In Feasts for All Seasons — the book that sparked my interest in international cuisine — author-gastronome Roy Andries de Groot tells the story of a French priest so obsessed with food that his exasperated bishop exiles him to England. I am telling this from memory, having read the book over 40 years ago, so I beg forgiveness if I stray a bit from de Groot. It was the run-off to Christmas and the bishop had hoped that the insipidity of English food would be just penitence and cure the priest once and for all of his wicked gluttony. Weeks pass and one day the bishop gets a frantic letter from the priest: Father, get me out of here, if you value my soul! The food is, as you rightly predicted, indeed rightful penance for my sins. But oh… the puddings, the puddings! These rich English puddings – they will be the death of me!
Our lunches here in Southern Catalunya over the past days have been rather like those English puddings, though not as heavy nor cloying – well-flavoured, overwhelming fresh, and lovingly made with local ingredients. And they are not, at least to the locals, anything extraordinary. They are the stuff of daily lunches — menu del dÍa is apparently an institution established during the Franco era to ensure that all, especially working people, would be able to enjoy at least once a day a well-prepared meal, and at an affordable price. Our samplings ranged from 10 – 20 Euro per person, and that included a whole bottle of wine or large bottle of water or any other drink you prefer, on top of a starter, a main dish, and dessert. And sometimes a salad as well. The most expensive meal that we had was a menu turistica, and that was still a very reasonable 26 Euro.
After several lunches like these, I couldn’t contemplate any food in the evening, other than a piece of fruit. The menu del día certainly encourages one to go native: after such generous imbibing of wine, a siesta most definitely was in order. As the saying goes, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun. Nevertheless, too much of a good thing was just that, so M and I decided to be penitent about our rather low-key gourmandise, and have a light lunch on Sunday. We’d bought some romaine lettuce, tomatoes, a red pepper, just sliced them – no fancy cutting up into salad — and sprinkled them with local olive oil and equally local wine vinegar. Something must have been in the lettuce, as M didn’t eat any of it, but that night, I had the most excruciating gastritis. I finally managed to sleep after taking a pain killer, but my tummy remained tender all of the next day.
Lesson learned: penitence does not always work out as expected.
I might just have to go back to menu del dÍa, and definitely the food in Mestral in Ametlla de Mar is worth going back to.