When I told friends that the city break in Madrid was quite a culinary one, they said that, well, every time I go on holiday it ends up being a culinary trip! But what better than food to tell you the story of the place you are visiting? Out of all the curiosities travelling might trigger, this one is undoubtedly the most satisfying. Knowing what people eat is like entering into their everyday life, inside their habits, their most familiar thoughts. At Blender and Basil we represent two of the most traditional cuisines in the world, where eating is so important that every life event is discussed or celebrated around the table: decisions and compromises, promises and arguments, hellos and good byes. In Spain, too, it goes just like that, so I did my best to taste some of the most traditional dishes in the country.
Can you have a whole banquet inside a croqueta? At La Daniela I learned you can. We visited this wonderful restaurant at our arrival in Madrid and on an empty stomach. Once sat at the bar and chatting away with the most pleasant waiter, we definitely got carried away with the orders. Croquetas de Cocido, Croquetas de Jamon, Callos (tripe), Salmorejo soup with aubergines, Russian salad and, on the house, Ropa Vieja (another Cocido derivate dish). The highlights of our quite extensive menu were definitely the Croquetas de Cocido and Callos. Both rich on the palate and heavy on the stomach, these dishes are very representative of the city. The former, a derivate dish of the cocido madrileño, in croquetas the heart of all cocido tastes mixed with beshamel sauce. The latter can be a tricky one to get right, as tripes are very fat: but this one had just the right mixture of elements to make it irresistible. Just like their personelle, who made us feel at home and let us stay a little later after closing time to chat away and finish our vino.
There’s no other breakfast like churros. And at Chocolateria San Gines this is evident: locals and tourists face the queue to get a table, because they know it is worth it. We ordered churros, which are the potato based fritters and are typical of Madrid, rather than their southern alternatives called porras (made with flour only), and we happily dipped them in the thick flavoursome hot chocolate. As well as a great spot for people-watching (strategically placed next to one of the trendiest clubs in Madrid, Joy Eslava) this is definitely a must see if you are looking for the best churros in town.
Cocido – a promise.
To experience the cocido we went to Restaurante Esteban, but unfortunately that day it wasn’t on the menu… apologies for the encouraging paragraph title. What we got is another sister dish of cocido called potaje, a stew made with chickpeas, spinach and cod. We also ordered gallina en pepitoria, a dish of hen in a sauce that should have been based on almonds and saffron. Unfortunately it tasted like mustard more than anything, and, as much as it was pleasant, it didn’t feel like pepitoria. What I really enjoyed instead, was the famous migas (literally bread crumbs), a dish I always wanted to try. These are essentially breadcrumbs fried and served with slices of chorizo. Not the most elaborate dish, but certainly delicious. And to make up for the failed attempt at a Cocido, you have seen that I made my own once back in London.
Not what you think when I say Paella
Paella comes from Valencia, but in Madrid you find everything so we went to search for Paella Valenciana. Turns out there are restaurants that dedicate their arts to the creation of rice-based dishes only; how wonderful is that? The reason for this is that Paella can be made in different ways, none of which are the seafood and chicken rice you get in most restaurants around the world. The main ingredients of the traditional Paella Valenciana are chicken and rabbit meat (and sometimes only rabbit). The version we ate at La Barraca in Madrid was the pefect combination of ingredients, and the rabbit meat was really tasty. All accompanied by a few glasses of Ribera del Duero.Follow @blenderbasil