Thursday, 25 October 2007

Comida [food]

As you probably know, I'm quite keen on good food. But after our previous visits to Spain - Valencia and Barcelona in 2005 and 2006 - I was quite convinced that the Spanish just can't cook. I was especially disappointed when we went to a Valencian restaurant that was supposed to do the best paella in Valencia, and, by extension (because Valencia is where paella was invented), the world. And it was, how can I put this? Rubbish.

So I've been very pleasantly surprised by some of our gastronomic experiences in Madrid. Madrid is part of what they call the 'roasting zone.' This refers not to the ambient temperature, but to the fact that they do get cold weather and quite often what you want to eat is a good hot soup, stew or broth, and several slabs of roasted animal.

We've discovered menus del dia in Madrid. They probably do these in Valencia and Barcelona too, but we were too busy eating boring bocadillos (sandwiches: no butter), bad paellas and tired tapas to notice. The menu del dia is a set menu, and somebody told me that by law, every cafe/restaurant has to offer it so that the workers get some proper food inside them. Basically what it is is a choice of four or five first courses (usually soup or salads), second courses of meat or fish, a sweet or coffee, and bread and wine or beer or water or juice.

Once you've consumed a menu del dia, you are waddling about for the rest of the day and unlikely to require much more in the way of food. One of the best places we've found for this is down in the square, Cafeteria Verdoy (although we call it 'Mama's' because of the motherly nature of the owner who gives you a slap around the ear if you don't eat everything). Their menu del dia is €8.20 indoors, or €12 outside. This is incredibly good value, and they most certainly can cook. Ten or eleven Euros seems to be the average around town, although it's not necessarily as good as Mama's.

If I have breakfast, I like a chunk of tortilla with a hunk of bread (chunk an' a hunk, TM Keefieboy). BetterArf is partial to lightly toasted bread with olive oil and a tomatoey sauce on it. Spanish bread, by the way, comes in two main forms: 'bimbo' (I kid you not), is highly-processed sliced white bread with all the nutritional value of a cloud; or sticks like French baguettes, or wide sticks (called chapatta) like Italian ciabatta. A favourite breakfast of Madrileños is churros. These are sticks of deep-fried extruded batter that you dip into a mug of thick drinking chocolate. Disgusting!

What Madrid is famous for is cocido. This is basically a stew of various meats (and marrowbones), morcilla (black pudding), chorizo, veggies and garbanzos (chick peas). The first bit is the broth served up as a soup (usually enhanced with noodles or rice), followed by the meat, veg and beans. It is fantastico!

But because Madrid is the capital, you have people here from all regions of Spain, and they all bring their regional specialities with them. So we have had good paella here, and roast suckling pig, rabo te toro (braised oxtail) from I know not where, and Galician and Asturian soups and stews, and all manner of good stuff.

And if all else fails, there's always Fat Tony's fish and pie emporium near Anton Martín.


halfmanhalfbeer said...


Katie said...

churros, disgusting!?! i'll give you unhealthy, but never disgusting.

you have a lot to learn here in spain, my friend ;)

Cairogal said...

To give some perspective on the cost of things, I lived in Spain from 1999-2000 (pre-Euro). Most Menu del dia cost around $5 USD at the time. I also earned about $800/month: much lower when compared to what language teachers are being paid now in the capital.