I ate a lot in Spain, I think it’s a regulation or something that visitors be inundated with a cornucopia of delicious foods at all times of day. I was on a culinary blog trip to the Costa Brava region of Spain, along the country’s northeast coast, and our hosts made sure we never wanted for a good meal. Many of the food encounters were on the fancy end of the spectrum, but true to form my favorite meal of the trip was probably one of the most simple. It was also a meal that taught me more about Spanish hospitality than any other experience on the trip. It was the afternoon we spent at a fisherman’s hut along the beach.
The hut is really a small building with a kitchen and modest living quarters and nowadays usually isn’t owned by fishermen, not really. Instead they’re owned by families and friends who use the small shacks as a coastal getaway and a spot to make amazing meals to enjoy together. It’s a great concept and the fact that we were invited to join just one such set of friends for an afternoon meal was a tremendous and unique honor.
The owners had been preparing for hours by the time we got there. I never really learned who was who and who owned what, but I got the impression that everything was a collective. I walked over to the edge of the large patio and watched the waves crash onto the shore, it was another beautiful day on the Costa Brava and even though it was the middle of the week many people were outside enjoying the weather. It was the whiff of something delicious cooking, a smell I couldn’t place that eventually brought me back to reality.
I walked over to the kitchen and narrowly avoided crashing into one of our hosts and the lead chef who was carrying out platters of appetizers. Prawns, a snail like creature and the most amazing deep fried onions I’ve ever had emerged from the steamy kitchen. When topped with a little freshly made aioli, the onions especially were culinary heaven. I could’ve eaten them all day, which when combined with the aioli made me completely unfit for conversation. Throughout the afternoon everyone talked, laughed and just enjoyed being alive. It was a remarkable thing to be taken into someone’s home like that and shown the highest level of kindness and hospitality imaginable. There aren’t many times when that will happen on a trip and I made sure to savor every moment of it.
Before I knew it though it was time for the main event, the Catxoflino.
Even though seafood isn’t my thing, and the hosts were kind enough to make a delicious chicken for me, I could appreciate the beauty of the Catxoflino. It’s a simple assemblage of langoustines, sausage or meatballs, mushrooms, onion and of course olive oil, but like any classic dish the magic of it rests with the individual flair added by the chef. In our case the chef was incredibly experienced and passionate, the best combination when talking food.
The rest of the meal was a blur of good food, great wine, sunshine and a lot of laughter. I was relaxed in a way that I hadn’t been before in Spain and happy in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. After a lot of wine had been drunk and the final remnants of the dessert had been consumed, two of our hosts surprised us when they picked up a guitar and sat in the corner strumming and humming.
If you haven’t heard it before, the classic or Spanish guitar has a personality to it that no other stringed instrument possesses. It is undulating, soulful and dynamic. Matched with a baritone vocalist, as was the case on that sunny afternoon, the effects of this melodic instrument are amazing. The two gentlemen began performing, one on guitar and the other singing along, and went through a variety of Catalan songs. Some were sad, some were moving and others were upbeat prompting the audience to clap along.
I sat there under the shade, sipping some wine and relaxing. I was happy, truly happy and I couldn’t point to any one cause. The food was great, the company even better and the hospitality surpassed anything I could have hoped for. It wasn’t any one of these things; it was all of them as they came together to create the perfect afternoon. I also know it was one of those random travel moments impossible to plan and impossible to duplicate and I wanted to soak in every second before it necessarily came to an end.
Have you had random travel moments of happiness? What were they?