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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

eating madrid

I'm having a pork-hiatus. That is to say, the idea of a third consecutive pork-post is just too much to bear. And since it's a  cold, snowy, depressingly English day, I thought I'd perk myself up with a post about Madrid, following a hedonistic, fun- (and food... and drink...) filled sojourn there last October. But never fear- the pork will return for its third and final re-incarnation next week.

Possibly the only image I possess from Madrid that isn't food or alcohol...
So… what can one do with sixty-eight hours in Madrid? A great deal, I imagine. Explore the Prado, perhaps, or enjoy a leisurely amble through the Retiro. Maybe even have a peek inside the Palacio Real. Well, I didn’t manage any of these. I visited Madrid on an Eating Holiday, and I was dedicated to the cause. I’d packed my stretchiest, most forgiving wardrobe, and there was a blanket ban on anything more active than the walk between tapas bars - unless you count a night spent Salsa dancing with geriatric Spanish couples (which I do).  Until my arrival, all thoughts of the recession were far from my mind; my fabric softener is more expensive, and I probably won’t get a mortgage until my mid-thirties, but other than that, luckily I can say it’s had negligible impact on my day-to-day existence. Spain, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish; next to Greece, it’s had the roughest ride in Europe over the last five years. Don’t get me wrong- Madrid is a stunning city. Cleaner than London and more stylish than Paris (the children all look as though they’ve just stepped off a Petit-Filous advert…), there’s very little on the surface to suggest it’s still in the midst of the worst recession since the Wall Street Crash. If the Madrilenos are good at anything, it’s keeping up appearances.  But if you strain your ears and prick your eyes, you’ll start to notice the signs: the queue for Spain’s National Lottery reaches over 300 feet, there are ten anti-austerity marches in the city centre every day, and there’s a notable increase in the number of both street performers and sex workers lining the boulevards, leaning casually against the trees. If you listen carefully to the hubbub in the bars and restaurants, all talk is of ‘la crisis.’ Well, that or Real Madrid. But what of the bars? Are they being shunned, in favour of saving a penny or two? Of course not- this is Madrid. Whether it’s another case of ‘keeping up appearances,’ or else just a means of drowning sorrows, the bars and restaurants are packed. And if you follow a savvy Madrileno, you’ll probably find the best food you’ll ever eat.

The grilled-foie. Guilt-laden, and good
Txirimiri on Calle del General Diaz (one of four across the city) is a tiny Basque tapas bar specialising in pintxos. It’s small, nothing special to look at, and some football match or other will inevitably be blaring from the wall-mounted television. But the food- oh, the food! Eating the grilled foie was like consuming tiny droplets of velvet that evaporated on my tongue. The solomillo had the texture of butter, and the rabo de toro (sandwiched oxtail stew) was cooked to perfection. I finished with a tatin de manza- and how something so inauspiciously named can taste so good is, frankly, beyond me. Cinnamon-stewed hunks of apple in a light sponge were dusted with icing sugar and almonds, and encased in a shortcrust party base of such daintiness that Mary Berry would be hanging up her apron in defeat, should she try it. After this, we made the (thankfully) short crawl over to Taberna Degusta, where we ate eggs. Now the Spanish are fond of an egg or two it seems, and Madrilenos in the know would argue that this is the place to get them. Try the huevos rotos de corral con trufa (or ‘broken eggs with truffle, to you and me) and huevos con iberico y salmonejo (eggs with iberico ham and gazpacho), and your dippy egg and soldiers will never taste the same again.

                  If Hemmingway truly frequented every bar that lays claim to his name, then it’s little wonder he had such a prolific drink problem. Nevertheless, if the state of the floor is anything to go by (and in Spain it is- the dirtier, the better) then Carvecierci Alemana is tapas gold. A bustling, well-known establishment, this isn’t exactly one of Madrid’s hidden gems, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Pop in for a chilled Tio Pepe, and fill up on the accompanying anchovies, Iberico and olives.  Once you’re sated, start heading over to La Latina- (especially if it’s a Sunday, in which case hit the El Rastro flea market en route) then commence the eating, drinking and merry-making. Apparently, even if they do have a job to go to the next morning,  sleep is of little concern to true Madrilenos, who party just as hard on a Sunday as any day of the week.  At the top of cobbled and winding Costanilla San Andres sits La Gorda, a Peruvian bar and restaurant. This might seem an odd recommendation to make, but it forms part of a subtle change in Madrid’s attitude to food. No longer are all Spaniards staunchly xenophobic in their culinary approach; indeed, many cities (Madrid at the fore) are embracing their changing demographic. The upshot of this? Some bloody fantastic Peruvian resaturants. La Gorda- literally, ‘The Fat Woman,’ had me the moment I spotted shot glasses brimming with Bloody Mary adorning the bar top, which I pounced upon immediately (almost choking on the cockles hidden at the bottom in the process).We had every intention of popping in for a pisco sour and pintxo before moving on… needless to say, four hours, several piscos and a lot of ceviche later, we were still going strong. It’s also probably worth mentioning that the pisco was responsible for the mother-of-all hangovers the following morning- don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Bitesize Bloody Mary. Notice
 you  can't see the cockle...

Of course, I now have every excuse to make a return trip. After all, I can’t really say I’ve seen Madrid- I’ve just eaten it. So I’ll be back. I’ll have to pop into La Gorda, obviously. And check the tapa is still up to scratch in the Plaza Major. I daresay I’ll visit La Latina for some late-night revelry again, too. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll squeeze in the Prado. We’ll see.

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