One of the first things I ate in Madrid were the albondigas from a little tapas bar down the street from our hostel. At first I thought it may have been some sort chicken mixed with pork. It tasted a bit like chicken parts too, hearts or liver, a distinct iron organ flavor. The sauce a chicken-like base, light and not too fatty, yellow, thickened with a bit of calabaza and potato. When I finally asked, they said it was ternera––veal. Delicious little baby cow meatballs with a sauce to soak up with stale bread. My first meal in Spain after a long sleepless flight was delicious, but it was only by accident.
When I’ve asked people about Madrid they don’t usually mention the food first, not like when you mention San Sebastían. I was in a touriste area in Madrid, but even as I sought out the local tapas bars I didn’t find anything incredible other than cheap wine (which was always delicious) and lots of nuts and olives. A cool bar in the Lavapies district called Virícola Mentridana was beautiful and rustic even though it was yet another bar serving tapas with more stale bread. The roasted pepper and goat cheese toast with caramelized onions was good and classic. At Casa de las Tostas, loosely translated as ‘house of toast’, a tosta of smoked salmon, roe and queso de burgos sounded amazing, yet proved utterly depressing. Same with the pistou manchego, fried egg and Iberico ham tosta––sounds mouthwatering, but the bread was stale, the egg mysteriously allowed to be both overcooked and cold. The ham was the only edible part.
Maybe I set my expectations a little too high. All said, everything consumed in Madrid, even if it was shit, was still pretty good. I’m looking for stuff I’ve never had before. Something I can honesty ask, “How the hell did they make that?”
The stress caused by travel––the sleepless zombie-like tours of museums, the heavy consumption of wine, and the culture shock of being in a big city in a new country––finally cured by finding a good spot with no name. A small bar in Tirso Molina: cheap wine, chicharrones, olives, a cazuela of provolone with sautéed onion and fresh tomato (kind of a fondue) with more bread, and a tosta of salty sardines, tomato, and lots of olive oil (anchoa en salazón).
Madrid was nice. This history and culture is what I was most fascinated by, plus the fact that you can buy a decent bottle of Rioja for 2,50 euro. After visiting the Museo del Prado I wanted to write a research paper. Humans are beautiful, talented, full of the potential to create amazing things. But they are also war-mongering, greedy, spiteful little parasites that destroy everything they touch. I recommend going to Prada, especially now during the El Greco exhibit. I don’t have the time, energy, or expertise to really get into it, but when you walk through and see masterpieces by the Spanish painters like Goya, Valázquez, El Greco, or Renaissance work by Caravaggio, Rafael, those guys, you can’t help but think how bizarre it is that they made this work for a bunch of lunatics. The 15th to late 19th century work on display is amazing. The amount of detail, love and care is unrivaled. The subject matter, however, is religious to a fanatical degree, and later idolizes the inbred monarchies. I’d like to go back and study more of this stuff. Especially Goya, and El Greco. This stuff is fascinating.
Now that I’m in Portugal and over the jetlag I’ve been able to find some good eats. I’ll write more about that after the next 48 hours in Lisbon. It’s only been a week but I feel like I’ve seen and done so much. Yesterday was the first day I’ve been able to really sit down and write. Three more weeks to go. More soon on Portugal, roasted kid, and my attempts to correctly pronounce obrigado.