I was brought up by a fussy Scottish mother who made sure we had impeccable table manners and ate our meals properly. Due to my upbringing I would no more think about dunking anything into a beverage than picking a piece of food off the floor and popping it into my mouth.
The summer I spent working as an au pair in Madrid, Spain changed my perception of dunking. The family I lived with kept a thermos full of coffee in the kitchen. I’m not a coffee drinker and couldn’t understand why anyone in this stifling hot city would choose a hot drink when downing a cold drink made more sense. I watched in disgust as the parents drank their coffee and dunked cookies or cake into the steaming mug.
I was amazed that they drank coffee in the sweltering heat, but even more puzzled about why they would stuff perfectly good food into the java. I shook my head in bewilderment as I sipped on a glass of water and ate my cookies dry.
Then one day I craved a cold, refreshing drink with more flavor than water. I filled a glass with ice cubes, poured coffee over it, added milk and sugar, and discovered iced coffee. Feeling adventurous, I grabbed a handful of digestive cookies and surreptitiously glancing over my shoulder to make sure there were no witnesses to this heinous act, I dunked a cookie into the iced coffee and stuffed it into my mouth. I liked it! The rest of the cookies suffered the same fate and there began my daily habit of drinking iced coffee and dunking cookies.
After my job ended I spent a few more weeks prowling around Madrid in a quest to satisfy my new dunking habit. I left behind the iced coffee and cookies and moved on to the more sophisticated taste of hot chocolate and churros. The hot chocolate in Spain is different than anywhere else in the world and is best described as a hot chocolate pudding served in a mug. The accompanying churros are fried bread pastry rings, similar to donuts, that are dunked into the hot chocolate before eating.
I didn’t have to be secretive about my dunking because every eating establishment in Madrid is full of kindred dunky junkies. I quickly learned how to hold a churro, push it into the thick beverage, and arise with a dripping chocolate-coated pastry. Yummy!
This became my morning ritual and I constantly sought out new locations for my hot chocolate and churros. I bravely entered bars full of men hoping they wouldn’t bother me while I enjoyed my dunking fix. I found quiet restaurants located deep within department stores and sought out bustling hotel dining rooms where I could dunk away undisturbed.
The breakfast cafés I frequented offered a choice of coffee and toast or hot chocolate and churros for about fifty cents, and in amazement I watched the majority of customers order coffee and toast. What was wrong with these people? For the same price they could enjoy dunking churros into the thick hot chocolate pudding drink.
I left Madrid and headed for the south of Spain wondering what dunking opportunities lay ahead of me, or even if dunking was civilized in other parts of the country. The hotel I stayed at in Torremolinos included meals and I was dismayed to discover that only coffee and tea was served with breakfast.
No hot chocolate!
The breakfast table was laden with plates of cookies, tiny pastries, and Spanish bread.
Where were the churros?
One morning I sat at a table with three young men and one of them took a slice of bread, spread butter and marmalade on it, and then proceeded to dunk the whole thing into his coffee!
I shuddered in disgust as my proper upbringing slunk into the recesses of my mind reminding me that dunking is bad. I tried to dunk. I really did try. I delicately dipped some cookies into the coffee, but due to the lack of ice cubes I wasn’t happy with the situation. I liked my cookies dunked in iced coffee and that hot brew was not going to work for me.
Further scarring me was the vision of that marmalade-topped bread being dunked into coffee and the look of ecstasy on the young man’s face as he fished the bread and marmalade out of his coffee and shoved it into his mouth. I began to lose interest in dunking.
Shortly after returning to Canada I fixed a glass of iced coffee and dunked a cookie into it. I discovered that dunking cookies into iced coffee in the middle of a cold Canadian winter does not compare to iced coffee and dunking on a scorching summer day in Spain. My mother caught me in the act, accused me of picking up this barbaric habit in Spain, and I never dunked again.
I long for the day when I can return to Madrid and search out one of my old haunts that serves hot chocolate and churros. I need one more fix for old time’s sake just to get this silly fascination for dunking out of my system. One more mug of pudding hot chocolate and a plate stacked high with warm sugar crusted churros will cure me of this obsession.
Thank heaven for gourmet coffee shops where I can at least satisfy my passion for iced coffee. Uh, make that iced mocha!
But I would no more think of dunking a cookie into that pricey concoction than drinking it hot.