One of the major differences about living in Barcelona is the portioning of food. Eating in Spain is either a luxury, or it is a chore, depending on the context. At dinner-time, usually about two in the afternoon, one can buy the “Menú del dia,” a one-price meal consisting of a first plate, a second plate, a dessert, wine, coffee and bread. Each Menú has several options for each plate, none of which I can identify from their Castellano/Catalan descriptions. This meal usually takes an hour to an hour and a half, costs around ten euro, and is presumably meant to be enjoyed along with good conversation and close friends.
The other option is the café, which is the poor Spaniard’s substitute for a deli. At the café you can purchase a croissant, sometimes with a hot dog inside, or a bocadillo, a “sandwich” consisting of a hard baguette cut in half, and sprinkled with dry salami. This is to be consumed with a café con leche or a far-too-small bottle of water.
It is this last that I find the most frustrating. Because, while the Menú and the Bocadillo are opposite extremes of the eating (decadent and hardly-subsistence level, respectively), at least both leave you satisfied for the moment. Additionally, a stop at a bar can leave you substantially filled with Tapas of a large variety. Food, when in small tapas and pastry servings, can be multiplied over several small meals, or it can be gleaned from one large meal. But drink cannot.
Drink, regardless, comes in ridiculously small packaging. Wine and beer: no. But any drink that actually satiates one’s thirst will not come in a bottle large enough to do so.
Normally, I would circumvent this by ordering a glass of water. What American wouldn’t do the same? Once you have finished your beer/wine/juice/virgin daquiri, you can just hydrate on free, fresh water.
In Spain, as, I am told, in much of Europe, water comes out of the tap a solid white, as if someone had dropped Alka-Seltzer into the drain. Only instead of the putting it in the drain, they shoved it up the faucet.
But, you might say, appearance has little bearing on taste.
You may be quite right. After all, V-8 may look like partially-coagulated blood, but it still tastes like super-salty, delicious carrot pulp. Yum.
Euro-water is the same. It looks like soap. It tastes like soap.
So when you want water at a restaurant, they don’t even ask: they bring out a bottle.
A 200 mL bottle.
For two Euro.
For those still heavily on the English system, a 20-ounce bottle contains approximately 591.47 mL.
So for about twice the price of a standard American serving you get a third of the liquid. Now I’m on a budget (which somehow never seems to apply on Friday or Saturday nights…), and I’m already rather tight-fisted to begin with, so I only ever get one bottle of water per meal. This, needless to say, leaves me quite dehydrated throughout the day. Dehydration leads to fatigue, hunger and irritability, all of which make me a rather disagreeable person to deal with.
Assuming that all residents of Barcelona undergo a similar cycle of dehydration, we can conjecture the origin of the legendary Catalan aloofness.
Couple the price of water with the extraordinary cheapness of wine, and it explains even more. As my mother so aptly pointed out, the modern siesta is no doubt a result of the price differential between wine and water: if you only drink wine all day, you are bound to need a nap.
To return, though, to the problem of water: I really don’t think my frustration is a result of my weakness as an American. After all, Americans are known for having large serving sizes. If Wendy’s really wanted to be health-friendly, they would have the Biggie Size, the Large, the Medium, the Small, and then the Euro Size. While I may be inherently partial to the larger, more comfortable serving size, I really don’t need all that much.
I don’t need or want a Biggie Size.
I want a beverage that won’t leave my mouth tasting dry and nasty. I want just enough water, at a reasonable price, that I can feel satisfied without feeling fleeced.