Sunday, 31 July 2011

Madrid - Mañana Mañana

Full marks for booking the same period as the heatwave, I have an impressive track record of chasing the heat. Madrid was a furnace at 36 degrees. This city is no stranger to me, but I have always seen it as a functional hub as opposed to a travel hotspot. Still, since we were in Spain, I might as well take my folks through the lot.

Siesta is totally justifiable. My scalp was burning under the scorching sun. We strolled around to get a feel of the Capital, from the Puerta del Sol, we headed into Via Gracia for some highstreet shopping, partly because the summer sale was on, mainly because my bro only packed 3 vests for 10 days (Don't ask, long story...)

I faced my first battle when it came to our first coffee break, I couldn't remember ANY Spanish in front of the flustered waitress.

Come on dig deeper... Nope, just a handful of Italian words sprang to mind. Why did they teach me 'Where is the Bank?' at school when I'd clearly go in with f-load of cash? Why didn't they teach 'Why are you still hitting me with torrents of Spanish when I just said No parlo Español?'

That's okay, with much frantic waving and gesturing minus the multinational finger, I got the espresso with milk and a glass of ice instead of my desired iced latte. By the way, English is not all that common in this country. A safer bet is of-course to go with the picture menu.

Streets start crowding after six. We bought our breakfasts from the supermarket of El Corte Ingles. I get cranky in the morning without a hot breakfast, just scrambled eggs would make me happy. As a family of 4, we rented a little duplex apartment instead of 2 hotel rooms. This proved to be very convenient with a living room for us to chill and watched Nadal lost to Novak in Wimbledon.

The next morning we decided to take it easy with a brief wander to Museo del Prado and the golden triangle of Arts. We came across the chain Museo de Jamon, with rows of ham hanging from the ceiling and locals standing around the bar for their quick lunch. Poor quality stuff to be honest. 

After a much finer Iberico Jamon Bellota break back in the apartment, we walked through Plaza Mayor to Mercado de San Miguel for a late lunch. 
A Big Spiderman in Action at Plaza Mayor 
This indoor market may be small but it has a concentration of gourmet stalls selling all kinds of tapas, paella, fresh juices and pastries.

The oysters came in 4 sizes, I had the biggest of Especial Daniel Sorlut (Eur 2.80) and the one-size Especial de Claire (Eur 1.40), which apparently has a hazelnut tang. Very flavoursome sea gems, perhaps rinse the seawater off for a less salty slurp.

The fishy pintos were less impressive; tuna was dry, cod brandada was bland but the worst offender was the teeth-cracking bread that pierced into the roof of my mouth. Blooming texture spoilers. Nonetheless they were all washed down with freshly squeezed syrupy strawberry juice.

8 o'clock was obviously too early for dinner, so we settled at a Belgian (in Spain?! I know) cafe that serves over 40 types of beer but only 1 Spanish red and 1 Belgium white. Cafe Ke is just off the stairs from the South-west corner of Plaza Mayor. The English-speaking waitress was welcoming and made some excellent recommendations of raspberry beer, Pink Killer (a bit like ginger beer) and a relatively wheaty Belgium draft.

With the high abundance of restaurants and bars in Madrid, tourist traps are almost impossible to dodge and I have been warned to steer well clear from the eateries in the Plaza. Thanks to mix reviews I skipped a visit to Botin, the oldest restaurant in Europe. Instead we ventured into Cava Baja, a street that promises a gastronomic tour. While Casa Lucas and Casa Lucio have both earned raving reviews and celebrity clientele, it was La Chata that got my vote.

The eye-catching ornamented tiles across the exterior of the La Chata gave a sense of traditional Castillian. At 9pm the entrance was swamped by people drinking at the bar, nibbling on tapas and olives. We were greeted by the Romanian waiter and led to the restaurant downstairs. Apparently the menu at the bar-adjoining room is supposed to be cheaper, but the prices downstairs were very reasonable too. He spoke good English and recommended us some house specials.

Stuffed Red Peppers Cod Stew
Hearty stew with indulgently creamy mash infused with cod, stuffed into sugar sweet peppers, topped with strong stretching cheese. Absolutely delicious.

Suckling Pig
They serve big. The pig was beautifully roasted with thin crispy skin and tender meat, but slightly under-seasoned. It came with a translucent sauce that resembled liquid goose fat; health warnings aside, the sauce brought life to the pig.

Oxtail stew
This had to be the weakest part of the meal; though the oxtail meat flaked off with minimum effort, the sauce was an overkill that wasn’t dissimilar to double concentrated gravy.

We had a tomato salad on the side. Perhaps my parents had been too deprived of fresh veg, they fell in love with it and mopped it up that I never had the chance to try. Bro became a fan of Sangria, which proved too strong for Dad and Mum was tipsy after a few sips. Gotta love my family for giving everything a go though.
Digestives on the House
After a good night sleep, we packed our bags for the Renfe Atocha station to catch our speedy train to the Catalan Capital, Barcelona.

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