Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day of Croquetas

Yesterday, I walked a lot more than I usually do: I went up to the EEA library the long way (the walk that takes a half hour instead of 20 minutes), rode my bike around a bit, and ambled around downtown. A lot. I haven’t been doing that much exercise lately. Everything in Granada is too close for an in-town bike ride, and it’s still hotter than the sun out in the middle of the day, making a ride outside of town seem like a terrible idea. Also, I keep meaning to join a gym, but I haven’t, because they are depressing and they make me just think of the RSF at Berkeley and how much I loved Total Athletic Conditioning, Abs and Back, and Cardio Kickboxing. Come to think of it, I was ripped! (I definitely, definitely had a six-pack under a layer of fat.)

But I digress.

Because what I mean to write about is this: yesterday, I had four different kinds of croquetas. This started off when I left the EEA library to go home and cook (it was my turn.) Oscar had left a note saying that he wasn’t coming home for lunch, which kind of messed up my day, because I had actually been so productive in that last hour before I left the library; I could have stayed another hour and worked. By the time I got home, of course, I was hungry and then by the time I ate there wasn’t enough time for me to get back to the library (even on my bicycle) and have enough time to request a book.

I ate some leftovers (salmorejo and tortilla de patatas) and noodled around for a little bit, mostly reading up on Anton van Wyngaerde and sixteenth century depictions of cities/trying to justify my academic reasons for existing, but then I got hungry.

What I had really wanted all along was spinach, so I sautéed up some onions, and added what fresh spinach we had. Naturally, it made a pitifully small amount of food, so I decided to stretch it by making a béchamel, processing the spinach and adding it, breading it, and frying it. Delicious.

In the evening (after moping around the house some more), I met up with María, the little 82-year-old lady who rents rooms out, and whom I know from my first visit to Spain five years ago, for tapas. We started off at the Salon 2004; I suggested it, even though it’s not my favorite, because she’s so ridiculously enthusiastic about it. The tapas there are always slices of ham (“very high quality!” exclaims María) and some kettle chips.

We continued to Regio, a bar in the neighborhood behind Puerta Real, very close to the Ayuntamiento. I had a tinto de verano (refreshing!) and María had a Rioja. All of the employees there know María, and the young guys there call her “guapa” and she gets a big kick out of it. At some point, on of the staffers brought over a plate with a couple of croquetas. “Try these,” he says, “they’re not like the usual croquetas here.”

So we did. They were vegetable, with onion and fried green bell peppers in them. They seemed to be based on semolina, or maybe even had a bit of cornmeal in them, instead of just regular flour. They were pretty good. They were just room temperature, though.

And then (even though we hadn’t ordered a second round of anything), they brought over another plate of croquetas. Those, apparently, were the real tapas: the first batch had just been to taste something different.

Round two was chicken croquetas, and they were the most chicken-laden croquetas I’ve ever had: I’ve definitely had croquetas that are purported to be chicken, but just taste vaguely of chicken fat. These had lots of shredded chicken meat in them, and were a much softer béchamel than the first, and were on the hot end of the warm temperature range. They were delicious!

We finished those, and (still on what would be our only round of drinks at the Regio) one of the cooks emerged from the back and asked María if she’d ever had the eggplant there. María answered that she hadn’t.

“I’ll taste you some,” said the cook.

So, we each had a fairly thick, but buttery soft and not at all bitter, lengthwise slice of battered, fried eggplant, served with a drizzle of molasses. Delicious.

And then it was off to Los Migueletes, a bar near Plaza Nueva that is always packed and in the middle of a row of restaurants that, from my understanding, are tourist traps. María popped her head into the kitchen and waved to the cooks, who I saw waving back, and then we staked out a spot. We ordered a round there (tinto de verano for me, again) and were handed what seemed to be bits of stewed white meat (this being Spain, I can only imagine that it was pork) in a bit of sauce, but María sent it back and asked for croquetas instead, which we were given in short order. “These are so much better for you than meat!” exclaimed María, without a hint of irony.

These were huge; each was about the size of a spring roll (not the kind in Chinese restaurants here in Spain; that’s a different blog entry altogether), Their crust was crisp and light, and the middle was an oozy, soft béchamel. There were a couple of tiny ham squares in the middle. Over all, it was a pretty good croqueta but frankly, I was pretty full by that point.

I may never eat croquetas again. Then again, there’s still some spinach béchamel in the fridge.


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