(A Culinary Experience of Shrimp, Amazing Bread And A Healthy Dose Of Awkwardness)
People always talk about international travel and say, “Oh, you’ll get out of your ‘comfort zone,’ it will be so good for you.”
Well, that certainly happened this week when I went to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner – it happened with little shrimp legs and eyes.
My friend and I went to a Spanish restaurant a block from my house, based on the recommendation of a Madrid local. When we walked in, it was white-tablecloth nice, so we knew we’d be having our fanciest Madrid meal yet.
After ordering the “camarones,” (the shrimp) we were slightly surprised when we were served the whole shrimp. We had no clue how to go about eating it. The waiter smiled and walked away, and no one around us had shrimp on their plates, so our observation of our fellow diners proved futile.
After deciding to remove the shells using out hands, we could tell we were doing it “wrong”; the waiter kept glancing at our table and so did the other customers. We too were confused – what were we supposed to do with the heads? We weren’t supposed to be eating the WHOLE shrimp, were we?
Fortunately for us, nervous-giggle-laugher is pretty universally understandable. An elderly man, clad in a sweater and tie sitting at the table directly behind us came to our aide. Sitting there swirling his wine glass, he asked the waiter to tell us how to go about eating our meal.
Sadly for us, we’d already picked our way through all the shrimp, so he didn’t explain that part to us. He did let us know that the little shot glass-sized lemon drinks on our table were meant to be consumed in between courses to “clear our pallet”. (It was delicious, if you were wondering).
(Sadly for us, we were so preoccupied with dissecting our shrimp that I didn’t get any pictures.)
Once we’d made it through to the dessert, the elderly man got up to leave. I caught his eye and made sure to say, “¡Gracias por su ayuda!”
He smiled, asked us how our meal was, and explained that it is important to “aprovechar,” or take advantage of our time in Spain by learning things, sometimes the hard way. (I’m 100% positive he was referring to our embarrassing episode with the shrimp.)
He told us to have a nice evening, put on his overcoat and left. After he was gone, we sipped lemon sorbet champagne (an “adult milkshake” according to my friend) as I thought about the experience. We had felt uncomfortable, like we were eating our food the wrong way, but we laughed at ourselves and took the help offered to us, even when it came from an unlikely source.
Afterwards, we thought about going to get an ice cream. According to my friend, we might have handled that better because “ice cream doesn’t have eyes,” like our little shrimp friends did.
But I realized that it’s okay to awkwardly eat your shrimp, you’ll learn in the process.