Monday, June 2, 2014

Eating BIG in Spain: Madrid

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Chowing down in Spain's Capitol City

Apologies for the delay in posts, I've been away in Spain and have quite the special for regular readers during this month of June. My entire trip will be documented from start to finish and it all begins in Madrid. We'd spend four days here and during them I got a chance to see much of the city. While we didnt do as much eating as we did on other stops on this trip, I'm confident we did a nice chunk while there. Seeing as how Madrid is a real deal international city the food scene is a large one. No way anyone can do it justice with just a few days time but I went ahead and tried. Opening thoughts on Madrid are how different of a city this is from Barcelona (our last stop on the trip). Madrid seemed a little cleaner and more serious than the Olympic hosting city on the sea. I was most impressed with it's infrastructure, specifically the parks which are just gorgeous. We saw lots of different viewpoints but still left knowing many parts of the city weren't seen. The train system was very impressive and it's combination of old and new was something I enjoyed exploring.


Mercado San Miguel

Upon arriving in town we checked in at the hotel and left our bags as our room wasn't ready. I'd done a little research and as it turned out the Mercado de San Miguel was within walking distance. This would be a perfect place to make our inaugural stop on the trip since it's considered Madrid's best market. It might not be the favorite of all locals but it's a place where both them and tourists co-exist just fine. I'd say the stalls here we're more geared towards the tourists as most of them we're selling ready to eat items and or those ready be cooked upon ordering. We made our way straight to the world famous Jamon making sure that would be our first bite of the trip. It was as good as every foodie who's ever been to Spain has hyped it to be. Considering this was the first stop it was a little bit overwhelming. On top of that it takes my appetite a little bit of time to get going while I'm overseas. By San Sebastian I was in full blown eat mode.

Some sights from Mercado San Miguel

Bocadilla Jamon for Breakfast

We spent a good chunk of this part of the trip walking. As mentioned the city itself is stunning. One of if not the best city's I've ever walked thru. We stayed near the Opera House and it was a great location because whichever way you walked there would be something worth checking out. From the shopping to the museums to the aforementioned city parks, Madrid is a world class city. It felt more serious than Barcelona if that makes any sense. Many of the museums are free to the public during certain hours and we made sure to plan our visits around those times. The Prado was brilliant.

Some sights from around town

La Casa del Abuelo

I'm not going to pretend that I was confident going in as far as places I had picked to eat out at. There were so many options that intrigued me online that at some point I just said F-ck and decided to go with the flow. This proved both good and bad. I didn't go thru nearly as many spots as I did at the other three destinations but the ones we went to were so good we got back to a few. First up was La Casa del Abuelo which was a real deal gem. When we arrived we were the first customers of the day and knew exactly what we wanted.

Locals Favorite

Shrimp is what they do and their gambas (Shrimp in Spanish) al ajilo (in garlic) was what we came for. You can see it mentioned right there on the door upon your arrival at the popular standing room only tavern. The older Spanish male (a common trait amongst all the servers on the trip), stepped from behind the bar and over to the prep station where he took a handful of fresh shrimp and mixed it into as pot with some full fueled garlic infusion placing it on a burner for a few minutes before bringing it back over to us at the bar. Reminiscent of shrimp de jonghe this was a mighty fine dish and one we would return for more of. The bread was perfect for soaking up the garlic puddle. Good stuff.

Specialty of the House at La Casa del Abuelo (Shrimp in Garlic)

Some sights from walking around

Museo del Jamon

 A kick ass chain found around town that sells cheap sandwiches and beer

Chocolatería San Ginés

On day two we wandered over to one of the most popular places to get breakfast in the city. The Chocolatería San Ginés sits in a walkway to the beautiful San Ginés church. They've been making chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894. Similar to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans this place is big with tourists but the $3 Euros which a plate of them and some rich melted chocolate will cost you is worth it. They're always being made fresh and make for a good snack until the good spots start to open up around noon.

Churros and Chocolate at San Gines

Some sights from around town

Taberna Laredo

Taberna Laredo caught my eye online and we made plans to check it out 

This was my favorite food stop of the Madrid part of trip. I wish we made it back a couple times but it wasn't meant to be. If you check out their menu online you'll see all sorts of delectable looking options, a few of which we tried. Like many of Madrid's favorite food stops this place was packed and it was hard to get a seat. What we ate was great and my only regrets are not getting to try more. In a city with as many dining options as Madrid you might not want to head to one place twice but I'll so be back here whenever life next takes me this way.

Anchovies with Tomato and Burrata

Langoustine Salad

Grilled Calamari with an excellent Onion Reduction


Despite being landlocked Madrid has the 2nd largest fish market in the world (Tokyo has the first). So we knew we were going to be chowing on some wonderful creatures of the sea upon our visit. We picked out a place called Sanchis because they had a nice display of fresh somewhat exotic ocean specimens on display as well as outdoor seating where a bunch of Spanish speaking people were enjoying the sun. We tried these mini looking clams pictured below which came cooked to order in a thick garlic lemon gravy. Fantastic.

The complimentary olives served around town are usually very good as was the case here

Mini Clams for a snack before the walk back

a peak inside a fish market

Some More Sights from Town

La Revuelta

After watching the Athletico vs FC Barcelona game I decided to walk over to a locals favorite where some of the fans I watched the game with liked to eat at. Revuelta is famous for their fried salt-cod and its the perfect snack to enjoy with a couple cervezas while taking a break from the days activities. So I was told this is a true Madridian dish.

The Famous Fried Salt Cod from La Revuelta


One night we walked over to this rejuvenated neighborhood that used to house alot of seedy whorehouses. Funny thing is the old working girls never left. Most all of the businesses have some sort of fish name and Pontepez looked pretty good so we stopped in for a drink. It would be here where I can say I learned to love olives. I mean I've always enjoyed them but the garlicky green ones they give you upon ordering a drink at this place will forever be second to none, I couldn't believe how good they were. I also tried their house burger which was served open faced and came cooked in a heavy red wine reduction resulting in a very rich flavor. The beer helped cut some of that. Right down the block from here is a really nice cocktail bar that had some original drinks and top-notch service, it was called Santamaría La Coctelería.

The Pontepez Burger 

Toma Jamon

Starving around Midnight one evening we decided to stop into this place pictured below. They take their ham seriously and it was fairly packed so we thought what the hell why not. While the ham was great the paella was not. Despite no generic sign advertising it, I had a feeling this was served from freezer to table. Extra points however for the coolest beer tap we saw in all of Spain.

Toma Jamon Restaurant

 Some More Sights from Town

StreetXO Madrid

On the night of the Athletico win we wound up at a shopping mall food court with anticipation of trying one of the hottest spots to eat at in Madrid. Street XO is a stall at the wonderful Gourmet Court which sits atop the 9th floor of a popular Spanish department store. Dont be swayed away as many of the stalls here are stellar, StreetXO being the current most popular. On out first attempt some drunk ass Athletico fan budged us in line to complain about an order and after about 10 minutes of banter we were told by the guy behind the counter they were done with food for the night. Pissed as a drunken Barca fan that evening I held my cool in check and just said "we'll have to come back tomorrow."

A peak at the stall, all cooking is done in an open kitchen by a young vibrant staff (hipsters)

We got back the next day, this time as they were opening and after waiting a good 40 minutes for them to get ready we ordered food and waited a little longer for it to start coming out. First order up was my favorite dish of the day. It was prawns five ways and had them dried, wrapped in dumplings, sauteed as well as in paste and another I'm forgetting. It had a coconut cream base and was a real tongue tingler. Next up was a grilled chicken dish which they made on this small open and close charcoal grill. Nothing special as far as the boring chicken breast went but everything together was tasty. The Chili Crab "Pimenton de la Vera" was also really good though very sloppy.

Prawns x 5

Roasted Chicken Marinated in Sweet Chili w/ Andalusi Salad, Olives, Orange and Moroccan Spices

Chili Crab "Pimenton de la Vera" with Chipotles and Steamed Bun

The View from the Outdoor Dining area at the Food Court

Casa Lucas

One place I suggest for all to eat at is the La Latina neighborhood in general. During peak eating hours you'll find most everyplace on the busy Cava Baja street to be packed so just pick one and try some of their tapas. We did just that with a few and while everything ordered was really good the croquettes from Casa Lucas are what I want right now. These treats are served throughout Spain and we tried a few but none of them compared to these.

Spanish Croquettes with Ham (In Spain they use bechamel sauce and not potatoes)

 Jamon shop we randomly stopped in at walking down Cava Baja in the La Latina neighborhood

Some Sights from around town

  Championship Rally as Athletico Madrid defeated FC Barcelona for the Spanish League Crown

Istanbul Autentico Doner Kebap

One night while still hungry I decided to try my first kebap in Spain. Whether you call these gyros, shawarma, doner kebab or something else, the jist of them throughout the country is shaved meat. They just come from different backgrounds like Istanbul for this place in particular. No frills, shaved meat to order in a pita or wrap form with fries that come with some mayo spiced sauce on top. For less than $3 euros I enjoyed a doner kebap sandwich twice from this place. It was near our hotel and convenient when other spots were on siesta. If we had one in Chicago I'd be there often.

Doner Kebap Mixta (beef and chicken) made for good fast cheap eats

Restaurante La Barraca

We both wanted paella on the last night and after failure upon failure of searches we decided to decide for ourselves on whether or not the stuff they served at the old time Restaurant La Barraca was worth it. The reviews online we're mixed but the fact they're open until midnight and within walking distance made it a place we'd head over to and see what was up.

Mixed Shellfish Paella being served

While this wasn't awful it most certainly wasn't great. That said I enjoyed it just fine. I gathered enough info to lead me to believe the only place worth trying paella while in Spain was in Valencia which is where the famous dish comes from. Upon our arrival in Madrid I saw a random restaurant advertising a sign with a bunch of paella pics in it. Not long after that I saw the same sign at another place and kept seeing it the rest of my travels throughout the country. The spots with this sign serve frozen paella. The paella at La Barraca is made to order and served in portions for two people but one hungry man can easily eat the whole thing. Afterwards stop in at Del Diego cocktail bar across the street for a surprisingly good bourbon Old Fashioned.

Shellfish Paella

Well that's it for this portion of the trip. I hope you were able to keep up as I wrote this on the go while still in Spain hoping to get ahead and not miss a beat. Tune back in on Friday as we take a daytrip from Madrid to Segovia. Home of old castles, beautiful churches and the famous suckling pig. Spain in June, all month long at S'C'&C. We hope you enjoy the tour.

Street Performer in City Centre

Note: I'm choosing not to include addresses because they're easy enough to find online. However if you're headed this way, feel free to email me and I'll forward my list of all the spots I deemed worth of a stop, many of which I never made it too. That said Spain as a whole was worthy of a second visit so I'll have another crack at them someday soon. See ya next time @chibbqking

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