Sorry for the lack of updates over the past two weeks but I have been in Spain sans laptop for a glorious holiday abroad. Over the next two weeks I’ll be bringing you pics and notes from my trip in this format. My trip had three major destinations and two smaller stop. The three major: Madrid, San Sebastian, and Barcelona will each get a post detailing my exploits and eats. The two smaller day trips to Zaragoza and Bibao will probably be combined into one post.
“Why Spain?” you may ask. In the summer of 2008 I went on a two month backpacking trip across Europe to celebrate the completion of my college studies. On that trip I went all over western and eastern Europe. The only major country I did not visit was, you guessed it, Spain. It’s time to rectify that mistake.
We will be starting with the capital of Spain, glorious Madrid!
Day 1: Arrival
Madrid sits mostly on a large flat dusty plain at the center of the country. It’s surrounded by vasts stretches of, well, not much. As I flew over this central area of Spain I noted the tress and fields below were all planted with exacting order like pins on a board with exact spacing between each tree. Quite an interesting effect from the air. This trip was my first time using AirBnB for lodging and the place I stayed in Madrid was a great way to start the adventure. It was a single apartment all my own with kitchen facilities, ample space, and a nice bed situated right in the heart of the city just south of the main square, the plaza mayor. I arrived in the midst of a massive market day. All around my apartment were stands and stalls selling antiquities and art.
My old friend Angela is now living and working in Madrid along with her boyfriend Luis. We had agreed to meet for drinks and tapas at a bar some half hour walk from my apartment so I set off through the city on a leisurely route to meet them.
There was an even more massive market day just around the corner from the antiquities market surrounding my apartment. I wandered through sun-drenched streets teeming with stalls selling all manner of nick-knack.
Arriving at the bar, I had my first proper tapas of the trip. Little did I know that my friends had even more in store for me.
This is the matadoro, and old slaughterhouse rebuilt and repurposed by the city as a mixed used art and events space. These kinds of repurposed spaces are all the rage in Spain now, and I will have a few more to show you in upcoming posts. Knowing that I write this blog, my friends brought me here because THERE WAS A FOOD TRUCK FESTIVAL THAT DAY. Amazing! I’ll have a bonus feastivals post for you soon with a full review of the matadoro food truck festival!
We ended the day with a walk along the beautiful river walk area of Madrid. The weather was perfect and the city’s residents were out in force enjoying one of the last sweet days of summer.
Day 2: My First Spanish Food Tour
I got up early to haul it down to the plaza Mayor for a food tour of the central part of Madrid. This would be my first experience with traditional Spanish cooking, and it would set the culinary standard for the rest of my trip.
The first stop was a traditional Spanish coffee house and chocolateria. If you see the plaque above, this is a special designation given to any establishment that has been in continuous operation for over 100 years. Basically, if you see this plaque, the place is both old school and amazing. The story goes that the pastry chef of the king wanted to finish his royal service and open his own place. The king both agreed to his request for a permit AND assigned the royal decorator to plan the place. The resulting bakery is rich with marble, gold leaf, and mahogany. Spanish hot chocolate is thick rich and very dark. I love it.
Our second stop was a recently renovated market near the center of the city. Here we sampled vermouth, marcona almonds, and olive skewers with with quail eggs.
This was a bonus stop. This is a convent for nuns that aren’t supposed to have contact with people outside. What you can do is go inside and use a rotating wooden platform to send money in. A moment or two later the platform begins to rotate again and out come cookies!
Probably the most interesting dish of the tour. This is an oxtail stew wrapped up in a package of dough and fried. This was then topped with a roasted red pepper and balsamic reduction. Really delicious dish.
Another plaque for another amazing restaurant. This place makes a traditional stew cooked in a clay jar over an open fire. This one stew produces a range of amazing dishes served as separate courses at the restaurant. We got to tour the kitchen to see how it’s made and try the first course, broth with angel hair noodles.
La Dispensa De Carmen is a traditional Spanish lunch place for workers who can’t prepare a full meal at home. In Spain, lunch is the biggest meal and many workers return home for it. This is a place to get something “home cooked.” We got some meatballs and empanadas (filled with tomato, tuna, and egg).
Jamon Imberico. This is maybe the signature food of Spain. People of Spain may disagree amongst themselves about many things, but they all agree that they love the cured pork. We tried three varieties of Jamon: Serrano, Iberico, and Bellota.
This bar was my first encounter with one of my favorite new dishes of Spain: Tortilla de Patat. This is basically an omelet of potato and onion but boy is it good when it’s done right. This place is one of the best, and I can tell you now I’m going to do my best to find the key to this simple dish in my own kitchen.
If there’s one dish that is “the dish” of Madrid, it is Bocadillo de Calamares or the fried calamari sandwich. Fresh fried calamari topped only with lemon on a soft baguette style bread. This is a delicious reminder of the po-boy sandwiches from back home.
Our last top was for turron. Turron is basically hard toffee or almond bark. Not my favorite thing in the world, but basically THE traditional Spanish sweet.
After my food tour I spent the rest of the day doing some sightseeing just wandering around town.
My third day in Madrid was my last but I did manage to get to Chocolatería San Gines in the morning for churros and chocolate. This is THE place in Madrid for churros and they did not disappoint.