Praise for the humble tostada

I was recently reminded of my first typical camino breakfast, which was in albergue Orisson: white bread for toasting, butter and preserves/jams. Café con leche, of course. Orange juice. We could also buy a bocadillo – more white bread, and lots of it, so sharp it will cut your mouth inside and out – with either cheese, chorizo or cured ham. I asked for tomato, but they had none. I asked for cheese and chorizo, but quickly got the feeling that was not an option. So with all the white bread going on, I chose the cheese bocadillo in the hope that it would be enough protein to get me over the pass.

Luckily there was a man in a van on the mountain, and he really got it! There were hard boiled eggs, sandwiches with different fillings, he sold bananas and tomatoes and fruits and water and juice and everything a pilgrim could want! My boring bocadillo turned into two open sandwiches with egg and tomato and cheese and tomato, respectively. I also had some small sachets of salt which I could have sold for a fortune. This got me over the mountain but it was nowhere near enough decent walking energy in it. Also that was the beginning and the end of my relationship with the staple bocadillo.

So for breakfast I always tried to ask for a tortilla – eggs, potatoes, sometimes onions and peppers – which is great walking food, but often they had none, or they had some from the day before, which they were reluctant to sell. It seems tortilla-making is an early afternoon activity, as they are hardly ever available until lunch time.

What to do, then, when you are starving for breakfast and most bars are happy to serve you divine coffee and delicious freshly pressed orange juice … and plastic wrapped cakes. Maybe the odd croissant. No actual food. It’s OK now and again, but if you have a long way to go until second breakfast or lunch …?

It took some time, but I finally figured it out. Most bars have bread, even if it’s from the day before. Most of them have a toaster or grill. Most of them are happy to serve you tostadas, toasted bread with small packets of butter and jam. But here’s the clever bit. Learn the words for ham, cheese, sliced tomato, olive oil. And then, when you have asked them for tostadas and they are happy to make them for you, ask them nicely if they will indulge you in the oddly foreign concept of serving protein with it! If they have any in their fridge, they will sell it. If they have eggs, they might even make an omelette! (If not, take it with a good dose of Zen and try to enjoy the jam.)

It works nine out of ten times, and a few times I was even asked if I wanted garlic rubbed on the toasted bread. Yes, please!! And with some sliced tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt it is heaven. Add cheese or chorizo and you can walk for hours!

I have even made peace with the poor bocadillo after I discovered the hot ones with lomo, a paprika marinated pork steak which definitely keeps you going (top tip: take the top half of the bread off and keep it for later, all you need for lunch then is a carton of cold gazpacho from the tienda). Again asking for slices of tomato generally works, and then the bread won’t be so dry and you get some more vegetables in your walking legs.

Buen desayuno!

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