The Babinda Moment
“I’m at the bar. You’ll see me if you get here.”
It was the last WhatsApp message I sent as I took my seat alone at a wine cellar turned eatery, Restaurant Ca La Montse, in Barcelona, Spain.
I was in Barcelona at my first MFA residency and had just come from a reading where I’d gorged myself on free tapas and Estrella Damms, so I wasn’t particularly hungry. I did, however, want to meet up with my friend who was passing through. So, a bit drunk and fairly certain of how to get to Ca La Montse, I set off with only a place, a vague meeting time, and a direction. Upon arrival, with much gesticulating and broken Spanish, I found that my friend was not there. Awkward, frustrated, well-beered, I sat alone at the bar and tried not to look around every few seconds like some kind of horrible spy. It was weird not ordering, so I found something on the menu that sounded small and good that I could eat a few bites of while I waited. I watched the cook hollow out a sort of cornbread pocket and stuff it with meat and onions and avocado. The waiter slid the plate in front of me and said something in Spanish, to which I’m sure I replied both “thank you” and “gracias.” I looked around once more and checked my phone – I was on my own, so I might as well eat.
“Just a few bites,” I thought. Then I’d head back to try and sleep off the remaining bits of jet lag that plagued me. Ten minutes later I’d scarfed half of that wonderful cornbread/meat thingy and wasn’t slowing down. I had never tasted something so good and couldn’t have been happier to be alone in a foreign country chowing down on one of the best meals of my life. I thought to myself: “This is my Babinda Moment.”
Rewind one year, almost to the day: Queensland, Australia.
When my husband and I arrived for our two week stay in Cairns, we had no intention of renting a car, but after nearly every local we met recommended we get one and check out the tablelands and waterfalls outside of the city, we figured we better get that car after all. Before setting out we stocked up on car snacks: jerky, fruit, chips, cookies. The “food” we brought along, however, proved less sustainable than expected after a day of cold waterfall hiking/swimming/driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road adventures. So by the time we arrived at our last stop, the Babinda Boulders, we were all but eating the wrappings of our road-tripping fare.
Not to say we didn’t thoroughly enjoy the clear, serene water at the Boulders, but damn we were hungry!
With zero knowledge of our surroundings, we followed our cartoon tourist map back back into the little hamlet of Babinda, population 1068. A beautiful area, Babinda “lies in the shadows of Queensland’s two highest mountains.” The word itself means “water passing over your shoulders,” and we could picture the area as a bustling summer spot. But when we were there it was a ghost town – one road in and out, middle of winter, not a soul to be seen. As we drove slowly, looking for a place to eat, we spied two local burger joints kitty-corner from one another. We parked in between them in a median-like parking area, got out, and stood, transfixed with an important decision. Who do we choose to feed our ever grumblier bellies?
Both places were equally deserted – no herd mentality to help us make our choice. We looked to one, then the other – both of us painfully unable to choose. Finally, together, we turned and beelined for the one that looked quaint, small, slightly friendlier: The Kool Spot Cafe. As we crossed the empty street, a barefooted child scurried away from the entrance, adding to the twilight zone feel of the town. Once inside, a teenage girl greeted us. Behind her loomed a handwritten menu – overwhelming for the over-hungry! At the bottom was a burger with the lot: hand-formed meat patty, cheese, bacon, pineapple, egg, shredded beets and carrots, onions, and bbq sauce. My husband ordered one. I wanted one too, but I was so hungry that trying something new seemed extra risky. In a last minute decision, though, I ordered one too, and we found a table outside to wait.
Hunger gurgled in our bellies as we crossed our fingers. This meal was either going to be totally gross or the best thing ever. But after a long day of driving and snacking, we were salivating. When the waitress arrived, she carried two absolutely humongous burgers. Our eyes widened, our jaws dropped, and we bit into those things like ravenous beasts – juices dripping down our chins, our hands. It was the best burger either of us had ever had – somehow made better by the hunger, by the wait, by the foreignness of the whole experience. We called it The Babinda Burger, and we would never forget it.
Fast forward, Barcelona one year later.
There I was at Ca La Montse, not even a little bit hungry, as I devoured whatever that cornbread thing was. Gone were my misgivings about showing up without confirmation