Archive for the Madrid Category

Last Day in Spain

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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

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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

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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

Cocido Madrileno

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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

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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

One Night in Madrid

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La Tia Cebolla - Madrid

I landed in Madrid yesterday around 5pm local time. By the time I made it to my hostel, it was 7pm and I was very hungry.  I talked to Paulo at the front desk; I explained that I am a culinary student and that I was looking for some delicious, authentic, Spanish food. He got very excited, took out a map, and directed me to his favorite place for paella, an easy ten-minute walk from the hostel.  When I found the place, it was a dingy, empty, Irish bar!  The sign (in English) claimed the best paella in Madrid.  It was the kind of place that I avoid at all cost.

Along the way to the presumptious Irish dud, another spot had caught my eye.  The place was small, packed, and there was a lot of laughing.  I went back and found it: La Tia Cebolla (Calle de la Cruz 27). I sat at the bar and ordered a glass of the house red.  Along the bar, platters of tapas were lined behind a protective layer of plexiglass, probably to keep people like me from snitching just one beautiful olive.  First, I chose a slice of tortilla espagnola.  A tortilla is a dense Spanish omelette served at room temperature; the espagnola is one of the most traditional, made with potatoes and grilled onions.  Overambitious, I also asked for the empanada de carne, a savory pastry stuffed with ground meat, grilled onion, and little flecks of tomato.  The slices were way bigger than I had expected from tapas; I offered some to the man standing next to me.  We ended up talking for hours, splitting plates of tapas all the while.  It turned out that he was a Jordanian pilot on an overnight layover in Madrid; he has been to Chicago many times.  It really was the perfect start to my trip.  Not only was the food delicious, but a connection was created over the act of sharing it.

La Tia Cebolla - Madrid