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Squeaking shepherds

One of the joys of Spain is eating out. Not always for the food, a pal of ours typifies Spanish food as chop and chips, but certainly for the raucous, life embracing atmosphere of it all. Maggie and I usually stick to the fixed price, all inclusive, set meals that provide inexpensive if usually uninteresting food.

Menus, the sort that describe the food available to buy with a price alongside, are not particularly commonplace in Murcia and Alicante away from the tourist areas. They are not unknown or even uncommon but, eight times out of ten the menu will be delivered by the waiter or waitress in the time honoured "Today we have..." style.

Nowadays Maggie and I don't usually have any problem with food language or understanding what we're ordering. Been there, done that. Every now and then though someone offers us something we've never heard of in which case we either ask or, much more likely, we ignore the unknown quantity because we really fancy something else on the list.

My mum's been with us the last week. In order to avoid the washing up we've done a lot of eating out. We did have a couple of the cheap set meals but we also got a bit more adventurous and went to proper restaurants. Today, for example, just before mum flew back to Blighty, we went to a nearby restaurant, called the Alameda, that specialises in providing meals made up of several small dishes rather than the more usual starter, main course and pudding route. They had a written menu and we had to translate it for our guest. Adding someone into the mix who doesn't speak a word of Spanish at ordering times increases the difficulty and adds confusion.

It was noticeable how much we couldn't translate. Some of the difficulty was because the food had been named. For instance the "Special Alameda Tomato Salad" involved whole tomatoes being stuffed with salmon and cod. Not something the name gives away. Other items reflected regional variations - I've eaten fish roe in Barcelona and they were little eggs in a lump with toast but today the roe had been compressed into a solid slab that could be cut into slices. The waiter seemed very surprised that we didn't know that. It did my credibility as an expert on Spain no good at all.

My excuse is that the same thing happens in the UK. A teacake in Yorkshire and a teacake in Cambridgeshire are not the same thing. Or imagine the poor person who has a reasonable grasp of English turning up in a restaurant and being presented with a menu featuring Shepherd's Pie, Toad in the Hole, Bangers and Mash, Welsh Rarebit, Bubble and Squeak, Apple Turnover, Trifle and Summer Pudding.


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