A Night Out in Madrid – Part One

In a night out on the same style Anthony Bourdain filmed The Layover, my good friend and great magician Christian Miró took me on a stroll thru the best examples of the most traditional dishes in Madrid. He knows my weakness for old stories, and this was my first and brief visit to Madrid, so we were following some of the steps Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s character, walked about while his adventures.

Mercado de San Miguel

The old San Miguel Market was once and for ages the most important food market in the Spanish capital. Today is a tourist attraction, not anymore because of the groceries, but because the old stalls were reconverted in tapas stalls.

Each stall has it’s own personality. Like the ones with pickles, like handmade-stuffed olives, that you may find them stuffed with mussel, or wrapped up with anchovies, crab meat, to the traditional banderillas which are little skewers with an olive, a little pepper, a pickled pearl onion and other ingredients.

Side note about the banderillas, as Cristian thought me: you have to eat the whole thing at once, and chew all the ingredient at the same time, you do not have to be eating one by one. The idea is that the mix of the flavors is an unique experience rather than having them separately. Other stalls carry fresh oysters, snails, other seafoods, jamón, cold cuts, and whatever you imagine that can be put in a tapa.

And what better than a vermouth to wash down tapas Spanish style. A word about Spanish vermouth: it comes on tap, it will be dark (almost black), sweet and bitter. Each stall will have their own recipe, or it will come from different brands that have nothing to do with the ones that are sold worldwide from major brands. Spanish vermouth is being done in small batches, and some of the main ingredients are passion, handcraft and pride. So, if you find yourself involved in a vermouth tasting, go for it! You will start discerning about spices, infusion times, different blends of wines, and all that marvelous chat about flavors, aromas and sweetness or bitterness… all that with the same hot Spanish blood as they can talk about fútbol (soccer).

Mesón de la Tortilla

One of the quintessential dishes in the Spanish cuisine is, without any doubts, the tortilla. Just to clarify the vocabulary, the Spanish tortilla has two ingredients: potato and egg, and may be a pinch of salt. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Mexican tortillas, and it has been translated to English as “Spanish omelette”.

Regarding calling it “omelette” I would strongly suggest you not to call it like that in front of a Spaniard. Besides the fact that the tortilla has potato, and no French would ever dare to put potatoes to an omelette, we know that sometimes neighbors don’t appreciate to be confused or mixed up one with the other.

For a tortilla, I was taken to the Mesón de la Tortilla on the street behind Plaza Mayor. Going down stairs into basements an tunnels carved 500 years ago, there was a counter, a small kitchen in a corner, and tables all along the walls. You could see and feel that the ceilings were covered with the smoke of the fried tortillas for centuries, and if you touch the walls, you could feel the conversations of merchants, writers, soldiers, clerics, thieves, nobility and artisans, all together, in these tunnels since the Spanish Golden Century.

The tortilla can have some add-ons like chorizo, onion, mushrooms, bell peppers or whatever you might think of, but the traditional is just slightly beaten egg and potato. Fried until golden, firm on the outside, but still moist inside.

Casa Labra – Puerta del Sol

Casa Labra, at the Puerta del Sol, or Sun’s Gate, in downtown Madrid, is one of the most, or probably the most famous place to have fried cod, or bacalao frito. It’s been in business since 1860, and hosted many famous people and events. It’s been said that the Spanish Socialist Party was founded there, and Christian referred that he saw Pedro Almodóvar, the filmmaker, eating there.

While we were getting there, we could listen the bells of the Buen Suceso Church, it was 11 pm. We arrived before the the last bell, but the clerk at the pub was a very punctual person and devoted person. With the first bell, he closed the place. No service after that. I’ll have to come back to Madrid to have the cod.

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