Digues-li com Vulguis
Carretera de Collblanc 102
by Beau Cadiyo
Even though he was a former student, I always felt a certain kinship with Joan. The only reason he’d had me as a teacher was that he was failing English, not for lack of talent but for lack of trying. His father hired me after seeing a flier I’d put up, and I spent one night a week with him, hunched over a tiny desk in his tiny room, conjugating verbs and talking to him about basketball and Catalunyan independence and his fledgling teenage interest in girls. He’d ended up scoring the highest marks in his English class on some of his tests; when his dad told me, and Joan, with his normal modesty, gave me the credit, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d done something important with my life.
Meeting up with him was, as he might say, “Wow – incredible this.” He was bigger – big enough to lift me up in the air, and mature enough that I felt I was talking with an older friend, not a 21-year-old college student.
We met at the restaurant Digues-li com Vulguis, which translates to “Say what you Want” according to Google and “Tell him what you want.” It wasn’t meant as an invitation to order chicken fried in caviar; instead, they wanted to create honest, truly delicious food for their customers. The owner, Robert Bertriu was a long-time chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant north of Barcelona called El Cau, which means “The Cave” in Catalan. He didn’t know the world for Cave, so he translated it as “the place where lives the bears in the mountains.” He married a girl named Joanne, who is a feisty, beautiful half-Catalan, half-Pennsylvanian girl from Panama. Robert runs the restaurant and she runs the kitchen, constantly yelling out “Cariño” to him and “Guapo” to all of the male customers.
Robert brought out a bocadillo de Pernil (a type of cured ham) and a slice of Tortilla de Rellena. The latter was a tortilla special to the house; after being cooked as a normal tortilla de patata, though, they added a layer of ham and cheese, then another egg to bind it all together. Not this was absolutely common; indeed, it was an innovation of his.
What sets this bocadillo apart, according to Robert, was the bread. It had a very hard crust and was very soft inside; he said it was a result of being cooked at a high temperature for a short time, then warm for a long time. The first step developed the crust; the latter step made the bread. Inside was a ham that was a typical of Catalunya, but to me it tasted creamier and had a smoother texture than most of the ham I’d eaten before. The coffee was, of course, strong and delicious and punched me in the head.
Three hours later, Joan headed to class and I went to the Collblanc metro station to return to Franco’s apartment. Then, Franco called me when I was at Sants Estacio – did I want to come to the restaurant of his brother and eat lunch? I turned around and spent three more hours there with a selection of dishes that were part typical, part innovative, all delicious.
That night we were supposed to cook bread at Carla's apartment, but Barcelona was playing and some of her Greek friends were in town. We went to a Basque-styled restaurant to watch the game. Francesca left early, as she had to catch the train, and we all sat around smoking while Franco and the Greeks played "My balls are bigger than your balls." English was the common language, and Carla and I sat back and laughed at their posturing; then Franco and I jumped on his moto and left.
Later, at his apartment, he asked me what was happening with Francesca. "Nothing," I said. And that was the truth.