02

Salt, limes and seafood

Exploring the food scene under the palm tree shades by the Spanish beaches

Salou

Tomatoes, lime and seafood cooked together and poured over pasta; the sound of the waves crashing in the sea on the shore beyond the street. The waiter, a skinny tanned guy in his early twenties with kind eyes and dark hair, no doubt a gift from his Spanish ancestors, moved around the square tables set in the garden of the tiny, family-run restaurant with an ease of a somebody who had been doing so for years. The chatter of the locals, who told jokes in Catalan and ordered their freshly made sangria with huge smiles on their faces, was completing the atmosphere.

 

My sister, my mum, my mum's best friend and I were savouring the gastronomic richness that is a traditionally cooked paella paired with a glass of locally produced wine. It was around six o'clock in the afternoon, a time when the city was coming alive with tourists and the restaurants along the strip were the place to be if you wanted to get a tip from the bartenders about which beaches in the area are the local's best-kept secret.

 

That summer just before the pandemic happened, Salou was an embodiment of a tropical paradise. The days were long in the best way possible; the nights seemed endless in the kind of nostalgic, surreal way when you know that one day you are going to be looking back on those moments and smile to have been in the right place at the right time.

 

The street along the coastline was bathing in the glow of the afternoon sun and once dusk fell at night, the moonlight led the way to the beach bars. There, gathered around the long tables, laughing and dancing, drinking and chatting, locals and tourists came together to celebrate the beauty of the late summer. It was a joy like no other. We, having never set foot in Salou before, were made to feel welcomed and included. It was in the core of the culture of the locals to open their arms to newcomers and show them that what life is all about - being in the moment and celebrating the small wins, together.

 

The music was loud, the ice was rattling in our glasses of rebujito and, before we knew it, the evening quickly slipped away to give space to the morning to fill up the sky with the pastel shades of blue, pink and purple. A new day emerged and we woke up ready to dive back into the celebrations all over again.

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After five carefree days in Salou, we headed back to Lleida. On our last evening we found ourselves in a small bistro around a table that was sitting all but ten people, yet we managed to squeeze a few more chairs in. We had joined a crowd of locals who all friends of Bibi's, my mum's best friend. Everyone lived in the same neighbourhood and their favourite time of the day was at dusk when they had finished work and the only responsibility they had was to spend some quality time with people who made them laugh. Spanish, Bulgarians and Portuguese all sharing a table, some wine and a good conversation.

 

The breeze in the air cooled down the evening, bringing in the feeling of fulfillment from a day well-spend exploring the area. The neighbourhood was quiet, except for the chatter of the people gathered around in the bistro. The night sky above was starting to sparkle with stars and the moon looked full and bright.

 

I sat back in my chair and observed the flow of the conversation. This wasn't a typical quiet evening; the conversation was had in three different languages (and a few words from different dialects were snuck every once in a while) as everybody around the table was born in a different pocket of the word.

 

To a first-time traveller this might have seemed like a commotion at first, and even to me it looked like a difficult conversation to follow, yet it made so much sense. Nobody was holding back, but quite the opposite - people were sharing their stories, experiences, culture, even their language. We might have been strangers at the beginning of the evening, but by the time we parted ways we were hugged like we had been part of the family all along. We promised to come back to the city and got invited to attend birthday parties and vacations a year from now that were already in the making. 

 

We had a long day ahead of us tomorrow and a plane to catch so we were among the first micro-group to leave the table. On the way back to Bibi's flat, I listened closely for the sound of the night and the crickets singing along with the warm wind. The distinct chatter from the bistro faded out to make way for the quiet noise of a TV playing in the flats upstairs and the sound of people having late dinner on their balconies. Maybe, I thought, that was what summers always looked like in west Catalonia - ebbs of energy followed by flows of tranquility. Regardless, Spain that summer was everything I hoped for and more!