By far the hardest thing about traveling alone, beyond my travel anxiety about missing trains, phone PINs, oversleeping, heat, getting lost, and overstaying my welcome was finding the wherewithal to go out to a restaurant, taverna, or bar and eat alone.
I am not all that good with eating by myself, but I do it. I go to conferences by myself, I eat lunch, I find a place that doesn’t make me feel too uncomfortable, a place with small two top tables where I don’t feel like I’m taking over a server’s real-estate. And I tip well for good service.
But the combination of eating late in the day, menus and conversations with waiters in Spanish, and tables set for four put me at risk of always feeling uncomfortable for some reason. Eating out in Cordoba was a perfect example.
Because I had an apartment and a kitchen, I ate in a couple of nights, but I finally told myself that I would take my landlady’s recommendation for a restaurant and go out. At 9:00 I left my apartment and went for the short walk to the restaurant.
At just after 9:00pm I am the first person in the dining room on a Friday night. So awkward, and I speak such pequeño Español. I looked around and it seemed like the happening place was the patio but it was also apparently closed because of a private party. There was a big sign at the top of the steps leading up and out to the patio. I chose a seat in the dining room. The waiters (there seemed to be an army of them) all looked at me like I was nuts.
So after we determined, through gesture and small words in Spanish, that it was acceptable for me to sit on the patio (the private party would not be until later), I chose a table. All were free. I was the ONLY person in the room not employed to be there. The next party that arrived at 9:15 was a party of twelve, with – yes- three strollers. I eat earlier than the babies in Cordoba.
I had boccorones a vinagre (with astonishing and delicious amounts of raw garlic and onions). My breath may never be the same. I was going to order the little fishies fried, but my waiter suggested, when I asked him to tell me the best versions of baccalao (the house specialty), the simple fried version, so I opted for the vinegar preparation. With the baccalao frito came a pickled cabbage salad with jamon that was amazing.
The place filled quickly with families and couples that were not in any way hip and trendy. A real family restaurant. It was great except for the whole first-in-the-room eating alone thing. So, I had accomplished it. Walked in. Sat. Ordered. Ate. Paid.
In Granada it was a bit more stressful for me. When I asked the lovely desk clerk where she would eat by herself, she directed me to tapas central, Navas, where she assured me that no one would care that I sat at a table by myself and no one would harass me. She was right. I chose a different place each evening, sometimes opting for the full meal and sometimes just tapas. But I imagined that I was there with friends, people watching and trying to decide if indeed we wanted to eat snails or not.
Final thoughts: while I am more confident now eating by myself, I surely do not prefer it. Come on over, let’s go find something to eat.