A very typical Sunday plan in Bilbao is heading to your local bar and ordering a plate of fried calamari (raba in that region of Spain), washed down with some vermouth to cure your—very present— hangover. They’re delicious, fried goodness with just the right amount of lemon to make you forget about how much cider and booze you willingly pumped through your veins last night.
After the first plate was gone, I jumped up offering to order another for my friend Lauren and I. “Raba, they’re called?” “Yup! Just ask at the bar.” Okay, cool.
I head inside and ask, “Hola! Me das un plato de rabo por favor, un vermouth y una coca-cola?? Mil gracias!”
The woman running the bar looked at me incredulously, eyes wide and a look of shock and confusion clearly visible, a huge smile playing on her lips. “Calamares???” She asked in Spanish pointing to a plate of calamari. The light bulb simultaneously went off in my head, realizing that rabo was the term used in Spanish cooking for one of my favorite dishes, beef oxtail— and unaware of any possible cultural context.
“Ah si, si, calamares! Jeje perdon, rabo es otra cosa, yo me acuerdo ahora!” (“Sorry, rabo is something else! I remember now!”) The woman chuckled, placed my order and said “Mhm… estan ensenandote espanol entonces!” They’re teaching you Spanish, I see!
I laughed and told her that already I speak Spanish, I’m from Bogota. Duh! When the calamari and drinks were ready, I proudly carried my gifts to the table, proclaiming to my friends, “haha, I fucked it up inside! I asked for rabo not raba! You know, like oxtail? She was so confused!!”
My friends looked at me, mouths agape and shocked, Lauren’s boyfriend’s face buried in his hands after a “NO!!” response.
“Wait, what?” I asked.
Suddenly the two in hysterical laughter responded, “You asked for a PENIS!”
“Not just a penis”, Lauren said to me, “a REALLY nice, HUGE penis!”
So, in the Basque Country, don’t confuse calamari with penis. It’a awkward.
The earlier part of our weekend consisted of traditional Basque Country afternoons of a long, delicious lunch in a cider house, over numerous pints outside the city! Typical to the region are traditional cider houses where a hard cider is brewed in barrels and served alongside plates of sizzling meat, bacalao (fried cod), tortilla (the Spanish omelette style), morcilla, patatas, and other delicious and extremely filling sides. It’s not recommended to fill your cups or pitchers topped with cider because it diminishes the flavor, so part of the fun is getting up every so often to refill, straight from the barrel!
We sat outside in the sun (I brought some Barcelona sunshine with me!) and enjoyed the long afternoon catching up on childhood things (both my high school friends Robert and Lauren call Bilbao home) and laughing.
After we drove home to catch the sunset, which was a beautiful sight behind the mountains and into the sea and headed out to celebrate Carnaval! People spilled into the streets of the Old Quarter to drink and sing and dance in costume. We strolled around making friends, laughing, and drinking far too many beers! The bar culture is strong, but the nightlife is more about getting out into the streets with open containers and celebrating with others. In fact, we rarely stepped inside of a bar except to buy a beer or use the restroom before we moved on down the street. Everyone was extremely inviting! A night out on the town in Bilbao is highly recommended.
After the rabo incident, we headed to the Guggenheim, which of course, you cannot miss if you’re there. The incredible, Frank Gehry designed building sits along the river in a beautiful part of the city. We saw a great exhibit of Abstract Expressionism, featuring work by de Kooning, Rothke, Pollack and others.
The weekend was simple, authentic, and delicious. Not, unlike something you would find in Colombia, actually! I found the opportunity to sit in the Basque Countryside and watch the breeze through the hills, or catch the sunsetting over the river in Bilbao to be really inspiring! My mom’s family comes from the Basque region, although we know very little about it. There was something really special about sitting down to the same meal in (possibly) the same places my ancestors might have. I felt like a little part of me that was always curious for answers, received a few that weekend. There’s still a lot of genealogy to be discovered and investigated, but I was happy to start the journey for my mom.
Shoutout to the SPHS fam, Lauren and Robert for an incredible weekend!! Thanks guys and I’ll see you guys soon!!! (in LA or BCN!<3)