Tastings

Chocolate and churros

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If I was going to be a good food tourist in Madrid, I got the sense that I would need to seek out chocolate con churros, preferably for breakfast. We went to Chocolatería San Ginés , just off Puerta del Sol, near our apartment. They have been serving hot, thick, rich, melted drinking chocolate along with stacks of crispy, crunchy, fried doughnut-y churros for dipping since 1894, so it seemed a good place to start. Drinking chocolate has been enjoyed in Europe since the 17th century, after the explorer Cortes brought it back from the Americas (and then sweetened it significantly). Churros originated a few centuries before that, almost certainly in Europe, created either by Spanish goatherds or Portuguese travelers who had seen something similar in China, depending on who you ask. When drinking chocolate came around, it seemed as though churros had found their lifelong partners. Chocolatería San Ginés was smallish but airy, with a long marble bar, blue and white tiling, and plenty of small tables indoors and out. We found a seat and then went right to the counter to order. I’m not sure if you could even order something else, but we kept it simple. It was a delicious, if extreeeemely rich breakfast, suitable for the world explorer or Aztec royal in all of us.


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Tastings

Where to lunch in Madrid

I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling I like to eat delicious, authentic food, and I’m usually on a bit of a budget. I also don’t necessarily want to have a “fancy” dining out experience more than once or twice. The rest of the time, I just want solid, casual food that the local people might enjoy. In Madrid, La Sanabresa, in the Cortes neighborhood, is just that. It ended up being our very favorite restaurant in Madrid, and we ate there no less than three times, but we have no record of ever having visited. We took no photos. This was partly because we were just hungry and the food was so good, and partly because, I’m going to be honest, it didn’t look like much. These are not your carefully plated, elegantly sauced plates. These are everyday, basic, traditional, and affordable foods, very well done.

In Madrid we often ended up having our large meal at lunch, because Guillaume was often very hungry after being in the archives all morning, and a satisfying meal was the perfect way to start an afternoon of sightseeing. Plus, we couldn’t quite adjust to eating dinner at (or after) 9 PM. (I am so, so old.) In the evening we would head back to the apartment, weary and foot-sore, and put together a quick salad, some delicious Spanish cheese and bread. Perfect. This particular restaurant we found doing a little internet search for a good lunch restaurant. And that is exactly what this is, although they are open for dinner as well. We, being hungry Americans, would turn up at 1:30 and there would be maybe one or two tables taken. By 2 it was packed and when we left, satisfied, there was a line of people waiting for a table. The first time we walked in the door and asked for a table for two. The very old-school, slightly harried waiter (who got only more harried as the lunch service went on) spread his arms and nodded his head indicating the lay of the dining room, and went about his business. We chose a nice table near the door, but cozy in a corner. There is one medium-sized dining room, slightly tackily decorated in pastels, with tablecloths and paper covers. The tables are quite close together, but nothing unusual for a big city. The large menu is separated into an à la carte section, and a large section of prix fixe menus, or menú del día, which didn’t really seem to change by the day. These five or so menus, with prices from about 10 euros to just over 20,  come with a starter, main course and dessert, as well as bread and water, juice or wine. The choices are plentiful for a prix fixe, with at least 10 or more in each price category, so there was no problem finding choices that hit the spot. It seemed maybe a bit gimmicky, and I didn’t do the math to see if it actually was a savings, but all the locals were ordering menus, and people seemed to keep coming back.

The first time we went I had a simple grilled asparagus which was heavily drizzled with amazing olive oil, sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and so, so good. For my main course I ordered roasted pork ribs with potatoes and fruit salad for dessert, which was good, but I should have gone with the crescents of fresh cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple that the regulars were getting, as the fruit salad was sitting in a bit too much juice. Guillaume had paella, which was good, but we definitely went in search of better paella elsewhere, and, garnering the instant admiration of the waiter, stewed tripe. He finished with an excellent, lightly sweet cheesecake with blueberry sauce. For our second meal I had the special salad (spoiler alert, not special, and really the only dud of our three meals), a nice, fresh grilled whole white fish and that great cheesecake that I was so jealous about. Guillaume had Russian salad, which is essentially potato salad, the pork ribs that HE was so jealous about, and cheesecake. The third time I got that asparagus again, escalope de jambon (cordon bleu, essentially), and an almond cake that was lovely. Guillaume got paella again, tripe again and you guessed it, cheesecake, again. The man likes what he likes. Simple, filling, authentic, and affordable, made traditionally and with, if not care, then at least love. We left happy, our pockets still full along with our stomachs, ready to explore Madrid.

 

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Wanderings

If the espadrille fits…

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On our first day in Madrid, we left our rented apartment, turned a corner and came upon a long line of people snaking out of a building. I’m always curious about lines that form, and what is so worth waiting for, but during the day, in the excitement of a new city, I sort of forgot about it. Until we returned in the early evening and there was still a line, even longer. Every time we passed that corner, no matter what time of day, there was always a significant gaggle of people waiting. After a few days, my curiosity got the better of me and I noted the name of the shop to look up when we got home. It turned out that this shop is Casa Hernanz, a cordeleria and alpargateria, and basically the place to get alpargatas, which you may know as espadrilles, in Madrid. They make them traditionally, by hand, and they are also very affordable, just 8 euros for the simplest pairs. The shoes that are available are all up in the windows so that you can choose the espadrilles you’d like to try before you get inside and maybe take photos to show the sales people. Once you’ve made it past the line, you head straight to the counter and ask for what you’d like, and in what size (it’s a good idea to know your European size in Spanish) and they pull from the back. You can try them on and then choose your pairs. Casa Hernanz makes the more simple gatas, but they also carry trendier designs and fabric patterns made by a few other Spanish brands that also make the shoes traditionally. They are simple shoes (e.g. no cushy insoles, and some don’t even come with a designated left and right foot) but fun, colorful, perfect for summer, and a great souvenir to bring back from Spain! Casa Hernanz, at Calle de Toledo, 18, is open for most the the day, but they do close for a few hours in the afternoon for siesta.

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Sightings

Madrid

I have heard wonderful things about Spain, so I was not particularly surprised when Madrid turned out to be a beautiful, friendly, fun city. (Although, Barcelona was usually the city being mentioned, so that city must really be something.) I think there’s something about the combination of the wine or beer at every meal, the long siesta in the middle of the day, and I swear there is something to greeting everyone with “hola!” That final vowel just opens up the mouth and face and makes people instantly more relaxed and welcoming than, for example “bonjour”, ending in a closed, reserved mouth position (are my acting roots showing?) Whatever the reason, we had a wonderful time eating so much ham, drinking so much wine, and seeing amazing art and architecture. I’ll speak more about the food, including where and what we ate and enjoyed in later posts (tapas are a brilliant idea, aren’t they? Who ever just wants to eat one thing and just be done with it? I certainly don’t.) These are the sites and wanderings we particularly enjoyed in Madrid.

Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado) One of the largest art collections in Europe, this beautiful museum, of a manageable size, houses a lot of religious art, including not just Spanish artists like El Greco, but lots of Dutch painters as well. Also there, many Goya paintings including The Second of May and the Third of May 1808, and the famous triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthy Delights.

Paseo del Prado A narrow, tree-lined park between two roads on the east side of the city, near the Prado museum. A nice walk. DSC02823

Plaza Mayor We found ourselves walking through this central square nearly every day, as we were staying nearby. Quite touristy and filled with lots of costumed characters (including an amusing fat spiderman) and probably avoidable restaurants and cafes, but with some nice architecture, statues and murals, it’s worth a look.

Rastro Flea Market This market, held on Sundays in a huge area of the Embajadores neighborhood. Large, and with an eclectic mixture of the new (art, t-shirts, leather bags, clothing, espadrilles, fabrics, souvenirs, underwear) and old (antiques of all sorts, mostly along the side streets). A little bit of everything, very enjoyable, even if we didn’t buy anything.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia We visited this modern art museum mostly for Picasso’s Guernica, but really enjoyed all the art, as well as the setting.

Palacio Real de Madrid We didn’t go in the royal palace, but the outside, and the surrounding Plaza de Oriente (with several cafés for a coffee or glass of wine) and Sabatini Gardens were very beautiful.DSC03021

Almudena Cathedral This large cathedral, beside the palace, is a nice example of a newer cathedral, as it opened in 1993 (but took 100 years to build).

Other sites:

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