My quiet arrival to Zaragoza on an early morning train from Barcelona was not met with any fanfare. My local bus ride into town was as casual as if I was going to work or school like the other passengers. I greeted the morning by making my way to the historic center flanked by expensive stores and office buildings and finally arrived at my destination the Plaza Espana.My heart skipped a beat upon arriving at the tourist center and hearing my first “Hola”. Our conversation in Spanish excited me and made me feel as though I had left the safety of English. Armed with information and definite directions to my hotel, I walked down the main street with the Pilar Basilica-Cathedral staring at me. While smaller shops and tapas restaurants faded in and out of my field of vision, I looked for my objective.Then it happened: a rib joint. What was it doing there? It looked distinctively American with an Old West theme. My waist instinctively moved towards the store front, but my feet pushed ahead on the pedestrian-only streets. My backpack starting to weigh heavily on me, thus forcing me to promise that I would return after I settled down.
After arriving to my hotel, my fatigue set in and, although hungry, I opted for a nap while images of ribs danced in my head. It was that night that I discovered something that is not in the tourist guides or comes up when doing a casual search in the city. What I realized is that Zaragoza is the foodie capital of Aragon.My narrow vision started to widen as ribs made way for paella, tapas, Andulasian seafood, and other uniquely local dishes.The crumbling remains of Roman walls, market places, and churches tucked into side streets and hidden alleys became the landscape of my food quest. My greatest find was a Foodie Food Court surrounded by top tier restaurants and pop ups. No McDonalds, Chick-Fil-As or Auntie Annies. Only fresh foods served by the wait staff that were served around a local craft brewery whose bar took center stage.The only real similarities to a food court were the use of trays and the seating arrangements. The seating was taken up several notches from plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting set at daylight kelvin temperatures, along with dark wooden chairs and stools with a touch of amber, flat-screen plasma screens, and plush couches for small groups whose conversations did not require table between them for a more personal touch.The first small obstacle was choosing my first meal. I waited patiently while having a few drinks at the bar. From time to time, I walked with drink in hand inspecting each section while waiting for my stomach's groan that indicated which item it craved first. Hmmm, calamari..no, no, no. Thinly cut slices of meat? How about that burger? Oh wow! Gelato!After staring mystified at the various paellas, I finally made my choice as the rice was so warm it melted onto my taste buds while the shrimp seemed bigger then usual and taking up more space then it should have. While washing all this food down with a Coke, all I could think was I want more.My after dinner mint was followed by a jog around the Old Town. I intended to take this time to familiarize myself with the landmarks, but instead I just reviewed menus of other restaurants whose menus I wanted to sample. It was then I took a moment to really take notice of where I was and how blissfully quiet it was. No crowds rushing to take photos in front of everything. No locals yelling and pushing each other out the way. No thin sidewalks pulsating with people or heavy traffic.The days felt like casual Sundays with dotted clouds and casual attitudes. Lingering groups of friends and the occasional tourist walked past. The tram circled around the Old Town before heading either back around or across the Ebo River. Evenings came almost unexpectedly as the day felt so slow that I felt rudely interrupted by it turning into night. Families and friends casually ended their conversations in store fronts, and there was just enough blue in the sky to let me walk home or take a taxi under it's glow.As I often find myself in smaller towns, I filled my evenings with wandering aimlessly while feeling safe that no harm would come to me and watching the moon twinkle over the water. There was a night that was different. A bellow in the distance was familiar. I could have sworn it was Little Richard and, as I walked toward the noise, I realized he was it was calling out for “Lucielle.”His distinctive shrieks led me to a brew pub that played soul while drinks such as “Mata Dragon” and “Skunk Diaple” where being served and the 20 somethings talked lightly about politics and social life before turning in for the evening and eventually leaving me on my own to try a few more brews before I, too, called it a night.
Counter clock wise as I once again eyed what I wanted as a night cap as the various sections shut down to clean up, count down the registers and call it a night. Yet this did not dissuade me as I once more stared at what was left of the paella, or perhaps it was time for pizza...or what was left of it. Maybe take up that gelato option.
After finally making my choice, the reality set in when I walked up with a confused look as I saw the “Cerrado” sign (Closed).Once more walking towards the Plaza de Pilar in full view, I saw the rib restaurant once more and felt stupid that I had forgotten it existed. This time, I rushed to pull open the door and find it still open. My next obstacle was the kitchen and after a quick check, it was also still open.
As I waited for my order with my moistened lips and placing napkins around me for the mess that was sure to befall my clothing, I smiled and waited for my half rack of bed time ribs as I quieted my own yawns for just one last good meal.