We had an excellent introduction to Spanish cuisine with our food tour on the first day of our trip, and were eager to continue eating our way through the capital city until our flight back home on Monday. My impression of Spanish food so far had been quite positive (thank you again, Devour Madrid) and as much as I love Italian food, it's nice to experience a new cuisine and shake things up every once in a while. So! On to days 2 and 3!
1. CHURROS + CHOCOLATE
Everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we decided we would get our Easter Sunday started off right with a Spanish classic -- churros and hot chocolate. Our guidebook recommended the Chocolateria San Gines, but Mette had told us her favorite churros and chocolate were actually at the aptly named Chocolat, in Via Santa Maria. We met our new friend Derek (an expat living in London who was on our food tour) at around 10:30, just in time to get a table. We were offered a complimentary cookie while we were waiting for our churros, hot chocolate, and cafe con leche, which was a nice touch. So, the verdict? I haven't had churros anywhere else in Spain, but I'm inclined to believe that Mette was right -- these were fabulous, slightly crisp on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside, reminiscent of a fresh doughnut (there's my American side coming out). The hot chocolate was equally delicious -- again, the pure melted chocolate type hot chocolate that can be eaten with a spoon. As I enjoyed my churros, I began to seriously considering moving to Madrid, ideally in an apartment right next to Chocolat, in order to have these for breakfast every morning. Yum.
2. EL PARQUE DEL RETIRO
After breakfast my sister, Derek, and I took a walk to El Parque del Retiro. This one of the largest parks in Madrid that (a quick search on Wikipedia) informed me belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The park also houses El Palacio de Cristal (the Crystal Palace,) a large glass pavilion designed by the architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco in 1887. The park was beautiful, full of green (always nice to see in a city!) with a pond complete with baby ducklings and turtles (!!!) and the weather was perfect. All in all an ideal way to spend a Spring day.
Though I had checked off "churros" and "jamón" on my "Spain" to do list, I still hadn't tried tapas. Not trying tapas when in Spain is like not eating pizza when in Italy -- unthinkable for a foodie -- so I was pleased when my sister Alexandra told me we would be going for tapas with a local. The local in question was Luke, who had done my sister's food tour in Rome last year (my sister is a food tour guide for the company Eating Italy) and who she had wisely thought to contact. Luke has been living in Madrid for the past six years, works for Devour Madrid, and runs his own travel and food website (www.lukedarracott.com) so I knew we were in good hands. We met in La Latina neighborhood, where we started our tapas tour with some red wine, tostas and cheeses at Casa Gerardo -- life changing-ly good cheese! -- before moving on to Bar Martina for Vermouth and patatas bravas, or fried potatoes topped with a spicy sauce (yum). We then moved on to Bodega Ricla for a dish made with beans with chorizo (insanely delicious) and finally Casa J Blanco for cecina, dried beef similar to Italian bresaola. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I can't thank Luke enough for the awesome, unofficial food tour. It is always interesting to meet other expats who have also "adopted" another culture, language, and country as their own, and I do not think we could have done tapas half well if we did not have someone as knowledgeable as Luke -- blonde hair aside, he fit right in with the Spaniards.
4. EL PALACIO REAL + EL MERCADO DE SAN ANTON
Our flight back to Rome was at 8:30 pm, so we had all of Monday in Madrid free before heading to the airport. We started the day off at El Mercado de San Antón in the Chueca neighborhood. The market sold fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish, as well as pastries, sandwiches, and regional specialties like cocido madrileño. For breakfast, we opted for orange juice and a bocadillo de tortilla de patatas, or rather a sandwich filled with tortilla española. Tortilla española has nothing to do with the tortilla as Mexicans know it, and for Spaniards, is dish made with egg and potatoes (think quiche without the crust). The sandwich was extremely simple but delicious, so much so that I think I'll have to try and recreate it for the blog. After a walk around the market we headed to the beautiful Palacio Real (The Royal Palace) for a guided tour -- truly impressive -- and then back to El Riojano for dessert before leaving Madrid. I opted for a torrija de leche, a Spanish Easter specialty a bit like french toast. It was the perfect way to end the trip.
So, overall conclusions? I can't say enough good things about Madrid. Like Aarhus, it is a city that I could most certainly see myself living in (though I'd have to brush up on my Spanish for sure). Despite being a capital city bigger than Rome, Madrid was well organized, clean, and manageable; I found its people to be incredibly warm and welcoming; and of course, the food was incredible. Five stars for Madrid! Can't wait to go back!