Free-Floating Hostility

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Adventures in Mystery Meat

That one summer I spent in Spain when I was twenty has provided me with a quanitity of fond memories disproportionate to the short time I spent there. Those fond memories do not, however, involve Spanish food. I've had lovely food in the home of Spaniards, but the public fare is awful--at least the fare I could afford, even in the innocent days of the peseta. Take Italy, deep fry it, hide shrimp in the pockets, and you've got Spain. That's why when I went out to eat, it was almost always to a Cuban restaurant in the tourist section of Seville. Habanita (Little Havana, if you're illiterate), served fresh vegetables and unblushing mojitos, and that was enough. I usually went there with the other foreign students, especially Sacha, a friend with whom I failed to keep in touch, but whom I remember most fondly.

Now, the trick was the menu. The whole point of our tenure in Seville was to learn Spanish, so we were not about to go asking the waiters to translate. That restricted our choices to dishes we could recognize. One night, Sacha was stuck on the question of whether or not to order something called juevas plus a lot of modifiers. Juevos would have been slightly more informative, but as most of Spanish food involves egg it was really no protection against ordering a haggis tortilla. "You know," I cautioned, "In the States, juevos can be slang for testicles. You might be ordering balls." But in the end, Sacha was non-vegetarian and Dutch, so she decided just to order the juevas and see what came.

What arrived on Sacha's plate was an unclassifiable hemisphere of white animal protein. We all stared at it for a few seconds, then Sacha picked up her fork ate a morsel with a great show of fortitude. "What is it?" we practically screamed. "It's okay," she said musingly. "But, you know, I think it's brains." She finished about a quarter of it.

When I got home that evening I consulted one of the large dictionaries which littered the apartment that the school rented for its foreign students, and discovered that the feminine juevas means fish eggs. I was a little disappointed.

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