Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Eureka! Vacky! Friki!

I get strange mail. I always have. But when a stranger from Down Under contacted me several months ago asking me to ship him Nanookies, I knew I was in for a weird international adventure.

Spain abounds in weirdness, much of it food-related. And here was an Aussie, asking me to track down a couple of Spanish oddments for him. Specifically, one Nanooky and two Barries. If they could be found. Here is part of the original letter:

When my wife and I were in Spain a couple of months ago (around Barcelona - nowhere near Moratinos), we found a kids' ice cream product called 'Nanuky'. (You can see him here, with all his family. Scroll down.) The idea is, you pull his head off and inside is a spoon and some very basic vanilla ice cream. 

Alrighty then, Leslie, I thought. I´ve seen these little ice cream thingies in posh restaurants. They are displayed at kiddie eye-level, and are bought as pricy bribes for restless children when their parents´dinner conversations drag on into the wee hours. The parents get brandy and cigarettes. The kids get a little Nanuky. Or maybe Kuaky or Friki. Little plastic characters with sugar inside. It´s what happiness is made of, no?

Leslie evidently likes to make people happy. As he said:

We're becoming ever-more-dedicated foodies and the idea occurred to us to amaze our dinner guests by serving something 'proper' inside one of these guys.  To that end, and to the amusement of the staff at our hotel, we started ordering one each lunchtime so we could take the empties home.  Problem is, we ran out of lunchtimes and didn't spot any more at the airport on the way home to complete our set!

Poor old Leslie. My heart went out to him. I told him “sure.” How hard could it be? We go out to dinner at least once every couple of weeks.

Except when we don´t. Just after I said yes, we went through a long patch of staying at home. We limited our dining-out to truck-stop “menu del dia” fare, a sort of Blue Plate Special option that sticks with meat and two veg and homemade custard or rice pudding for dessert, three courses for 8 or 10 Euro. Nanukies routinely sell for three or four Euros apiece, and so are not seen in our lowdown local “casas de comidas.” And so we did not see any.

I saw their wacky little faces now and then, plastered on the outside of refrigerated delivery trucks. I kept thinking, “I gotta find me a place that sells those doodads.” I once even asked a delivery driver if he´d sell me a couple, but I would´ve had to buy 12, and he wouldn´t let me mix them up. So... somehow, in the fullness of time, the plastic critters with body cavities filled with extruded frozen confectionary slipped from my mind.

Until they didn´t. The new year brought me back to Boccalino, a longtime favorite middle-class Italian place in the middle of Leon. In the past I had seen the ice cream critters working their late-night magic there in the upper dining room. There I expected to score all the Vackys and Morsys I needed. Or Barries? I had to think fast – which exactly was it Leslie wanted? I couldn´t remember... His internet link was Belgian, and his selections were colored by that online menagerie. He´d detailed his desires thus:

There was an elephant (called Barry - what else would you call an elephant?); we've only got one of him.  I see from the site there are several others (in fact, they don't show Barry - maybe Belgium doesn't do elephants after all that unpleasantness in the Congo).  Ideally we'd like one more Nanuky and two Barries, but whatever you can find, really.

So this Leslie fellow is probably the only man in Australia with a Barry and two Nanookies... and that´s not enough for him! No!
Anyway...Boccalino let me down. All they had were stupid Goofys and Plutos. They´d changed ice cream vendors, and with it their plastic Helado characters. (And their pasta quality slipped substantially too, in the meantime. Bummer. Good walnut pesto is hard to find on the campo.)

That was January. I neglected to write to Leslie to tell him of my long and fruitless search. I wonder if he´s forgotten, and tossed the Nanooky idea aside, moved onto othere, stranger ways to serve culinary joy to his foodie friends.

Do not despair, Australian Leslie. I work slowly, but I deliver!

Today we returned to Leon, and lunched at our favorite neo-Chinese restaurant, the wonderfully named “Casa Rong.” Casa Rong is so utterly Chinese Restaurant it is almost a parody of itself – We shame-facedly laughed to one another when the smiling waitress said “Hora, que tal? Hace flio hoy, no?” The Spanish guys at the next table complained because their Chinese food had Chinese things in it. The resident cute little boy showed us an elaborate drawing of Good and Evil battling it out in Bakugan Megazord Action-Figure form. (I wondered if his apocalyptic choice of subject was influenced by the wondrous 800-year-old Last Judgement carved into the front of the Leon cathedral, not a half-mile away from Casa Rong. The two have much in common.) But I digress.

The greatest discovery of Casa Rong was in the freezer case. In there, lit and lined up like soldiers on parade were a dozen Punkys. And standing alone, like the Commander in Chief, her bright pink udder aloft in a four-way salute, was a single, spotted Vacky.

Eureka! I cried (to myself). I can keep my months-old promise now! Feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge buying the Christmas-morning goose for the Cratchit family, I told the smiling lady “I´ll take two of the black things and the cow – and give the ice cream to that talented boy!”

So, back home at last, I have my plastic booty in hand. And no shipping address for Leslie.
The things we do for pilgs.

P.S. Just as I was finishing this up, Fran arrived at the door with a big bowl of green things his sister had cut out in the field. Fran isn´t able to say much that makes sense, so we are wondering if any of you can identify these deliciously bitter sprouts?


Leslie said...

I can officially certify that Rebekah is a wonderful person, even though she called me Australian (twice!!). The Nanukies and Barry are eagerly awaiting their new friends. Thanks again, Reb.

Leslie (again) said...

Oops - forgot to say the mystery leaves look a little like baby spinach.

Patrick O'Gara said...

Ok, lest my door be knocked down by people eager to posit what those leaves may be, I looked it up myself. These are "Rumex Acetosa," known locally as "Acederas." "Sorrel" in English. Very tasty, and available over the next few weeks growing wild along the banks of the Rio Templarios. (Soon to star in restaurant salads in Brooklyn bistrot, no doubt. You saw it here first, though.) (This is Rebekah, btw., but Paddy did not sign out.)

claire said...

Now I know what to get our grandsons next time we walk the Camino. It will be a good reason for skipping a menu del dia...
Hoping your Spring is not too wet. It's raining in my tropical flat... C'est la vie.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

So Leslie.... if you take umbrage at being called Australian.... I take it you might be a Kiwi ;-)

judit said...

Rebeca, soy Judit la sobrina de Angelines, Flor.... Lo que te llevo Fran se llaman acederas, es una planta silvestre que se come en ensalada y que en Moratinos todo el mundo conoce.

Un saludo.

L said...

From here, it looks like arugula.