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WriteIt! 2009 Winning Entry

Justin Gruss (26/06/2009)

My experience of ‘the real Spain’

It was a late summer’s afternoon on the iridescent shores of the Costa del Sol, and promenading along the picturesque seafront with my family, I suddenly picked up what can only be described as a ‘heavenly smell’. It was a strong, enchanting seafoody aroma which powerfully enriched the salty sea air. Mesmerised, I surveyed the area for the provenance of this mouth-watering smell, yet there was not a restaurant in sight. My stomach grumbling, I knew I had to find the restaurant from which this tantalising temptation was coming. So, trusting the instinct of my nose, I began to lead my family down a narrow, dimly lit alleyway!

After a five minute walk, we were on the brink of turning around in bitter disappointment as the path ahead seemed lifeless. However, I protested that we must continue as the smell of seafood that had led me here was something special. Whether it was my stomach talking or my inquisitive nature at play, I knew I had to continue.

Another couple of minutes had passed before some light finally appeared up ahead. Excitedly, I dashed ahead of my family. Then, turning the corner, transcending the barrier between light and dark, I halted in my tracks, speechless. It was at this point that I had my gastronomic epiphany, for in front of me was what looked like the set from a movie. It was the most beautiful, quaint little village I had ever seen, in which several small restaurants had been set up presumably to cater for the locals. Free from tourists, the peace and quiet was music to my ears, with the only sound being the distant simmer of a grill. All I saw around me was perfection; it was a paradise of traditional Spanish culture and cuisine.

Still entranced by this eutopia of culinary magic that my family and I had stumbled upon, we eagerly decided which restaurant to dine at. From the five that we could see amongst the fairytale backdrop of archaic villas, we followed the demands of our stomach and went to the closest, invigorated by the intense aromas of fresh lobsters, crabs, scallops and more, which beckoned us in.  

Like small children, we entered the nameless restaurant in silence, mesmerised by the mythical aura of the building. To me, this restaurant and indeed the whole village resembled the true, rustic Spain for which the country used to be known. Despite the shorts and t-shirt which I happened to be wearing, I truly felt like a local.

Upon sitting down, we were promptly greeted by a friendly waiter, dressed fittingly in traditional Spanish costume. Somewhat surprised to see tourists, it was clear that he was excited by the chance to put some of his English into practice as he took our drink’s orders and handed out the menu. Studying the astonishingly large menu, I realised that all the dishes were described in Spanish, again somewhat predictable taking into account our surroundings. Despite this setback, there was one dish that stood out, and that was the ‘paella’. Having learnt about it at school, I was intrigued to try it for real, and so I ordered it not knowing what to expect, my family the same.

Fifteen minutes later the waiter comes back carrying three unbelievable plates of food, unlike anything I had ever seen before. They can only be described as works of art; they were beautiful in every single way. Every type of seafood known to man had somehow found its way onto the plate, providing a stunning contrast in colours between the likes of the vibrant pink of the prawns, and the perfect whiteness of the squid. However, I will never forget the moment when I put the first spoonful of paella into my mouth. It was a moment of sheer euphoria which sent my palate on a rollercoaster ride. First I got the sharp zing from the lemon infused rice, which was then quickly followed by the tender crunch of a succulent prawn and then the intense richness of a fresh king-size mussel. As if this weren’t enough though, every mouthful that followed seemed to bring a different flavour again, somehow beautifully complementing the last.           

As I continued my meal, I believed that I must have stumbled upon one of Spain’s bestkept secrets, for this little village had given me a gastronomic experience that I would never, ever forget!


Author: Justin Gruss Email:

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