Madrid food diary

A warts and all account of food consumed (not all by me, mind) during a girl's weekend in Madrid

On the flight over, courtesy of Swiss air (early morning), a lemon muffin thing, plus raspberry yohgurt (which I hate, on account of the seeds and artificial flavour), and water.

By the time we find the apartment is it way after lunch and we are all STARVING. I mean really, really starving. I am seeing stars and have the tremors. We ask the rental agent to recommend a place to eat. She suggests the local bar/eatery at the end of our street. We eat an enormous lunch, including wine to celebrate the kick-off of our girlie weekend, and huge plates of grilled chicken or lamb, salad, the obligatory omelette, chips (all on one plate!) and bread. Nothing extraordinary in terms of inventiveness, but for 6 empty stomachs it tastes divine. Senses clear, grumpiness fades and we feel like we can indeed, bear this desperate, hard-up existence.

Later in the afternoon somewhere at the back of Plaza Mayor: belgian beer for Ms. Fabelhaft, Ben & Jerry's ice cream for Rachel, excellent espressos and cappucinos for the rest of us.

Gabriella and I hit up the supermarket in the basement of El Cortes Inglese and stock up on potato chips, Ben & Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough icecream (the first 2 my suggestion, when I'm hungry I go straight for the junk food jugular), wine, breakfast cereal, strawberries, milk, goats cheese, English Breakfast teabags and quark.

Back at the apartment, the Ben & Jerry's is a disappointment because the cookie dough is too grainy! yuk! But of course, I eat it anyway. We eat potato chips and drink wine over pedicures and cat naps on the sofa.

After glamming up suitably we head out at a suitably Madrid-style time of 10pm for dinner. Again we are starving (holidays are such hard work, people!).

After wandering the cobblestoned streets around our apartment we find a nice little restaurant with a vaguely horsey theme (bridles, horsehoes and such hang from the walls) and sit down to peruse the menu. None of us speak spanish, although two of our number speak italian, which is close enough to spanish for them to be able to muddle through the menu. Unlike multilingual switzerland, where we now realise we have been unaccountably spoiled, no-one speaks english, german or french. We order, with much stumbling, re-ordering (sorry, dear waiter) and confusion, a whole array of tapas-style dishes:

– fried potatoes with garlic (deliciously crispy)
– chorizo sausage (unpleasantly oily and disturbingly phallic : ) )
– jamon croquettes (anything fried is good really, isn't it?)
– calamari (hot and crispy, good)
– thinly-sliced jamon and a sharp cheese, to wrap around breadsticks
– a dish of steamed squid with paprika, over boiled potatoes – this is obviously a speciality of the area, because we saw the same dish a few times during our stay, but none of us liked it. In fact, a few of us got the heaving shudders over it.
– thinly sliced raw beef, cooked in front of us on a very very hot stone – this was unutterably delicious, seasoned with big grains of salt and perfectly cooked. Yum.

In fact, we noticed the big grainy salt a lot, perhaps it is the salt of choice in Spain?

Plus two pitchers of sangria, red wine, bread, water.

Next morning I hit the breakfast cereal, strawberries and tea. After the 6 of us finally shower and get ready, we make our way back to the cafe from yesterday's lunch. Manuela and I order toasted baguette-style bread (I forget what it was called), rubbed with tomato and, I presume, salt. We drizzle it with olive oil and down glasses of fresh oj (happily, all the oj in madrid seems to be fresh squeezed). Sadly, the coffee tastes like burnt mud and is undrinkable, so we head off, disappointed with our failure to acquire the requisite morning caffeine fix.

We shop…and shop…and finally, a downpour of rain after we exit muji drives us to find lunch, a place inexplicably called Cafe Hawaii despite serving nothing which resembles hawaii, or hawaiian food. There was a large dish of seemingly whole squid in a terracotta bowl on the counter, though…a long boozy lunch ensues, with sangria, wonderfully garlicky pasta (the only time we encounter pasta in a restaurant in this fine city during our stay), pieces of  flash-fried, tender veal (again with the big salt) with crisp home-made chips, salad (all with tuna), thick wedges of grilled salmon and bacalau (sp?) croquettes. Oh and wine. I shall never get used to this drinking in the middle of the day business. It makes me so sleepy. 

A late afternoon espresso and cups of green tea at a cozy, hipster-filled red corner cafe. Manuela has a slice of baked cheesecake, good but spoilt by a drenching of artificial raspberry sauce. I mean, how hard is it to puree up some raspberries and icing sugar?!

At the end of the day we exhaustedly shop for an uninspired make-at-home pasta. More potato chips and wine. I eat the last of the Ben & Jerrys (late night desperation).

Next morning, actually, almost afternoon: we head back to the cozy red cafe for breakfast. Oh, hello morning coffee! More tomatoes jamon toasted bread. Rachel has scrambled eggs and bacon. Caryl has a fabulous eggy potato cake thing, just right for filling the gaping hang-over hole. Cappucinos with whipped cream (I would have shuddered at this if it didn't turn out to be so good, trick is to stir the cream right in, and hey presto, it's a meal in itself), two each. Fresh orange juice, of course.

We skip lunch, because breakfast actually was lunch. Sometime in the afternoon we split into 2 groups of three and Ms. Fabelhaft, Rachel and I go back to the scene of the belgian beer crime. Ms Fabelhaft and I indulge in beer and chips in the late afternoon, with toasty spiced nuts and popcorny crisyp things. While wandering around aimlessly we come across Ginger, a beautiful restaurant which we immediately tag for our last supper in Madrid later that evening. The restaurant looks great inside, and the menu is reasonably priced and suitably drool-inducing.

Home for naps. Phew.

Luckily for us, the no-reservation policy and our non-smoking group ensure that a table for 6 is easily acquired. Bottle of champagne first, cheers all round to the first of hopefully many weekends away. Bread devoured by starving hordes. Starters arrive with surprising and very welcome speed. Salads with grilled goat's cheese, apple compote and surprise, the toasted crispy popcorn things from earlier in the afternoon. Delicious, absolutely, but the swizzle of mango sauce on the side decidedly unnecessary, marinated feta with smoked aubergine, garlic prawns and a beef (?) carpaccio. Red wine! with mains – pork cooked in the traditional style (a sort of carroty stew, delicious actually), grilled chicken with vegetables, lamb with something (my memory is a little vague here)…and mine, a beefy hamburger (minus bread) with foie gras (those of you who knew me as a vegetarian will be raising their eyebrows!). Despite the meatiness of my main, it was shock, horror, really really good….

Dessert took a while to consider. Someone might have had an espresso…my memory fails me again here (so much wine, probably) but there were definitely at least 2 big white plates with a chcolate construction placed squarely in the middle – a round chocolate biscuit or wafter, topped by a scoop of chocolate icecream, smothered in chocolate sauce and powdered with cocoa. Need I say that it was great? well, it was. Gabriella had a beautifully mild plate of fresh ricotta and quince, very subtle and fresh. 

So we staggered out, pleasantly full and giddy, having paid a total of 27euro each for an amazing 3-cou
rse meal, including wine and water. 

Up early the next morning to fly home. No time for food until we got to the boarding gate and even then it was an uninspired, overly sweet chocolate croissant which I couldn't eat, plus water. Manuela ate a ham and cheese roll, while the others had croissants and coffee. Swiss gifted us with stale raisin bread and more (damn) raspberry yoghurt. 

I felt overwhelmed by the Madrid meat overload. On the way home I had to stop at the asian grocer and buy tofu and greens, just to try and counteract all the meatiness…

On the way home we called home to let the families know we were back in the country. They insisted all was perfect on the homefront, and indeed The Grey Ham and Bruno even suggested Ms Fabelhaft and I make it a regular thing every weekend – we thought seriously about taking the connecting flight to New York that was just about to leave. Well, maybe next time…

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3 thoughts on “Madrid food diary

  1. Hey Cherie, this takes me back to my days in Madrid! I was living right around the corner from Ginger, in Calle de la Cruz, which was fabulous, though Ginger didn’t exist then. The tomato bread thing is originally from Catalonia, it’s pa amb tomaquet in catalan or pan con tomate in spanish, , and such a simple dish yet such a revelation too! I think the boiled squid dish is actually (large) octopus tentacles sliced – pulpo a la gallega – which is a specialty of Galicia but yes, pretty ubiquitous. I didn’t mind it but it is a bit of an acquired taste I guess; I saw this being made outdoors in Galicia, boiling these giant purple octopus in 40 gallon drums; they are really huge creatures. Madrid specialties are more the stewy dishes- cocido, stewed chickpeas with assorted meats and sausages, delicious though not light.
    My favourite things were the jamon (did you see the Museo de Jamon?); the anchovies; boquerones (marinated fresh anchovies, just divine); a good tortilla; pimientos de padron, little green peppers cooked on the grill plate with that salt; calamari; olives with sherry (there was this old bar that only served those two things – though every type of sherry and green olive!); prawns in garlic; chorizo cooked in cider… and the most amazing suckling pig (cruel? perhaps. Delicious? Definitely). sigh sigh sigh, we *may* be heading over at the end of this year but I doubt it.
    I do enjoy reading your posts, and particularly this one!
    love and besos xxx
    Justine
    PS at some point children do start sleeping for longer stretches, don’t they???

  2. The squid with paprika and potatos dish is actually not a speciality from the area, but a Galizian dish named “pulpo a la gallega” (it is octopus). However Madrid is well known for having lots of fish and seafood dishes and this particular one is found nationwide. In galizia, actually, potatos are served separately.
    I like your blog, by the way!
    About grainy salt, it’s basically used for grilled meat or fish.
    Seems you visited a lot of turistic places (where food is not necesarily good). Justine R gave you some hints on real Madrid food.
    By the way, I’m going to try to bake my own zopf, partly following your recipe, partly following my german friend Rouven’s.

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