Today is my last full day in Madrid. I return back home tomorrow morning.
I have stayed in Madrid this year longer than I have ever stayed before. I can safely say that I had no major problems with staying here this long. It is with a profound sadness that I find myself packing and getting ready to come back home to not eat tapas (good tapas, anyway), to not drink an entire bottle of wine nearly everyday at lunch, to not go outside my door at 11PM to crowds of people enjoying themselves outside, to not walk (instead of driving) everywhere I need to go, etc. It will definitely be a shock to go back to campus with expectations high for me to get back to chairing a department and dealing with everyone else’s crap. At the same time, I am looking forward to things when I return. It will be great to reconnect with friends. I miss playing drums and guitar everyday. I can’t wait to jump in my pool. And I did get this new amp that I haven’t had a chance to try yet. Still, I will be going on a diet when I return. I will be working on a schedule to go to the gym regularly. I have goals and objectives to put into place before the madness of a new academic year begins. This is going to be difficult.
I have managed to accomplish many remarkable things while I have been here. By that, I mean that I have eaten quite well here. Here is a quick run-down (in no particular order) of just a few highlights. If you know me, you know that I could go on for pages about this sort of thing. If you don’t know me, well that’s basically what this blog is all about.
I have managed to have cochonillo (roasted baby suckling pig) several times. This accomplishment is due, in large part, to David Schnake’s visit. As a former Madrileño, and a fellow pork enthusiast, Schnake made it a point during his visit to eat cochonillo often. Being the good host that I am, I made it a priority to help him accomplish his goals. After he departed, I found myself maintaining the objective, though. I managed to order it a few more times.
When cochonillo is done right, it is transcendent. The skin crackles and snaps under your fork. The fat attached to the skin is velvety smooth. The meat underneath possesses a tenderness that indescribable. It is one of the finest experiences to have. I find myself closing my eyes involuntarily while chewing so that I can focus on the pleasure of eating this dish.
I know that there are people out there that would never eat cochonillo. I understand that people don’t like things like bones, skin, fat, etc. I understand that they may have religious or other traditional reasons to not eat pork. I say the following with the utmost respect and sensitivity to anyone reading this that would never try cochonillo — you are missing out on a life experience that is truly amazing. There exists no substitute.
I managed to have cochonillo about 5 times. Once in Segovia at the famous Candido. Once in Toledo (although not so good). Twice at Asador Araduero I in Madrid, and once at Juana La Loca (overly fancified, but good). This is far more cochonillo than I have ever had in my life. I have always liked it, but now it’s really starting to grow on me.
Morcillo asado is roasted beef. I only go to one place to get it, which is La Toscana. If there is another place in Madrid that is this good or better, I would love to know about it. I take nearly everyone who visits to La Toscana for the tomato and tuna salad and the morcillo. It has always been a hit.
It is a style of roasting beef that is not available (as far as I know) in the US. My theory is that it’s the oven. I think you need an oven with an incredibly high heat capacity. I will one day ask to go back in the kitchen to watch them prepare it. Then again, I like not knowing a little bit, too. It’s sometimes important to let the masters do what they do and just enjoy the privilege of their permission to eat their fruits (in exchange for money).
The way they present it at La Toscana is over patatas fritas swimming in an au jus that is perfect for bread dipping.
Morcillo was the very first meal I ate in Madrid this year. I had it two other times since arriving. While ordering it one evening for dinner with Schnake, the waiter I always have when I go to La Toscana (I’ve been going for over 12 years now) asked if we’d like to try something else. No. I didn’t. No. I don’t. No. I won’t.
Not to be confusing, but there is another food item called morcilla (not morcillo). It is blood sausage. Now I understand such a thing is not for everyone. That is fine. But I like it. I am starting to like it a lot.
One can get morcilla in several different formats. One of my favorites styles is from Burgos. The sausage is filled with rice, blood, fat, onion, paprika, and salt. As a tapas, they usually cut the sausage and fry the edges with olive oil. This is the manner in which has been done in the picture above. I believe they used rice historically to bulk up the sausage cheaply.
Another way I like morcilla is with scrambled eggs. That dish is called revueltos con morcilla.
Here, the morcilla is without rice. It is just the so-called black pudding. It works quite well with scrambled eggs and the textures are complimentary.
If you have been following my Instagram and Facebook posts, you’ll notice that many of them come from a place called Casa Toni. This is a bar down the street from my apartment which I like a lot. The food there is really heavy, but it’s all quite good.
I also like the morcilla at Bodega de la Ardosa on Calle Colón among the many other food items there. There it is served without rice in a cazuelita. I believe that this is the place where I had my very first real introduction to morcilla. I don’t have any pictures from this bar because it’s really dark in there. My camera phone does not have a flash, so I wasn’t able to get any good pictures from there. To talk to me about Madrid is to know that Bodega de la Ardosa is my favorite bar in Madrid. Several years ago, Scott Gagner and I spent many hours there playing Los Ochos Locos while drinking beers.
Cordero is roasted lamb. When I go to Segovia, I always struggle with the decision to eat cochonillo or cordero. Both are amazing. It’s a game you can’t lose. But it’s a game you always struggle to win.
Cordero is another example of something we don’t have in the US. I understand that this lamb is roasted with only salt and olive oil. It doesn’t taste like any lamb that we get in the US. It’s not gamey at all. The meat is unbelievably tender. I like the taste of this lamb better than any other preparation of lamb. I love that it doesn’t require things like mint, yogurt, or other fancy things to try to tame the gamey. It’s just a ridiculously hot oven that gets it right.
What could be simpler than fried eggs? What is better? Not much in my opinion. In Spain, they often prepare fried eggs over patatas fritas with things like sausage, ham, peppers, or combinations of them. It is called huevos rotos (broken eggs). My favorite huevos rotos are at Juana La Loca, but I get them just about everywhere I can get them.
So the key about the huevos rotos at Juana La Loca is that they eggs are fried “easy.” The runny yolk is pre-broken to provide a egg-gravy for the fries. The salt from the jamón seasons the egg-gravy perfectly. The dusting of paprika adds some extra smokiness. Although it’s not the prettiest dish in the bunch, it is really very good. It pairs with beer really well. I say this a lot when I am here, but I don’t know why we don’t this in the US. It’s so good and I think people would love it. I crave it when I’m home. Maybe there’s a stigma that eggs are only for breakfast. That’s dumb. Super dumb.
Tortilla de Español is an important thing for people visiting Spain to know. It is not a big deal, but it is a big deal here. It’s one of those things that is everywhere (not a big deal). Everyone does them differently. I judge the appropriateness of a bar by its tortilla (big deal).
I have at least four bars in my wheelhouse just because of their tortillas. One of them was added just this year. I learned about it when I went with my friend, Miguel, to drive one his daughters to the music conservatory for her oboe lesson. Pedro was with us, too, and we both were quite pleased with the tortilla at a bar near the conservatory. I will be going back to that place for their tortilla, for sure.
Another noteworthy tortilla is at Bodega de la Argosa. Theirs is similar to the one to the aforementioned bar. The eggs inside are somewhat “loose” inside, so the tortilla is moist, salty, and delicious.
One that is off the beaten path is the tortilla at Juana La Loca. The eggs inside are real loose. Plus, there are onions in there. Lots of them. They have been cooked down to pretty much nothing, but their flavor is permeated throughout the tortilla. This is one for the books.
And finally, one of the tortillas that I covet is the tortilla bravas at Las Bravas. I don’t think anyone from Madrid doesn’t know about the tortilla bravas. These are easy to distinguish because this tortilla is covered with their famous salsa bravas. The eggs are cooked more than the other ones I like, but the potatoes are a bit smashed so that the texture within is smoother and softer. The salsa bravas provides any moisture lost by cooking the eggs a little more well. Late at night, when you need to stabilize your system a bit from too much drinking with some protein and fat, I would be hard-pressed to think of a better thing to eat than a tortilla bravas.
Arroz con bogavante
So this is the newest player in the foods that I eat. I had never had this dish before this trip. What is it? It’s lobster rice. I first tried this dish with Kara and Schnake at a place called Taberna Alhambra. I have gone back once since and have tried it at another restaurant, too.
A friend emailed me asking about how things where going in Madrid. He is a foody, so I described to him my new discovery. Here is what I wrote.
So above is a picture of the dish just brought to the table. You can see the bubbles of boiling broth. I didn’t manage to take a picture of the rice once it was cooked. I was too busy eating it.
This year I have hosted several visitors. I have to say it was nice to have people come to visit. I normally enjoy the solitude of being here by myself. The time I spend here allows me to relax a little, think about research a lot, and sort lots of things out. But it does get a bit lonely. Having people visit is great also because it gives me the opportunity to order massive quantities of mariscos (seafood).
At the restaurant, El Lacon, they have these planks of seafood. They are advertised as for 2 or more people. It is a big stack of seafood. I like this a lot. There is pescado, calamares, gambas, chopitos, etc. It’s all very good, and a pretty good deal for what you get.
At Ribeiro do Miño, you order mariscos by the person. What they bring you is a huge stack of seafood: gambas, cangrejas, langostinos, and yes, percebes. The crabs are really good here. I go a little crazy cleaning every bit of meat I can from the crabs I get to eat in the stack. It’s a Kim family trait.
Percebes are barnacles that have been boiled in salted water. I have started to like them a lot. As you can see from the picture below, they are, in fact, barnacles. The way that you eat them is that you pop off the top from the tubular base. Inside is a small, fleshy bit attached to the top. You bite that out and eat it. It tastes briney and fresh like the ocean. They are not substantial, but they are fun and do bring a bright freshness to your palette, like a good oyster should do, for example.
Although I am starting to fatigue on writing about all of this food, I can’t, in good conscience, write about my favorite things without writing about croquettas. Croquettas are like tortillas. They are not a big deal, but they are a big deal. They are simple things, but everyone does them differently.
This year, I had the pleasure of trying a new croquetta for me. I like the croquettas at Bodega de la Argosa a lot. I think they are done well there. But this time, they had croquettas de rabo de toro. Yes. You read that correctly. They are croquettas with oxtail meat in them. They were really very good. Again, I didn’t take a picture of them becaue it was too dark to get a good picture. You’ll just have to trust me. They were excellent.
My all-time favorite croquettas are at Casa Manolo. I have written about them already this year. These are the so-called senator croquettas. They are excellent.
Another croquetta highlight for me are the croquettas de baccalau at Casa Labra. This is one of my favorite snacks after a long walk around the city. A beer and some baccalau, and I am one happy camper.
I’m not crazy. I like gazpacho. I like it a lot. But I love salmorejo. I don’t know why. I just do. It’s simpler in composition (just tomatoes), thicker in consistency, and I just love it. Add the fact that it is served with chopped boiled egg and jamón, and I’m done.
There have been years here in Madrid, where I spend a lot of time with salmorejo. For some reason I didn’t focus on it too much this year. I figured I had time. Perhaps I should have emphasized it more.
Well, that is just a smidge of highlights from this year’s tour. There is a lot more that I don’t show, e.g. rabo de toro, pulpo, albondigas, champiñones, setas, etc. It’s far too much to blast you with on this modest blog post. You’ll just have to take my word for it!
So what will I do today? I’m not sure. Tonight is the Eurocup final between Spain and Italy. I’m basically hunkering down before the madness begins. I truly hope that Spain wins, but it will be a tough match. To be honest, I am relieved that Germany will not win. From a socio-economic point-of-view, I just don’t think it would have been right for them to win.
Okay. There’s one last thing about Spain to mention. Coffee. I will miss walking down the street to get my cafe cortado. This morning, I walked down to La Luiza to get a cafe cortado. Since it’s my last day here and the last day before I begin my diet, I decided to go out with a bang and get the chocolate pastry, too.
The coffee was strong and good. Just the right touch of warm milk. The pastry was good, too. I savored it all.
Now that I think of it, I know what I miss most about Spain. It’s the feeling of waking up, heading out on a walk on a beautiful morning, feeling the uneven pavement of brick roads under my feet, dodging the posts that line the streets to protect my shins from being shattered, and swinging my arms happily as I walk to some small treasure of a cafe, bar, restaurant, or just soak up the beautiful energy of this place. It’s the living that I do here that I will miss most of all. I can’t wait to come back and pick up where I left off. Hasta luego, Madrid. Good luck tonight, España. I will put all of my heart and soul into tonight’s match. But regardless of the outcome, I hope to come back again very soon.