Postcard from Madrid, Spain: ‘To market, to market….’

La Boulette in Mercado de la Paz

An earlier post makes it obvious we ate out in Madrid… a lot. But we atoned, somewhat, for that activity with light meals at our apartment. Learning where to find specific foods in a different country is an entertaining part of the overall adventure.

Searching for an ideal loaf of grainy artisan bread took us on numerous explorations of nearby neighborhoods. Accidental encounters resulting in totally different purchases sometimes happened along the way, including a gleaming “extreme chocolate” pastry and a dinner-plate size meringue that made their way back to the apartment.

The route to my favorite mercado for buying both bread and cheese passed through the narrow, tree-lined streets of Salamanca. Residences fill the top floors along the way, while ground-floor storefronts display the wares of designer boutiques. The tonier the boutique, the more shelf space allotted each individual item. Dresses hanging on racks are separated from one another by about a foot; each purse is distanced from its neighbor by the same; shoes stand individually on pedestals, as though fine sculptures perched in museums. Prices in the windows have a startling extra zero on the end. Well beyond my budget, but people in the fashionable neighborhood could be spotted actually wearing the designer outfits as they walked to join friends for afternoon pastry breaks or cocktails. Why, oh why, didn’t we snap a photo of the man in the red suit?

After finally ambling our way to Mercado de la Paz, we were rewarded with fresh, healthy and surprisingly inexpensive breads (if you avoid their seductive pastries) at La Tahona de Ayala and a tantalizing cheese selection at La Boulette.

Many a guidebook steers you straight to Mercado de San Miguel adjacent to the Plaza Mayor. The mercado is stocked with an amazing selection of expensive gourmet items, with most individual vendors selling tapas and wine that you could possibly manage to balance enough to eat and drink by aggressively elbowing your way to a shared sliver of a stand-up table. Almost every tourist heads there. It’s crazy crowded, so bustling busy I didn’t even pause to take photos of the appetizing displays.

Chased out of the too-successful Mercado de San Miguel, locals find refuge in the 70-year-old Mercado de San Anton in the trendy yet still rough-around-the-edges Chueca neighborhood. The new San Ildefonso Mercado nearby completely abandons any pretense of selling foods to prepare at home in favor of gourmet food stalls with enough elbow-room and tabletops to enjoy them.

Back in San Antonio, just returned from a 20-minute car drive to restock our larder at home. Convenient? Maybe. Fun and exciting? No. Sigh.

P.S. Okay, life here is not all that bad. In addition to snagging seasonally cheap fresh Gulf shrimp at my H-E-B, I bumped into a new item in the produce section – bags of padron peppers. Blistered in a little olive oil in a skillet and finished with some flaky pink Hawaiian salt (a gift), they transported me back to a stool in Taberna Maceiras….

Struggling and longing to be ‘fictionalized’

deer

 

So can identify with the whining of the main character in “How Shall I Know You,” a short story in Hilary Mantel‘s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

The woman is an author who has been “struggling with a biography” for several years.

As a biographer I was more than usually inefficient in untangling my subject’s accursed genealogy. I mixed up Aunt Virginie with the one who married the Mexican, and spent a whole hour with a churning stomach, thinking that all my dates were wrong and believing that my whole Chapter Two would have to be reworked.

Why, I can out-whine her any day. I have a whole cemetery I’m trying to untangle, and I’m sure I’m at least three years into it. And it is filled with a multitude of Smiths and Joneses and Cokers, many of whom inconsiderately passed down the same first names over and over. The Joneses prove particularly difficult, as they originate from two completely unrelated lines, or unrelated for quite a while before the Texas Revolution and not again until some time later.

And she only spent “a whole hour” thinking everything was awry? That’s nothing.

The author in the short story finds writing the truth, when it has to be uncovered, difficult.

I seemed to be pining for those three short early novels, and their brittle personnel. I felt a wish to be fictionalized.

Making up things does seem much easier than digging up facts long-buried. Often I want to just linger in the tub imagining different lives among all of those Coker descendants. The writer in “How Shall I Know You” does just that. She starts typing up exciting invented versions of the lives of Aunt Virginie and the Mexican, completely avoiding the facts associated with the original subject of the biography.

But, unfortunately, you just can’t make this stuff up.

And, I know I don’t need to.

The Coker Cemetery is fertile with true tales that should be passed on to the descendants of the residents resting there.

I’ve made it through the Texas Revolution, the arrival of German and Hungarian settlers and the Civil War. I’m getting there. Slowly.

Each nugget I discover is rewarding. In addition to the everyday stories of hardworking dairy farmers, there is a surprising bit of murder and mayhem to entertain me.

All I need is patience. And an extremely large dose of it.

the-assassination-of-margaret-thatcherWait a minute. Wolf Hall. Bring Up the Bodies.

The author of the author in the short story is the ultimate award-winning, best-selling researcher.

All whining privileges on my part are hereby revoked.

Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Flavorful food memories

gastromaquia arroz with mussels

Yearning for a great arroz dish, after much reading, we settled on a Madrid classic – El Caldero. The paella pan of beautiful looking rice arrives tableside, and, with much formality, the waiter divides it up and then tops it with the seafood in a dark, rich broth. As we looked at it, we were happy he divided it fairly because there really was not much there, considering the price, once you removed the shells – a small piece of bonito each, one or two shrimp, maybe two pieces of squid. The rice was good, but did not bowl us over. The fried eggplant appetizer, however, was heavenly. Most of the people in the restaurant were suits conducting serious international business of some kind or another. In other words, El Caldero was a bit stuffy for this pair of travelers.

The place we preferred down the street a few blocks definitely was more casual. In fact, it was chaotically crowded, with walls covered with funky collections of random things. The place was inexpensive. Dishes arrived in no particular or predictable order. The seating was upon uncomfortable wooden stools at wooden tables too small to accommodate all the pots of food presented. But we really liked this place, Taberna Maceiras, enough so that we ate there at least three times. A skillet of sizzling padron chiles made for a great starter. We enjoyed Galician style octopus rice, fried calamari, traditional bean stews, meat stews and perfectly prepared mussels in this polar opposite of El Caldero.

Another wonderful rut we slipped into was Gastromaquia Chueca. Maybe it was the grilled goat cheese caramelized with honey and topped with a glistening pesto. Or the scoops of lemon basil sorbet with rum poured over them tableside for a refreshing mojito-style desert. Guacamole was served with ultra-thin plantain chips; seafood arroz topped El Caldero; and richly curried mussels were moist and plump. And, as we were regulars, we enjoyed sipping Spanish liqueurs offered us at the end of our meals. Please, fly me back there today.

Croquettes can be found everywhere, but many of them are not worth the calories. We opted to go to the specialists, La Croquetta. Squash and eggplant croquettes arrived with a refreshing sauce of yogurt and mint, and the jamon Iberico ones were perfect. Melting goat cheese in one was studded with nuts and raisins, and fried eggplant was drizzled with honey.

Salmorejo is a seasonal favorite in Madrid. The creamy rich cousin of gazpacho traditionally arrives with bits of chopped egg and thinly shaved jamon Iberico in the middle. One of the places we spooned into this was a.n.e.l., a popular neighborhood tapas spot a block from our apartment. This was a nice stop for lightly battered vegetable tempura, fried calamari or sliders; although I never understood its name.

Directly across the street from our apartment in the Casa de America cultural center was Le Cabrera. The comfortable patio offered bargain lunch specials, many of which emerged from the kitchen of the extremely tony restaurant next door, Cien Llaves. Grilled asparagus topped with thin slices of parmigiano reggiano and grilled trout were among the dishes we tried. We probably would have eaten there again, but, by lunch time, we generally had wandered far from home.

Also close to home was La Vaca y la Huerta, a place that fills up completely at prime times. Here the Mister could find beef entrecote served as rare as he wanted, while I could get a beautiful plate of grilled vegetables or salmon.

We enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere of Saporem during two of our lunches. While the bowl full of vegetables looks bland, they were wonderfully prepared. Shrimp tempura atop rice was nicely presented with a spicy sauce.

In a capital city, one needs to experience some of the cuisines imported from abroad. We loved both the look and food of Arabia, but photos turned out too poorly to share. Falafel and grilled eggplant topped with fresh chopped tomatoes were artfully presented, and the lamb couscous was tender.

Then we decided to dip into Sub-Sahara African food at Kim Bu Mbu, easier to type than say. The small intimate restaurant is nothing short of handsome inside. Among the specialties were fish croquettes with eggplant sauce and fish steamed in a banana leaf.

Now, I’m stopping because I have made myself starving.

If you know us at all, you are probably wondering where are all the photos from Italian restaurants. Believe it or not, we didn’t find an Italian restaurant in Madrid we liked enough to include.

If you are staying in Madrid for any length of time and read Spanish, revolt against TripAdvisor. Guia Metropoli Comer y Beber en Madrid is written by locals for locals and is updated radically on an annual basis. The paperback doesn’t have quite enough information to replace internet research, but it doesn’t just rattle off the tired top 10 tourist favorites.