Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Capricho Extremeño

This is what Spanish food is, guys - simple, unpretentious, (often) inexpensive and marvelously delicious.

My girl B³ and I were strolling around El Rastro fleamarket a few Sundays ago while she was visiting me, when suddenly, we walked into a street and noticed that everyone around us was holding little, white trays with food on it. I could vaguely see that they were slices of bread covered with all kinds of different toppings (called "tostas" here in Spain). Literally everyone up and down the street were eating these things, so we knew right away that we had to do the same because they must be good!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

IT Boys Are Universally Awkward

A Spanish man let a door slam in my face for the first time since I've been here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stacey!!!

the most recent picture of us - us at home, springish 2010
I always joke that I should rename my blog "Dear Stacey" because then I wouldn't even have to make any effort to update - I write to my girl Stace all the time. And today it's her birthday! *points to the banner above*

We met in our second year of university when we were put into the same suite together in residence. I was really nervous because I lived in a traditional-style residence in first year, with the communal bathrooms and all that, so I had been hoping and hoping all summer long that I'd have nice suitemates, since we'd have to share a lot of living space.

Lo and behold, I met Stacey when I moved in and I was blessed for a lifetime!

You know a friend is one of a kind when you can stand to be in very close quarters with each other for an extended period of time. When I was on exchange in Nice, she was studying abroad in Paris, and we visited each other for nearly a week in each of the cities. Not only did we emerge from those trips still talking to each other, but we had the best time ever and we share a lot of great memories!

She's one of my favourite people in the world and I love her with all my heart and she's very far away from me right now (or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I'm very far from her), so I miss her a ton. She's one of the most brilliant people I know and I'm super proud of her because she's rocking out in her first year of law school right now. She's such a good friend to me and she pretty much keeps me sane and she's just the best.

So I just wanted to say:


Don't stress about school - if anyone can own law school (or any other intellectual endeavour, for that matter), it's you, and I'm incredibly proud of you and you're doing just fine and you will not only survive but have a ton of success. Enjoy yourself! Enjoy law school! Enjoy the boys! I miss you like crazy and I can't wait to see you again when I come home!!!


P.S. Something about you makes me write a lot of run-on sentences - if that's not a sign of love I don't know what is. :P
Us at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2009!

Tasty Tuesday: Chocolatería San Ginés

It would be remiss of me to write about the culinary offerings of Madrid without mentioning the famous Chocolatería San Ginés...

Chocolate y churros are a popular breakfast and snack here in Spain. Churros are a kind of...thin pastry, I'd say, that's basically a crispy stick of fried dough that is slightly chewy in the middle (on the left side of the plate, pictured above). They are made to be dipped into hot chocolate (see picture below). They are pretty much nothing like the kind that can be found in Costcos all over North America because the real thing is just incomparable in its texture. :P

The Spanish version of hot chocolate is not for the faint of heart - it is super rich and extra thick, almost like a thin chocolate sauce. The idea is that it's supposed to be thick enough to cling to churros and create a nice coating for them once they're dipped.

Typically, people (well, mainly those who don't have to work) go to their local taberna to enjoy chocolate y churros in the morning while engaging in leisurely conversation and/or catching up on the latest gossip. Because many chocolaterías close very late or open very early in the day, chocolate y churros are also a very popular post-clubbing snack.

However, what's less well-known but just as popular with locals are porras. Porras are just thicker versions of churros (on the right side of the plate in the picture above). They're quite similar to Chinese fried breadsticks, 油炸鬼, except the Chinese variety is salty, more delicate, less doughy, with more holes in them - when made well, anyway.

And the most famous chocolatería in Madrid is the Chocolatería San Ginés, right in the heart of the city just west of the Puerta del Sol. It's been around since 1894 and this restaurant even has its own Wikipedia page! It's been featured in almost every Spain/Madrid travel guide and travel site I've seen, and I did my fair share of research before coming.

The humble entrance with its forest green door frame isn't very eye-catching, but the interior is quite ornate, with nostalgic décor, marble table-tops and a bar that winds around the side and part of the back of the restaurant. In the summertime, tables and chairs are set up outdoors all around the side of the building so that people can eat and people-watch at the same time.

Having said all this, I must say that I don't love their chocolate. (By the way, this will be one of the very rare times that I'll recommend something I don't absolutely adore.) Their churros are out of this world, but the chocolate has this...almost sort of spicy, nutmeggy taste that I'm not fond of. I like my chocolate pure and refined. Additionally, I prefer the churros over the porras because the porras are too dense and bread-like for me; they remind me of poorly-made 油炸鬼, and the fact that they're sweet throws me.

But since chocolate y churros are Spain must-trys and the Chocolatería San Ginés is the most famous place that serves them, I'd recommend that you give this place a try when you're in town...then perhaps compare the experience with that of a local taberna!

Chocolatería San Ginés
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5
28013 Madrid

913 656 546

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: El Museo del Jamón

Jamón is my new religion. I've been eating it (as well as salchichón and lomo) like it's my job.

The Spanish take their ham very seriously. It's revered; it's almost sacred. And who can blame them? It's so, so delicious. You just can't miss it, because there are tons and tons of legs of ham, hanging from the ceilings of lots of restaurants, shops, bars, supermarkets, and other establishments here.

Where I live in Canada, only the lowest-grade Spanish ham (jamón serrano) is available near me, and it's super expensive - the equivalent of 1 € per slice. The last time I had some at home was from Michaelangelo's supermarket, $6 for five slices. Yikes!

Apart from going to the supermarket, the cheapest place to enjoy Spanish ham in Spain is at the popular tourist haunt, El Muséo del Jamón ("The Ham Museum").

I have to add that I'm a fan of Spanish tourist places. You see, in pretty much everywhere else in the world, tourist places are traps. They hawk poor-quality products for ridiculously inflated prices. However, I've noticed that here in Spain, shops and restaurants geared towards tourists are also frequented by locals, which means that the prices and quality are pretty decent.

El Muséo del Jamón is a chain of restaurants that can be found pretty much all over Spain. Here in Madrid they are absolutely everywhere. There's usually a standing bar and a sit-down area (where prices are higher!), where you can sample a huge variety of Spanish cured meats, sausages, sandwiches, as well as other typically Spanish foods (paella, calamari, garlic shrimp, etc.).

Jamón, of course, is a must-try. The good museum features three types: serrano (lowest grade, about 2,50 € per plate at the time of publication - pictured below), Salamanca (mid-grade, 4,20 €) and ibérico (the good stuff, which costs about 14,00 € a plate!). The difference is in the breed of pig and what they're fed - the best and most expensive kind of ham is jamón ibérico de bellota, which is a breed of black-hoofed pigs unique to Spain that are fed only acorn.

Other great things to try here include salchichón, which is a kind of cured, Spanish sausage. Don't mistake this for chorizo, which has paprika in it and is smoky and spicy - personally, I prefer salchichón, with the yummy peppercorns esconced inside. Lomo, cured meat made with pork tenderloin, is also worth trying. The queso de Manchego (Spanish cured cheese) is tasty as well, although it's a bit overpriced, in my opinion.

I'd stay away from the paella, because you should probably go to a specialty restaurant for that, and I also wouldn't have their platos combinados (platters with meat, potatoes and salad) because you could find cheaper and probably better versions at local restaurants.

In this economy, they've also released a value menu where certain sandwiches and drinks (pop, beer and water) only cost 1 €, so it's entirely possible to have a decent, filling meal for 2 €. Amazing.

So if you want to grab a quick bite to eat in Spain and experience a vital part of Spanish culinary culture at the same time, I'd suggest that you visit El Museo del Jamón.

Photos were taken at the following location:
Calle Mayor, 7
28013 Madrid

***P.S. I have a new posting schedule! I'll be posting on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there will be new videos up on my Youtube channel every Wednesday - I hope you keep up with me! :D XOXOXO

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Could I Be So Stupid???

a.k.a. I am so smart! S-M-R-T!
a.k.a. MASSIVE Culinary Fail

I've been noticing that ever since I moved into my new apartment, nothing I've been cooking has been working out; everything's been tasting very bland, even when I saturate it with as much salt as I dare.

I didn't realize it at first because, actually, I like mild flavours and I don't normally need to add salt to my food. And I think I kind of imagined that things were tasting a bit better after I added salt to them, even though they weren't.

But last night, after making some onion scrambled eggs (a family favourite) and not tasting a difference even after adding a generous sprinkle of salt, I started to wonder if there was something wrong with my salt. Maybe I bought a defective bottle. Maybe I bought "mild" salt, if there was such a thing...

So I poured some of my salt on my hand to taste it and noticed that, indeed, it wasn't salty. I took a closer look at the bottle and saw...

...the words "SODIO BICARBONATO."

Which ≠ sodium chloride (NaCl). I've been cooking with baking soda for the past month thinking that it's salt!!! HOW STUPID COULD I BE?!?!?!

My only excuse is that, apparently a few years later, I'm still recovering from the brain cells that died when I temporarily lost my mind and joined a sorority.

I guess I just saw "sodium" on the bottle and immediately thought 'salt!'

No wonder nothing's been tasting right. No wonder I've been feeling bloated after eating my own cooking. My goodness, I knew I was silly but I didn't think I was STUPID.

Oh, me. :P

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tasty Tuesday: La Mallorquina

What I'm about to say may seem blasphemous to some people, but I really wasn't that impressed by the bakeries when I was living in France. Maybe the bakeries in Nice are especially subpar, but apart from baguettes, a croissant and a ridiculously expensive cookie, I didn't love what Niçois bakeries had to offer. Most of them sold stale pizzas, bread and petit fours that were obviously not house-made.

When I went to Japan and came across their "French-style" bakeries, I thought they were generally way better than the real thing, but even so, I didn't love the chocolate croissants.

So imagine my surprise when I came across the BEST chocolate croissant I've ever tasted right here in Madrid!

You see, traditional pains au chocolat are made of buttery, flaky pastry wrapped around a paltry, skinny line of chocolate running down one side. Spanish napolitanas de chocolate are made of fluffy pastry filled to bursting with rich, smooth, creamy chocolate paste that spans the entire interior of the confection.

My very favourite napolitana de chocolate can be found at the legendary bakery La Mallorquina, which is located at the very heart of the city, right at (one of) the doorsteps of Sol metro station.

There are rows of pastries, cakes and cookies in glass cabinets to choose from, a standing café on the ground floor and a sit-down area on the second floor. But be forewarned that prices upstairs are higher than downstairs!

After some experimenting, I can say that their napolitana de chocolate is their very best product - even better than their cakes (see picture) - so feel free to cut to the chase and head straight for the napolitana de chocolate if you make a trip here. Don't even bother with the regular napolitana, which is filled with custard - the chocolate is a million times better!

I discovered La Mallorquina during my first days in Madrid, back in late June, and I became an instant, avid fan. I was absolutely devastated when they closed for August, like many businesses here do, and I actually had their re-opening date (August 31st) written in my agenda.

Fortunately, the napolitana de chocolate is as good as I remember. Unfortunately, it's smaller than it used to be and the price was raised from 1€ to 1.20€. It'st still totally worth it, though, and I will continue to frequent this establishment - just maybe a little less often than I used to, which is probably better for my waistline, anyway. :P

La Mallorquina
Calle Mayor, 2
28013 Madrid