Friday, January 7, 2005

good bread

The Spaniards are very serious about certain things. Here’s a brief list:

1. Flamenco
2. Football
3. Paella
4. Coffee
5. Wine
and, believe it or not…
6. Bread.

Yes, bread. They like it crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. (The hard-crust bread drives Heather crazy, by the way. She says it hurts the roof of her mouth just to eat the stuff sometimes.)

In Barcelona, there were two kinds of “subway sandwich” restaurants located right in the busiest section of town. One of those places was the “Subway” chain from the United States, featuring their trademark soft bread. The other place was the Spanish version of “Subway” called “Pans & Co.” To give you an idea of the difference: “Pans” had an ad campaign back in 1998 that boasted about the quality of its bread. The ad featured a picture of Groucho Marx wearing thick spectacles that were spider-web-cracked. I forget the exact caption under the picture, but the gist of it was that “Pans & Co.” served bread so crunchy it would shatter your glasses.

And this was a good thing.

The crunchy-on-the-outside bread is so desirable, in fact, that the American “Subway” was put out of business.

Yes, Spaniards are serious about their bread. On any given morning, if you happen to see a Spanish worker taking his morning break, you would most likely see him eating a cheese or jamón serrano sandwich that is still partially wrapped in tinfoil. Of course, it has to be the right kind of bread to make the best kind of bocadillo.

On a Sunday afternoon, if I time it right, I could take a walk down to our local shopping mall and join every other Spaniard in the neighborhood in a queue that stretches from one side of the atrium to the other. Judging from the length of the line, you might assume everyone was lined up for the Batman ride at a Warner Brothers theme park. But they’re not: they’re lined up for (you guessed it!) fresh bread.

On this point, I must confess: there is nothing like warm Spanish bread pulled right off of the baker’s cart. One loaf costs a mere sixty cents and upon breaking off a small piece and placing it in your mouth, all your senses are heightened (hearing included, I swear it!). Sometimes, I will buy three big loaves for our small group lunch on Sunday’s and close to one of those loaves will be eaten before we even sit down to the table! So, yes, I too can be seen lining up with every other Spaniard at just the right time for good bread. (In fact, one time I needed around a dozen loaves of bread. The funny thing is: the clerk didn’t even blink an eye. She probably just thought: “It is good bread, after all. Why wouldn’t someone want to buy enough to build a raft for four out of it?”)

Now: I have always known that Spaniards were serious about their bread, but this point was driven home even more to me the other day when I was in a café with Nic. We were waiting to go across the street to the police station for an appointment and I was enjoying a cup of café con leche (which, by the way, warrants another journal entry). It was morning, and in this café they had a television tuned in to the news.

You need to know that news programs in Europe tend to be a bit more “serious” and comprehensive than news programs in the United States. (For some reason, Americans like their fluff.) So, imagine my surprise when I glanced up at the TV and saw that one of their main stories, on this “normal” kind of news program, was titled: “The Secrets of Good Bread.” The journalist was in a bakery, interviewing what I could only assume was Spain’s premier bread baker.

Yes, “bread” made the morning news right along with a story about further investigations concerning the March 11th terrorist attack of Spain’s largest train station. I smiled and thought, “Only in Spain.” Like I said, Spaniards are serious about their bread.

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