Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday Morning

Saturday is the big shopping day in Madrid. I had planned to get up early to beat all the Marias, but jetlag got the better of me. When I finally made it to the market, there was a long line of women waiting for their tomatoes and melons, plus a few men with lists, clearly sent by their wives.

We buy all our produce at Pedro's stand in the Mercado de la Cebada. Pedro loves his fruit, calls me guapa, and always throws in a little something extra--radishes, a ripe fig-- for free. But his mother works there too, and she is elderly, tectonically slow, and quite insistent about adding the total by hand, which she does creatively. Somehow I always get stuck with her. I'm convinced that all the other shoppers connive to sic her on the stupid American.

Shopping in Madrid is like that. You get the fresh produce, the beautiful displays, the personal service that are saddly missing from your average American supermarket. But you are also plagued by an unspoken code of rules diabolical in its complexity. No one ever had to figure out how to avoid Pedro's mother at a Giant Eagle.

To say nothing of the opprobrium. Today, I tried to buy fish, even though I don't really know how to cook anything except tuna steaks and salmon. Sole, I thought, would be nice. I chose my fish guy because his helpers are both Latin American, and I figured that they might be more sympathetic to a fellow foreigner who was a little sketchy on fish preparation. But no. I asked the smiling Ecuadorean man for sole, and he pointed toward a sign that said, "leguado de miga," which translates literally as "crumb sole," whatever that means . I said, "Two please, fileted." He snorted.

Crumb sole, apparently, are too small to filet. Also apparently, any Spaniard would know this. So I moved on to the besugo, which is bigger than lenguado de miga, and is either sea bass or sea bream, I can never remember which. Again I asked for it to be fileted. He looked at me with consternation, but he picked the fish up and weighed it. Then he passed it off to his boss. I had the distinct impression that by previous agreement, dealing with the unreasonable requests of American women who don't know the first thing about fish clearly fell to someone higher up the fishmonger ladder.

I took my besugo home where I cut it into strips, fried it in olive oil, and sprinkled it with lemon and Maldon salt. It was delicious.

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