatoes" at a bustling, locals-only tapas joint.
The waiter double-checked with us to confirm because they were allegedly super spicy. Muy picante, he said. We confirmed we could handle it. He looked at us like we were crazy but obliged. This man brought out boiled potatoes with a barely tingly sauce. We emptied the plate with ease and he glanced in equal parts confusion and admiration. I hope Carlos gets to enjoy the magic of spicy food someday.
Paella is a tease🥘
You ask her out and she says she’ll be twenty-five minutes late because she needs to get ready. Sometimes, she won’t come out unless there are two of you. As you wait for the prima donna to arrive, you munch on yummy croquettes, olives and jamón. The anticipation builds.
The dish finally arrives and after eating it, you’re left with an incomplete feeling: a song with a stunning intro but an off-beat chorus. A movie trailer that sells you a dream the film can’t fulfill. A semicolon of a dish. Meh.
I say this at the threat of deportation from this lovely country but it now sadly ranks outside my top ten savory rice dishes. Jollof, biryani, fried rice, and risotto do more for my taste buds. Forgive my heresy. If you feel sorry for me because I’m yet to taste the paella that made your knees weak, tell me in the comments where to go!
On the other hand, gambas al pil pil, their shrimp or langoustines sautéed in garlic and chili-infused olive oil is quietly impressive. Salty, garlicky, smoked flavors all work together to elevate the sweet shrimp to a worthy pedestal. No fuss but a bus-load of flavor. Worth their weight in gold.
Nobody cares what you do for work here🧑🏾⚕️
It’s a bit of a cliché but for good reason—life here is not centered around work. As long as you make enough money during the week to make it out to Sunday family lunch or beer with friends, people don’t seem to care what you do. Quite a change from SF where we all carried our titles and companies like auxiliary surnames, no introduction complete without a reminder that we did Important Thing at Important Place.
I thought I knew Bad Bunny. But being in a Spanish bar and seeing all four dimensions of a bar shake, razzle and dazzle when Tití Mi Preguntó comes on the speakers is a different beast. Class A drug. Would recommend.
Older people here know how to dress
It’s not that young people here can’t dress but more so that the post-fifty crowd seems to be playing this life video-game with a few cheat codes. My eyes have been blessed. A smattering of olive green pantsuits, brown tassel loafers, baroque headscarfs and patterned silk blouses. Braided belts, sweet orange camisas and boxy suits with crisp details. The streets parade their own universe of lesser-seen hues and tones. Rather beautiful.
Living in a country where you don’t speak the language🙊
I barely needed any Spanish in Barcelona. Everyone there spoke English and I knew enough food words to feel comfortable. Trying to figure out Catalan words with my high-school level French was a fun game. But in Madrid, you need actual Spanish to survive. Shocker, you need to know Spanish to live in Spain! Who would’ve known?
I, uh, never learned Spanish in school. So it has been an interesting challenge trying to learn enough conversational Spanish to order a coffee or ask for the bill. But I've been picking it up. The locals seem to appreciate the effort, the fact that I'm trying and so they are willing to help. That said, there was a wonderfully awkward moment when a grocery store attendant yelled at me in Catalan to pay her ten cents for a shopping bag. I couldn't understand what she was saying, but I knew she wasn't pleased. I paid and all was well in the world. At the time, it felt like a big deal but that too passed over. A reminder that we're more resilient than we often think we are.
Until next time 🤞.
Admin note: I’m trying out a new writing cadence. Going forward, you’ll hear from me every week - every two weeks you’ll get a standard essay and in the off week, you’ll get a note from my travels. Let’s see how this goes.
PS - if you enjoyed this piece, please let me know by liking the heart button. Muchas gracias!
If you want to read more essays full of Spanish slander and admiration in equal measure, subscribe below