I’ve written before about my disconcerting devotion to jamón, but there is one thing in Spain that I may love even more.  And sorry, Sergio Garcia, it is not you. Really, it’s not a concrete object, but a pleasure that is happily as everyday as it is simple: fresh baked bread.

There are breads that I miss from the US, like soft multigrain bread and the rosemary sea salt bread that is one of the best things of living around Seattle.  I’m still flip-flopping bread brands to solve the first dilemma and perhaps I will get the guts to try my hand at yeast breads in order to kill the second craving.  At least until transporters and replicators fall into my price range.

But it’s ok.  Because more than the act of eating bread (of which I am a professional), Spain has captured my heart by putting fresh bread in every ubiquitous mini supermarket, which means that popping into Lidl to buy super cheap Red Bull knockoffs is an opportunity to receive a warm scent-hug of yeasty goodness.

Technically, our apartment is on a rather severe diet that forbids bread.  But after only a week, my roommates discovered that Desa on a that diet is a vicious little monster, and bread has come back into my life.  But the ease of getting good bread here can actually be kind of dangerous.  The other day we stopped to pick up tomatoes for a salad and they had just finished baking up bread for the dinner shoppers.  The smell physically enveloped us, these dusky gold baguettes with pale underbellies, crunching softly in promise, still damp from the steam of baking, like the whisper of a lover.

We stared at the bread.  We stared at each other.  We left with four loaves.

I cannot count the times that Rosa and I have run in the door of the apartment with bread shouting feel it!  Feel it!  I am privileged to live with someone who is equally excited when the bread makes it home still hot and crunchy.  And in a greater stroke of luck, we celebrate this shared passion every Friday morning, with “un señor desayuno”, or a grand breakfast in the Spanish style.

This is an andaluza. They as a Spanish half-baguette and I love them.

This post is rather appropriate for me to be writing.  My name is a common prefix in Spanish, most particularly my nickname, desastre.   Thanks, Jose, for telling the brutal truth.  But besides demonstrating my penchant for destroying household items, as we’ve just seen, my name starts off the word that starts off your day: desayuno = breakfast.  I remember being overly impressed that desayuno is quite literally breakfast in that des is a prefix of negation with ayuno meaning fast.  When you’ve spent enough time learning a ton of new vocabulary, little lightbulb flashes of common bonds gratify more than you’d think.

While I was mentally playing with the word, I realized that you can break down the word artificially into the best restaurant name ever: Desa Y Unos, or Desa and some people.  I decided it was my destiny to open a restaurant cafe in Spain with some friends in order to gratify the fantasy that fate is governed by puns.  Mainly I would sell bagels to Americans, but we need to offer the Spanish breakfast that I will finally stop nattering on about and describe.  With pictures.

Coffee and toast.   That’s it.

Coffee is really not optional.

Wait, what?   That’s it?

In my opinion, you can stop talking right there.  My friend Victoria and I have often discussed that toast in its many varieties is in fact God’s perfect food.  She has made me a felt magnet to celebrate that law of nature, and it made the cut to Spain.  So you know that it’s true.

Mr. Toast gleefully mocks the diet with his delicious pat of butter.

But for the rest of you, never fear.  Spanish toast is not just my favorite because of my obvious freakishness about bread.  Grammar lesson: bread is el pan, but toast is la tostada.  No one knows why the application of heat changes gender, because I’ve asked.  You are either going to order tostada or media tostada – a mini loaf of bread sliced in half or one half of that mini loaf. These are the staple of the cafe breakfast, and really cheap.  In the bull head-bedecked bar where I sometimes eat breakfast at 11:30 with my coworkers, a potent coffee is 1.10 € and with toast it’s 1.60 €.

There’s a lot of different versions.  A friend of mine opts for margarine and lunchmeat ham, a professor at my high school insists on tinted lard with flecks of chorizo, another professor slathers hers with the marmalade made in Britain from the oranges off of Seville’s streets.  But the standard that I go for is the tostada that all others are measured against.  Let’s take a look.

Ok.  You have your media tostada.  What else would you drizzle on but olive oil?  Duh.  One of the tricks I was shown in my first few weeks here is to stab at the toast with your spoon or knife a few times to make some inroads for the oil – it soaks in more easily and the liquid gold seeps through the entire loafette.

Tomatoes! But not sliced tomatoes. No no no.

This is the real labor of love of the perfect tostada.  You grate that sucker. Tomate rallado is just that; you take a tomato and rub it against a grater until you have something that’s not tomato sauce, not tomato paste, but fresh and bright.  It can be a pain in the ass when you have more than people breakfasting, but the texture is completely distinct and worth the physical effort.  I can say this, because on our Friday morning extravagant breakfasts, I’m the one who wakes up first and lines everything up.  So try it.

Pretty, isn’t it? Sprinkle a little salt on top and you can stop and enjoy a breakfast of Iberian champions.  Or…

Come on.  You cannot be surprised about this.  Yes. Jamón.  This is the cheapy version of it that I bought at El Jamón grocery store expressly for Friday breakfast.  It’s not as good as straight off the leg ham, but a girl has got to get her fix somehow.

Now, here is another version of tostada that is super, super Andaluz.  And I could not write about toast and leave this out, unless I wanted my roommate Jose to stop talking to me.  How many of you have ever eaten toast with cinnamon sugar?  This is the Spanish version.  Guess what it involves…

Yep.  Olive oil.  Good little boys and girls in the south of Spain breakfast on toast with olive oil and sugar.  And while this kind of weirded me out when I heard it the first time…it is actually really good.  Sometimes olive oil can be a bit acrid, or at least firmly in the savory category.  But the combination with sugar is excellent, and really, think about cinnamon.  It also has that kind of acrid, not-quite-bitter character.  We’re thinking along similar lines, people.

To finish off my grand love letter to toast, I have to nod to the town where I work, Alcalá de Guadaíra. It’s one of the larger pueblos of Sevilla and has an awesome castle lurking up in the hills.  But it is most famous for it’s river, the Guadaíra.  Artists during the romantic period would flock there to paint appropriately picturesque, drawing room type paintings, especially since it is part of the Washington Irving Trail.  But the river was much more important much much longer ago.  The river was perfect for mills, back when the country was known better as Al-Andalus.  For hundreds of years, Alcalá supplied Sevilla with bread, the flour ground in the riverside mills.  Seriously, the town as called Alcalá de los Panaderos, or Castle of the Bread-bakers.  Even today in Sevilla you can see shops bragging that they carry bread from Alcalá.

This is a mollete.  It is a softer bread, squishy and almost cheerful, if that makes sense.  Normally, molletes are round, and you can certainly find them in that shape.  But this is the distinctive, we-are-special Alcalá molletes.  And they are mighty tasty.

Now if you excuse me, my toast is getting cold.

Ok, just one more picture.


4 Responses to “Breakfast!”

  1. 1 Susan A. March 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Yes, we often told Victoria when she was small, “Toast is nature’s most perfect food.” So true.

    So, why is there a Washington Irving Trail in Spain?

    • 2 desasdishes March 26, 2011 at 8:25 am

      Washington Irving went on a travel writing trip throughout Spain, but mostly Andalucia. The most famous record of it is his book, Tales of the Alhambra. He basically wandered around, talked to people, drank, and crashed in a centuries old palace. Then wrote a book about it. I’d like that life.

  2. 3 Marianín April 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Ey… nice article… I will show you how to prepare a avocado toast. Ah… and another really good one, olive oil and honey. Delicioussssss….

    • 4 Marianín April 8, 2011 at 6:46 pm

      … an avocado toast … 😦

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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