Sunday, October 18, 2015

Madrid: Drink, Eat, and Be Merry

Did I mean to say "eat, drink, and be merry"? Not in the case of Madrid, where my husband and I took a short break last week. In Spain, the drinks come first. The rest falls naturally into place.

In one eatery that we lucked into, El Paladar 24, I spotted a man at a counter eating a bowl of potato soup. I asked the server, can I have that? Yes of course, she said, we bring you that for free if you order a drink! 

So we ordered our drinks, and out came the soup—and four spoons. You see, food is meant to be shared in Spain. I like this country! 

Spain was a surprise for me. How can the people seem so happy? In a country that has suffered so much, most recently from the financial crisis, with an unemployment rate about 20%?

I think part of the answer is that they are more than ready to go out for a drink—whether it's a coffee, a glass of wine, or a beer—with friends or family, and have a good time. Around a plate of inexpensive food. 

Let me share some of the ways that we had a great time:

Breakfast, for us between 10 and 11 a.m., was at Pannus, a chain of 24-hour bakeries with a bustling but cheery staff and more pastries than in Paris. And cheap! Get the whole wheat mini elephant ears, 5 for 1 1/5 euros.

Try lunch at the traditional but quirky Los Gatos, a recommendation from the Rick Steves guidebook, and where I'd recommend the tuna salad, which came on a big platter for the four of us to share. After a glass of wine, of course!

On a tip from a former food guide in Spain, we ate at Taberna del Chato, for a modern take on classic tapas. The melon-colored, lightly creamy gazpacho, topped with crisped bacon bits, was my favorite. 

We discovered the El Paladar 24 on our own, wanting to have a bite to eat before watching some flamenco dancing at the nearby Tablao La Quimera, an authentic and small place off the beaten path. The cover includes a drink. Thanks to my colleague Alicia for the tip!

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Source: La Chocolatería San Ginés
One day we had such a big, late lunch we decided to skip dinner altogether. Instead, we finished the day with a hot mug of chocolate at the historic La Chocolatería San Ginés, another recommendation from Rick. The dark liquid chocolate has the density of pudding, just right for the dunking with freshly fried churros.

Another discovery, and an easy one if you're visiting the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, is its cafeteria, where for my last meal I finally had what is the national dish, Iberian ham, served with slices of bread topped with diced fresh tomato. My husband had a stunning pasta dish, a shrimp blue cheese carbonara made with inky black noodles.



The Spanish people are the closest I've come in Europe to the friendliness of the people in my home town of Pittsburgh, itself the home of many a saloon. But sorry, Pittsburgh. Madrid wins, tapas down, when it comes to the bar ... food!