Thursday, May 3, 2012

Food Journal: Madrid Style

Oh boy! At last, Very Vanilla is back from her whirlwind European adventure. After my Spanish program ended in Madrid, I embarked on a long awaited trek to Southern Spain and Belgium with some close pals. And in a valiant, last minute effort, I even made it to Portugal and Galicia with my dear father! Since I am headed out west this fall, I felt the need to squeeze it all in - who knows when I will be back in the Old World again?

That said, first thing's first, we need to talk about food. Spanish food that I enjoyed daily in el capital, to be exact. While Madrid stand bys were savored (hello churros con chocolate!), the meals I enjoyed the most were of the home cooking variety. In addition to having a cute nest of an apartment, my host lady's meals were equally delightful. I had a gastronomy class each week and came to find out that she did a pretty darn good job of allowing me to taste my way across the nation. Paella from Valencia, salmorejo from Andalucia,  caldo gallego from Galicia, I sampled it all. I was often stuck by how simple, yet how delicious most dishes were.  I am pretty sure this had to do with the fact that everything involves a ham bone or two! An additional theory is that the ingredients are fresher. Even at your comeliest of supermercados, almost all the produce is grown in-country.

While many a meal was gobbled up before I even had the slightest thought to memorialize it on camera, others stopped me in my tracks long enough to snap a shot. And before we dive in here, I'd like to give an honorable mention to myself for trying octopus and morcilla (blood sausage). Neither it turns out are my cup of tea but it was a big step for me just to try things made out of tentacles and blood!

First up, this was my favorite dish - a little game hen simmered in the pressure cooker for a few hours with tomatoes, peppers, onions and cloves!
One of Spain's top crops in my eyes, are strawberries. No need to do anything fancy, just macerate them in sugar for a few hours.
Leftovers are way more enjoyable when whipped up into a whole new meal. Having hors d'oeuvres for dinner is a plus too! Exhibit A: cubes of tortilla, mayo, an olive and a roasted red pepper. Exhibit B: cooked zucchinis hollowed out and stuffed with yesterday's spaghetti sauce. 
On the nights where my sweet tooth was yearning for something richer than strawberries, there was lemon pudding with chocolate sprinkles.
Continuing on a dessert note, to my surprise and delight, it turns out that Madrid is the other pastry capital (behind Paris, mais oui), with an alluring bakery on just about every corner. They are not for the faint at heart either - this city is not afraid to dip a whole pastry in chocolate or frosting! My personal fav was the larger than life dulce de leche empanada from La Mallorquina. I know, it's practically glowing with butter!
Can we talk about ham some more? Ok! Jamon, the unofficial symbol of spain, is in a category all it's own. Whether sandwiched between baguette slices, in croquettes, or just plain, it's the stuff dreams are made of. Also featured is some lomo, chorizo, and other sausages.

And last but not least, chocolate! There is plenty of the hard stuff to be found but the most unique of all is the hot chocolate. Liquid happiness. There is little dairy to be found, it's essentially just artfully melted pure chocolate. I had churros con chocolate at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés. 

On my last day in the city, we finally found the other chocolateria we had been searching for. Cacao Sampaka makes its own chocolate in Barcelona but luckily for us, they have a shop and cafe in Madrid too. I died and went to heaven the second I sipped on this cold chocolate beverage with honey and vanilla!

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