Best of the Best

Posted in Uncategorized | 60 Comments »


Since I’ve gotten back to the States, I’ve repeatedly been asked two (very difficult) questions:

1) What was your favorite place?

2) What was the best thing you ate?

If forced to choose…


My 3 Favorite Towns:

1) Barcelona

2) San Sebastian

3) A tie between Granada and Madrid


I tried to narrow it to ten, but couldn’t…

My 12 Favorite Foods:

1) Cocido Madrileno (Taberna de la Daniela, Madrid)

2) Goat Cheese and Pear Puree Pintxo (Haizea, San Sebastian)

3) Basil Ice Cream with Chocolate in Strawberry Soup (Arzak, San Sebastian)

4) Tortilla Espagnola (Cal Pep, Barcelona) 

5) Butifarra y Sanfaina (La Rosca, Barcelona)

6) Jamon Bellota (Mercado Central, Salamanca)

7) Chirimoya (Bar Picnic, Barcelona)

8) Percebes (Restaurante El 10, A Coruna)

9) Pastel Con Nata (Rua do Loreto, Lisbon)

10) Manchego Cheese (Finca Prudencia, Tembleque)

11) Marzipan (Santo Tome, Toledo)

12) Roast Lamb (Casa Hortensia, Madrid)


Last Day in Spain

Posted in Madrid | 180 Comments »

My last day in Madrid was a Monday, when many of the museums and other tourist destinations are closed.  After six weeks of self-restraint, I shopped for some souvenirs.  I knew that I wanted spices and ovenproof dishes.

I walked all over the city on that sunny last day…

Spicy Yuli Spicy Yuli

Wandering, I found a small street with a store, intriguingly called Spicy Yuli (Calle Valverde 42).  It turned out to be the Grand Opening of an adorable spice shop.  The store is named after its owner, Yuli, who I liked immensely right away.  I was one of the day’s very first customers.  I’d been hoping to find some pimenton and saffron for gifts; this was the perfect place to get it.

Fast Good Fast Good

Approaching lunchtime, I decided to try out Ferran Adria’s fast food concept, Fast Good (Calle de Juan Bravo 3).  I figured that, since I hadn’t even tried to go to El Bulli, I should at least check out his idea of a hamburger.  I walked a good 45 minutes to get there, only to find it graffiti-clad and closed.  I was stunned to think that Adria’s concept might have gone under.  (The website still lists that location on Juan Bravo.  It also lists a second Madrid location and announces expansion to four other cities.  You might want to call ahead.)

Taberna de la Daniela Taberna de la Daniela

Hungry from all the walking, I decided to go back to Taberna de la Daniela (Calle del General Pardinas 21).  Lola, who had served me the massive Cocida Madrileno a week earlier, was there again.  She recommended that I order the patatas y jamon.  She said with a smile, “When you’re in my house, you get what I say.”  Of course, I took her advice.  It was a filling lunch of fried potatoes, topped with chewy chunks of delicious dried jamon and a soft egg, served with toasted bread.

Example of the Kind of Dish Example of the Kind of Dish (in Tembleque)

I knew exactly the kind of terra cotta, ovenproof dishes that I wanted.  Called cazuela dishes, they are handmade by artisans across Spain.  I’d been served plenty of tapas in them during my travels.  All day, I kept my eye out for the dishes.  Nearing 6pm, I had almost given up when I saw someone going into another mercado.  I followed.  Just inside, I saw a large display of them.  I was so excited.  They were very reasonably priced, ranging from two to four euros, depending on the size.  I got a set for me and a set for my mom.  I also bought a paella pan.  The large, flat paella pan pressed out the sides of my green backpack, making it look like a turtle shell.

For Oven Proof Dishes For Oven Proof Dishes

Walking back toward the hostel, I stopped at Spicy Yuli to get some more pimenton.  Yuli and I had hit it off so we made plans to get together with her boyfriend after the shop closed.  She asked if it was okay to meet at a “dirty” bar.  I said “yes,” trusting her recommendation for a great local spot, but not quite knowing what she meant… dive bar or burlesque?!

Bar Ovni Bar Ovni

I met Yuli and her boyfriend at Ovni.  It was a nice enough, not fancy, locals bar, close to Sol.  It turned out to be the perfect last meal of my trip: a little jamon, a few croquetas, and a fair amount of sangria, all in excellent Spanish company.

At the end of the night, I was honored that Yuli took me back to her apartment to see its rooftop view of Sol.  I felt priviledged to enter a Spanish home.  Looking out over Sol and beyond, my adventures ended on a definite high point.

Overlooking Sol Overlooking Sol

Chocolate & Churros

Posted in Madrid | 106 Comments »

I learned about chocolate and churros when I first started researching the regional specialties of Spain.  I read that it was a tradition in Madrid to indulge in the duo either at breakfast or during the very late night/early morning hours.  I was immediately in love with the idea of dipping hot, sweet churros into thick, dark drinking chocolate.

In Valencia In Valencia


On my trip, I tried to eat everything in its place.  There was no way, however, that I was going to wait until the end of my trip to try chocolate and churros in Madrid.  I tasted it in Valencia, my very first stop.

I chose a xocolateria called L’Orxateria right beside Mercado Central.  The dark chocolate was delicious, though so thick and rich that I could only drink half before it was no longer a pleasant extravagance.  The churros, short rods of fried dough, were served cold and greasy.  I felt like I ruined good chocolate when I dipped the oily churros.

I was disappointed in my first chocolate and churros tasting, but I figured they must be better in Madrid.  Though you can find the combination in almost any city, I held off until I was back in the capital.  There were plenty of other treats to taste in the meantime.

Sitting Churros

In Madrid, over a month later…

In the morning, many bars had cold platters of churros on the counter, in place of the evening tapas.  (I saw a spot that kept tall stacks in a glass case all day long.)  While waiting for my laundry, I ordered a churro for breakfast at onesuch bar.  It tasted tragically of old, unchanged fryer oil.

At Chocolat Chocolat

I didn’t give up on churros.  I had faith that I just needed to go to a churreria or chocolateria, which specialize in the pairing.

I started at Chocolat (Calle Santa Maria 30).  Its menu boasts “churros caliente.”  Nevertheless, when they arrived seconds later, they were stone cold.  I took them back to the counter and asked, “Es posible caliente?”  They put some new ones in the fryer, while I shifted my focus to the goblet of drinking chocolate.  This chocolate was made of a very good, very dark chocolate, though it was only slightly thicker than American milk-based hot chocolate.  When my fresh churros arrived, they were perfectly hot and ungreasy.  Chowing down, however, the batter was bitter.  While I know that Spanish churros are not as sweet as those in Mexico, I followed the example of others around me, taking two sugar packets and sprinkling their contents over my churros.  I liked the churros better with sugar, but ultimately they were just a ridged vehicle for the chocolate.  This might have been fine if the chocolate had been thicker so it could cling to the churro.

Chocolateria San Gines Chocolateria San Gines

Unsatisfied, that same night, I made a midnight trip to Chocolateria San Gines (Calle Pasadizo De San Gines 5).  One of the most famous destinations for chocolate and churros, it is open all night long.  Discussing churros, a couple of Madrilenos guaranteed that I would not get cold ones at San Gines.  I left them and went straight there, ready to finally taste the chocolate and churros of my dreams.  When the server brought my order, I immediately touched the churros… and they were cold.  I couldn’t believe it.  Once again, I sent them back, asking for hot churros.  The chocolate part of the equation was equally disappointing.  It was appropriately thick, but I could taste that it had been made so with cornstarch.  As it sat, it became too thick to drink, no longer even appetizing.  (The Food Network website has a recipe for San Gines’ chocolate and churros.  Indeed, their version is made with chocolate, milk, cornstarch, and sugar.)

I never found that idyllic combination of chocolate and churros.  I still hope it exists.  Next time I go to Spain, I’d like to try Valor, which has locations all over the country.  (Any other recommendations?)

La Mallorquina La Mallorquina

While there are no churros to be had at La Mallorquina (Puerta del Sol 8), I did find a pretty perfect hot chocolate there.  It was both decidedly dark and seriously sweet.  It was as thick as could be while still being smoothly sippable.  I was assured that the only ingredients are chocolate, cream, and sugar.  (Essentially then, it is like drinking a sweetened chocolate ganache.)  Despite the rich ingredients, it wasn’t overwhelming; this is the only drinking chocolate I tasted that was good to the last drop.

La Mallorquina La Mallorquina

La Mallorquina is a pasteleria.  While there are no churros, there are plenty of other decadences to soothe a sweet tooth.  The counters are lined with small plates, each with an individual serving of cake or pastry.  Just point to pick.

Finding Asturias

Posted in Madrid | 1 Comment »

Madrid was the perfect place to end my trip.  Food from every region of Spain is neatly represented in the capital.  As I checked out the menus posted across town, it was like reading a “Best of” Spanish cuisine.

Though I covered a lot of ground in six weeks, I couldn’t go everywhere.  While I passed through it on the long bus ride from San Sebastian to Santiago, I did not get to stop in Asturias, a region on the northern coast of Spain, just east of Galicia.  I was happy, however, to find an amazing Asturian meal at Casa Hortensia (Calle Farmacia 2) in Madrid…

Restaurante Casa Hortensia

I went to Casa Hortensia with Manoj.  (We met a week earlier when I shared that massive Cocida Madrileno at Taberna de la Daniela.)  While they were completely booked with reservations when we met there at 1pm, they said we could come back at 3.  We could tell from the tables, full of large families, that this was a special place for Sunday dinner.  We took the 3pm slot and went out for a coffee to pass the time.

Cabrales Cheese

Asturias is the undisputed dairy capital of Spain.  When we finally sat down at Casa Hortensia, we were immediately brought a plate of cabrales, the region’s renowned blue cheese. It was deliciously pungent, stronger than any gorgonzola I’ve tasted.  Texturally, it was creamy and spreadable, almost like a chunky hummus.  The cabrales paired perfectly with the acidic Asturian apple sidra we were drinking.

White Asparagus
I have heard so much about the white asparagus from Navarre, the region just to the west of Asturias. I hadn’t been able to taste it so we ordered the white asparagus as a starter. It was not my favorite, slightly mushy and faint of flavor.

I came to Casa Hortensia for its fabada, an Asturian white bean stew. It did not disappoint.  Fabada is traditionally made with large, wide white beans called “fabes de la granja.”  These beans were so tender and flavorful, having been cooked long enough to absorb all the meatiness of the other ingredients: chorizo, morcilla, ham, and pork fat.  The paprika from the chorizo had seeped into the broth, making it rust-colored and a little smoky.

Like any great comfort food, the fabada was both simple and soul-satisying.  Even as I sat there, I imagined making fabada on a cold day.  While I loved it in October, it would be the perfect antidote to winter.

Roast Lamb

After the filling fabada, I wasn’t sure that I had room for any more food.  I almost wished that we hadn’t also ordered the roast lamb.  When it arrived, it didn’t look the least bit appealing.  There was a bare bone protruding from some meat and a pile of pale potatoes.  Then, I tasted a little lamb with a little potato and, wow, it skyrocketed to my mental list of best bites in Spain.

The lamb was small and wonderfully tender.  We asked the server if it was a suckling lamb, but he said that it wasn’t.  I was surprised because it had all the mild, delicate flavor of the suckling lamb I had in Salamanca.  It also had great crispy skin.

The potatoes, as unappealingly blah as they looked, almost stole the show from the lamb.  Like the beans in the fabada, these potatoes had sucked in all the flavor from the rest of the dish: lamb jus, onion, garlic and olive oil.  When we gushed about the potatoes the server, he explained that they are sauteed and then added to the roasting pan with the lamb.  While the meat is cooking, the potatoes are basted with the jus.  These potatoes prove that looks aren’t everything; they were beautiful on the inside!

While we were full before the lamb came, Manoj and I miraculously had more stomach for that meat and those potatoes.  We finished every bite.

Casa Hortensia

Suckling Pig (and lamb) in Salamanca

Posted in Castilla y Leon | 66 Comments »

Suckling animals (pig, lamb, goat) are fed exclusively on their mother’s milk and slaughtered before they are one month old.  The resulting meat is famously tender. 

Suckling Pig Suckling Pig

As I traveled the country, I saw suckling pigs in many of the major markets.  I was always intrigued by their impeccably white, perfectly smooth skin.  They looked fake to me, like little wax sculptures of sleeping swine.   Sometimes, they were arranged like mini Madame Tussaud’s showpieces; othertimes, they were just casually piled on top of each other, making them look even more unreal. 

Suckling Pig, Halved Suckling Pig, Halved or Whole, Madrid

Some market vendors slice the pigs in half from snout to tail, perfect for an anatomy lesson, or your smaller dinner.

Casa Paca Cochinillo Asado

While Segovia is famous for its roast suckling pig, Salamanca is the closest I’ll get to Segovia. 

I went to Casa Paca (Plaza del Peso 10), not far from Salamanca’s amazing Plaza Mayor.  A white tablecloth joint with snooty servers, I felt like I had to apologize for taking a table, even though I arrived early to a nearly empty dining room.  (I don’t think I felt that way anywhere else on my trip.) 

Luckily, the roast suckling pig, or cochinillo asado, was delicious.  The thick, oxymoronic skin was hard, yet flexible.  A steak knife was no match it.  Instead, I had to bend the skin and break it off in delicious, glass-like shards.  And then the meat, oh the meat!  It was dense, tender, and juicy, like the plumpest chicken breast.  “Suckling” sounds so rich, and it was.  The meat tasted intensely of… pork.  It was pure pork goodness.   

Asador Arandino Lechazo Asado

I ordered the suckling lamb at Asador Arandino (Calle Azucena 5).  The server, who didn’t speak English, tried to ask me if I wanted anything else.  Already a splurge, I deliberately skipped a first course.  When it arrived, however, I realized that she’d been trying to ask if I wanted anything else to go with my meat.  The dish, on its own, was one baby lamb leg, nothing else!  I felt like Fred Flinstone, though I used a knife and fork.  It is interesting… while the suckling pig was the porkiest pork imagineable, the meat of the suckling lamb went the opposite taste direction: it was the most subtle, delicate, and luscious lamb.  In the end, I asked for bread to soak up all the juices from the bottom of the dish.  It could not have been a simpler, or more delicious, meal. 

Horno de Lena Horno de Lena

Cochinillo Asado in the Horno de Lena

On my way out of Asador Arandino, the host kindly showed me their horno de lena, a special wood-burning oven used to roast the meat.  He even had one of the cooks come out to pose for a picture!

Jamon Iberico

Posted in Castilla y Leon | 107 Comments »

The Dehesa

Many people consider Jamon Iberico, and particularly Jamon Iberico Bellota, to be the best ham in the world.  It comes from the region of Extremadura, as well as parts of Castilla y Leon and Andalusia, in western Spain.

The ham comes from Iberian pigs that have freely roamed the “dehesa,” a landscape blessed with cork trees, evergreens, and oaks.  The pigs graze on grasses, as well as mushrooms and hard herbs, such as rosemary and thyme.  This diet permeates the aroma and flavor of their meat.

Jamon Iberico Bellota is made particularly from pigs that are born in the spring.  Over the course of the montanera, the prime fattening period from November to January, these spring pigs eat mostly acorns (called bellota) that have fallen from evergreen and cork oak trees.  During the three months, a pig can gain 150 pounds or more.

I really, really wanted to learn more about Iberico ham while I was in Spain.  I also wanted to see where the famous pigs eat their acorns.  My wish came true when I had a very special opportunity to tour Fermin, the only Spanish company allowed by the USDA to export their ham to American soil.

Home of the Iberico Pig Home of the Iberico Pig

I took the bus from Salamanca to La Alberca, both in the region of Castilla y Leon.  It was an incredibly beautiful and surprising ride.  I was amazed at the wide open pastures.  Along the way, there were massive bulls with curled horns, stocky cows, flocks of sheep, and a few Iberian pigs.  From my bus window, the animals looked unchaperoned, free to roam as nature intended.

La Alberca La Alberca

When I arrived in La Alberca, the wooden beams on the buildings’ second stories made me feel like I had been transported back to Shakespeare’s time.  The stone crosses took me back even further.  La Alberca, it turns out, is a well-preserved medieval village.  I wandered the town in awe for an hour, until it was time to head to Fermin for my tour.

An Iberico Pig (Pata Negra) in La Alberca An Iberico Pig (Pata Negra) in La Alberca

Me, with an Iberico Pig! An Iberico Pig (Pata Negra) in La Alberca

As I started towards Fermin, I ran into a very large pig.  I recognized him immediately from an episode of Jose Andres’ Made in Spain.  Each summer, it is tradition that one pig is chosen to roam the town of La Alberca.  It is fed by the community until winter.  Then, ironically on the Feast Day of St. Antonio, protector of animals, the fattened pig is raffled off, providing the winner with a good amount of food.

(This particular pig was so large that it took him ten steps to go from standing to lying on the ground.  When he was finally down, he grunted and closed his eyes, allowing me a quick photo op.)

Fermin Touring Fermin

Iberico Ham (Not Yet Aged) Jamon Iberico de Bellota

For sanitation reasons, visitors are not typically permitted to visit Fermin.  I am very lucky; they made a special allowance for me as a culinary student.  (They made sure I was properly sanitized before heading into the facilities.)  Everything happens in one building: slaughtering, processing, aging, and packaging.  I was able to tour it all, walking through each step of creating Jamon Iberico, as well as chorizo and lomo.

Jamon Iberico Bellota

Back in Salamanca, I slowly savored my first Jamon Iberico Bellota, along with the last of my Artequeso Manchego.

Upon first inspection, I was struck by the intense red of the bellota, as well as its thorough white marbling.  It looked more like a great steak than what I’ve known as pork-the-other-white-meat.  Holding the meat to the light, it was a stained glass spectrum of reds, oranges, and pinks.  The outer circle of flesh was deep maroon while the center was more of a sunset orange.  When I touched the meat, it coated my fingers with a silky layer of fat.  Like baby oil, it felt clean.  Finally tasting the bellota, each slice was complex.  The outer edges were that maroon red because they were more dehydrated; they had aged closer to air.  This meat was slightly chewy and tasted intensely of ham and earth.  Conversely, the more subtle center of each slice was buttery soft; it tore easily with the gentlest tug of my teeth.  I could taste the sweet nuttiness of the acorns.  It was an adventure just to explore one slice of the world’s best ham.  I ate ten.

Jamon Iberico Bellota


Posted in Castilla-La Mancha | 160 Comments »

Many people make Toledo a daytrip from Madrid; it’s an easy half-hour trip by train or bus.  I spent three days based in Toledo, including half-day trips to nearby Consuegra and Tembleque.  I really loved my time there; Toledo and the region of Castilla-La Mancha definitely deserve more than just a quick trip. 

Ciervo Estofado Judias con Perdiz (Beans with Partridge)

The food of Castilla-La Mancha, a land-locked region smack in the center Spain, is remarkably different from other regions.  As I toured the perimeter of Spain, there was always salt cod and calamari to be found.  Less so in Castilla-La Mancha.  When I arrived in Toledo, the menus suddenly featured perdiz (partridge), ciervo (venison), and conejo (rabbit).  This region of Spain has traditionally lived off its wild game.  The food is still hearty peasant fare, including wild game stews and plates of nourishing beans.  While Spanish food does not typically use a lot of sauces, I tasted a lot of gravy in Toledo.     

San Tome's Marzipan Torta de Mazapan
Prior to my trip, my impression of marzipan was that it was an overly sweet, gritty paste, strangely formed into cutesy fruit or barnyard animals.  I learned otherwise in Toledo.  This city is famous for its marzipan and Santo Tome is one of the best known producers.  The marzipan I found there was still very sweet, but it was also smooth and dense.  Initially, I was confused by a sugar-coated layer of sunflower yellow in the middle of my marzipan.  It turned out to be yema, candied egg yolk.  The yema contributed more texture than taste; the middle of the marzipan melted in my mouth.  The sugar that coated the yema added the most subtle crunch.

Manchego Cheese

Posted in Castilla-La Mancha | 4 Comments »

I had the amazing opportunity to tour Finca La Prudencia, a fourth-generation, family-run, artisan cheese producer in Tembleque.

I took the bus from Toledo.  The landscape in Castille La Mancha is so beautiful that I really enjoyed the hour-long ride.

Castille La Mancha Castille La Mancha

Castille La Mancha Castille La Mancha

According to the plan, when I arrived in Tembleque I was supposed to call Adolfo, part of that fourth generation.  Heading towards the center of town, I found myself at the weekly market.

Wednesday Market Wednesday Market

Wednesday Market Wednesday Market

Having wandered the market, I went into a bar to call Adolfo.  I ordered a cafe con leche so as not to be rude.  Then, I showed the bartender a piece of paper with Adolfo’s name and phone number and tried to ask if I could use the phone.  He pointed to the back, beyond where the phone was hanging on the wall.  I asked again and he pointed towards a back table.  I realized that I had just walked straight into the bar where Adolfo was having a meeting.  I introduced myself and then waited with my coffee.  When the meeting was over, Adolfo met me at the front.  As we walked out the door together, another man met us.  Adolfo had arranged for Javier Aguirre de Navasques, the Export Manager, to pick me up from town, take me to the property, and give me an English tour.  I am astounded by the generosity that Adolfo and Javier extended in arranging all of this, just because I am a culinary student.  (Thank you to both of them.)

Finca La Prudencia

Finca La Prudencia (, which sells its cheese under the names Artequeso and Buenalba, is keeping it real as an artisan cheese producer.  Most of the sheep which produce the milk are on the same property as the manufacturing equipment.  (As they now produce 300 tons of cheese per year, it’s no longer possible to exclusively use their own sheep.  Still, all of the milk comes from animals in a very close proximity to the property.)

Transports and Refrigerates the Milk Refrigerates the milk

As the cheese is produced with raw milk, it is important to take great care in the cheese-making process.  The milk is collected early in the morning and kept carefully refrigerated at 4-5 degrees C.

Heats the Milk to Separate Curds and Whey

Within 24 hours of milking, this machine heats the milk to between 34-36 degrees C, close to body temperature.  Animal rennet is added, turning the milk into curds (the solids) and whey (the liquid).

Puts Cheese in Molds Cheese Press

The curds are separated from the whey.  (The whey is sold to other companies, who might use it to make cottage cheese or as animal feed.)

The fresh cheese curds are placed into molds and pressed to create a solid, dense form.  They are pressed for 7-8 hours, to ensure that any excess whey is removed.

Dips Cheese in Saline Saline Dip

The molded, pressed rounds of cheese are dipped into salt water.  This saline will help flavor and preserve the cheese.

Official Label Official Label

All D.O Manchego cheese is labeled so you know it is from the real region.


This machine waxes some of the cheese as an anti-mold measure.  While the mold is a natural, safe part of cheese aging, certain countries require such a wax if the cheese is to be imported.

Aging Cheese Aging Cheese

The cheese is then aged in temperature and humidity controlled rooms.

Artequeso makes three kinds of D.O. manchego cheese.

  1. The semi-cured manchego is aged for 4-5 months.  During that time, it is cleaned with water.
  2. The cured manchego is aged for a year.  During that time, it is brushed with olive oil, to clean it and give it a beautiful, dark olive green rind.
  3. Also aged for 12 months, there is also a special manchego which is kept in olive oil.  The oil adds flavor and richness, while acting as another preservative.

Goat Milk Cheese in Wine Goat Milk Cheese with Paprika

Finca La Prudencia also makes other cheeses under the name Buenalba, including various goat milk cheeses.


The cheese is processed from start to finish on the premises, including final packaging.

I appreciate the deliberate scale of Finca La Prudencia.  The manufacturing facility is not big; everything happens within five rooms.  After touring the plant, Javier and I took a very short walk (less than two minutes) to see the sheep.

Manchego Sheep Manchego Sheep

Manchego Sheep Manchego Sheep

The cheese might be washed with olive oil or covered in rosemary, but fundamentally it is only made of the sheep’s milk and salt water.  Manchego cheese gets its distinctive flavor from the milk of these manchego sheep.

While the sheep happened to be penned while I was there, they go out to feed on the open pasture every day.  There, they are tended by shepherds and their dogs.  Touring La Prudencia, I got a sense of how things used to be… and how I think they should still be.  La Prudencia is preserving a way of manufacturing that benefits the animals, the product, and the people who eat it.  As a culinary student, I am really lucky to have had the opportunity to tour it.

Cocido Madrileno

Posted in Madrid | 63 Comments »

This will always be one of my favorite (and funniest) meals…

Taberna de la Daniela Taberna de la Daniela

When I was in Valencia, I met a man who was taking photos of street art.  He lives in Madrid so I asked if he would email me some suggestions for local, traditional restaurants to try there.  Taberna de la Daniela (Calle del General Pardinas 21) was on that list, specifically recommended for its Cocido Madrileno.

I went to Taberna on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  It was busy, with a lot of people waiting for tables, so I squeezed into a spot at the end of the bar.

The menu listed a house soup for 3 euros.  I asked the bartender if it was Cocido Madrileno and she said “yes.”  In no time, she came back with a small bowl of broth with thin noodles.

Not Cocido Madrileno

Now I didn’t know much about the cocido, but I knew that there was some meat involved.  I asked the bartender, “Cocido Madrileno?”  Something flickered across her face and she went back to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, she came back with a humongous platter.  On it, there was plenty of chickpeas and cabbage, along with pieces of potato, pork belly, bone marrow, beef thigh, blood sausage, chorizo, chicken leg, and ham hock.  I was completely astounded.  She cleared tapas from the bar to make room for the plate.

Cocido Madrileno

Then, she took my small bowl of soup and went back to the kitchen.  When she returned, she brought a sizeable tureen with her.  It contained the same broth and noodles as was in the first bowl, just twenty times as much of it.

Cocido Madrileno

People were looking at me.  I turned to those closest and gave my frequent explanation/excuse.  “Estudiante de cocina,” I told them, which means “student of the kitchen.”  Then, in English, “I didn’t know.”  Everyone thought it was hilarious.  (It was.)

Cocido Madrileno My Cocido Madrileno Bib

I ladled some broth into my bowl.  I took a heaping spoon of chickpeas and another of cabbage, and then piled some meat on top.  I started with the chorizo, blood sausage, and what I thought was a meatball.  I took the potato, too.

Cocido Madrileno - Bowl #1 Cocido Madrileno - Bowl #2

I tasted the broth first.  Everything on that platter had simmered away for hours to create incredible richness and complexity.  As I broke into the chorizo, its paprika burst out and mingled with the broth.  Likewise, the cinnamon and clove sweetness of the blood sausage added yet another dimension.  What looked like a meatball was actually a delicious, dense dumpling, made from breadcrumbs, egg, garlic, and parsley.

I made myself a second bowl.  The pork belly, chicken drumstick, and ham hock were all moist and delicious.  The only fault in the dish was a very dry piece of beef thigh, which I only identified through a game of animal-part charades.

As I ate (slowly and over the course of a couple of hours), I talked with the people around me.  There was a group from Bilbao who kindly instructed me on how to cook a cocido.  There was the gentleman who kept warning me not to eat too many chickpeas, miming gas so I would understand why.  When I was nearly stuffed, Manoj sat beside me at the bar and let me share a little with him.  It became a kind of community dinner, as cocidos are meant to be.

Cocido Madrileno Friends Cocido Madrileno Friends

Madrid’s Markets

Posted in Madrid | 67 Comments »

I walked into the Mercado de San Miguel under the impression that it was the main market in Madrid.  I found a sleek, super-sanitized, fancy food gallery.  I learned that the market was recently renovated, only re-opening in May of 2009.  Yes, there are high-end vendors selling flawless fish, vegetables, meat, and more.  Moreso, however, the new mercado is a glorified food court.  You can stop by one stall and get your freshly shucked oysters before going next door to get a glass of cava to compliment them.  Or, you can get a plate of mixed olives and a glass of vermouth from the same stand: one-stop shopping.  Most of the stalls have counters where you can eat; there are also tables and counters in the center of the market.  San Miguel is really gorgeous and I ate very well there, but I wondered where the regular person buys their weekly groceries?

Mercado de San Miguel Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel Mercado de San Miguel

The kind folks at the gourmet Portuguese bakery told me that I could find that other kind of market down the street at Mercado de la Cebada.  I went directly there.  It is an everyman market: the opposite of San Miguel, gritty and grimy, with blood on the floor.  I saw a delivery man with whole lambs slung over his shoulder.  One by one, he tossed them over the counter to the meat vendor like they were sacks of potatoes.  The Mercado de la Cebada has two floors, though there are a lot of empty stalls.  It has all of your regular vendors selling meat, fish, vegetables, and flowers.  There is also the knife sharpener and the clock repairman.  As I wandered this market with my camera in hand, I felt like I made friends in this place.  There were a bunch of great clowns who wanted to pose for pictures for me.  The roast suckling pig stall gave me a postcard of the market a hundred years ago.  It felt like the market equivalent of the Cheers bar where everyone knows your name.

Mercado de la Cebada Mercado de la Cebada

Mercado de la Cebada Mercado de la Cebada

Mercado de la Cebada Mercado de la Cebada

Mercado de la Cebada Mercado de la Cebada

Mercado de la Cebada IMG_3482