Enjoying life’s simple pleasures, such as breakfast at Juan’s
I have always been of the opinion that we ought to enjoy the small pleasures that life offers. If we hold back for the big delights, the large victories and the jump-out-of-the-cake surprises, we might end up waiting forever. So, in the meantime, I cherish each passing smile, enjoy every miniscule blessing, celebrate even the tiniest victory and treasure life’s mini-wonders.
Living in rural Spain, our life is filled with such small pleasures – Waking up to the bells of half a dozen sheep grazing up the street, watching life go by from a stone bench in the local square, feeling a Mediterranean morning breeze on the skin, following a meandering trail through olives and almond groves, chatting to a neighbour about Andalucía’s past, pulling a hand through a sea of lavender, being greeted by first name at the local store, having a basket of newly laid farm eggs handed through the door with nothing expected in return, opening the window, instantly being immersed by the heady scent of honeysuckle and jasmine, slinking back to bed for a guiltless early afternoon siesta, picking up sun-dried bed linens after less than an hour on the line, enjoying a free concert of someone singing flamenco at a distant party, and sitting on the terrace after nightfall still in a sleeveless dress, watching the stars.
There are innumerable small pleasures such as these that fill our daily life here in Ronda and we discover more every day. Like many people, I enjoy going out for dinner, yet my favourite eating-out experience in Spain is a traditional Andalucian no-frills dasayunos.
Mornings in Spain are not complete without a coffee. A Spanish café con leche is nothing like a fancy Italian cappuccino or a tub-sized French café au lait. Nor does it taste like any of the coffees served by Starbucks in their poor excuse for environmental care recycled paper cups. The truth is that I didn’t even like coffee when we lived in North America, but this all changed when we moved to Spain. Recently arrived, my husband ordered a coffee at a café in old Málaga. The waiter slammed down a worn glass on the table, containing two finger-widths of black-as-my-soul espresso. He proceeded by sloshing in milk from a spotted stainless pitcher. It was all done quite unceremoniously and for that reason alone, I was fascinated. There was no inquiry about whether the client wanted the coffee extra hot, with a shot of vanilla or served in a special receptacle, nor were there any artistic leaf or heart shaped in the foam. The coffee was as basic as can be. And from that day on, I was hooked.
The second part of an Andalucian breakfast is bread. The dough is always white, but the shape may vary from a huge slice of tostada, a medium sized bollito or mollete bun, the smaller pitufo (Spanish for Smurf), or the baby of the bun family, a pulga, meaning a flee. As I am allergic to wheat, I bring my own bread, which thankfully they will toast without any questions asked, but the rest of the traditional breakfast process, I follow to a T.
Upon receiving their morning toast, locals will start stabbing the bread with a knife, followed by drowning the whole thing in olive oil. This is the same oil that sits on every table, certainly in every rural Spanish café and restaurant. Some of the braver locals rub cloves of raw garlic into their toast, while some go straight for the salt, shaking their heart out. Others, like myself, douse their bread in freshly blended tomatoes, another staple in every Andalucian café.
One can of course go more advanced and add zurrapa, a spreadable lard and meat concoction, but I prefer to stay with the basics – oil, tomato and salt, which make the most divine symbiosis in the mouth. Nothing can improve on this simple Andalucian breakfast. It is the most rudimentary campesino food Andalucía has to offer and something everyone has access to, usually from their own plot of land. It is heavenly, Mediterranean and dirt-cheap. Whether you eat at a truck stop or a downtown café, this authentic breakfast will usually put you back less than three euros, including tip, and, I swear, there is no small pleasure like it.
As my list of daily joys keeps growing, one item will always remain – going to Bar Sanchez for breakfast. Located just inside Ronda’s old defensive wall, it is one of those completely unpretentious joints with less than a dozen tables in and out, where one immediately feels at home. Run by Juan and his wife Loli, their menu might not be the most extensive in town, but everything comes out freshly made and everybody is made welcome. Whilst downtown Ronda is steaming with tourists, you can still have a peaceful morning coffee at Juan’s, possibly accompanied by a few regulars, having their first hit of Anís before heading off to the fields. We usually stop by in the morning, on our way home from our community garden, just as Juan brings out his tables. Albeit a muddy pair, all we have to do is ask him for ‘the usual’, and less than a minute later two glasses with café con leche get brought out to our table. People can say what they want, but the good life is all about embracing these small pleasures.