Margie's and Monchet’s Madrid: A City That Never Grows Old
Madrid holds a special place for us. As a young teen, Margie spent summers with her sister Clarissa, doing the pub crawl while sipping Fanta Limon, and nibbling on bocadillos. My first trip was in high school and it acquainted me with my fathers neighborhood, and I met up our cousins. Dad was born in Manila but spent his youth in Madrid with my grandparents. He would walk in the same spots Margie and I did in our visits, and he lived in the neighborhood. For both of us, Madrid is more than a destination. It is home.
Newly married, our first European trip was to Madrid, and we have been spending many winters in this antebellum city. Madrid is familiar, and laid back. Language is really not a problem, everyone will get by, plus Spaniards love to practice English. Winters are manageable, and the dining is excellent. We love to graze, and the lifestyle was so us. Pica pica, tapas, canas, and jamon fit everything we enjoyed. Madrid also became our jumping point to other spots, using the Barcelona based airline Vueling. We always ended up leaving from Paris, taking the Thalgo, RENFE or Spanish Railways, overnight train. Only to get our fill of fruits de mer before heading back to reality.
Holidays in Madrid are much like Manila. El Centro, the city center, Puerta del Sol is festooned with décor and lights. The national network, TVE, would have a broadcast booth set up over looking Sol, to catch count of the draw of El Gordo – the first prize of the Spanish Lottery, where the prize would be 4,000,000 Euros for a 200 Euro ticket! You can buy a decimo, or a 20 Euro “billete” for a chance at 10 percent of the drawn ticket number. Its actually one of the longest running lotteries in the world!!!!
It’s the time for angulas (elvers), percebes (goose neck barnacles) and jamon bellota. It’s the time for families buy their paleta or leg for the year and use the left over bones for home cooked fabada, cocido or pote. For us, it is really a great city to wander about.
For anyone visiting, these are the must do:
- Do the tapas crawl by Sol, if you are type, check out a local foodie like Devour Madrid to walk you through
- Eat samwich in Ferpal on Calle Arenal – triangle white bread sandwiches with assorted fillings, like Russian salad, tuna, egg, jamon york, manchego. Pick up an assortment and they wrap it in paper with string
- Have cocido at Bola – abit commercial, but cocido usually served weekends or Sundays, but at Bola, on Calle Bola, its available daily
- Go the mesones on Cava San Miguel – with a special stop at Meson de Champinones for garlic mushrooms, and Huevos Rotos at the Royals favorite spot, Casa Lucio
- Eat real jamon iberico (don’t say Serrano, that’s probinciano) at Museo de Jamon or Mercado San Miguel
- Have a bag of patatas fritas (potato chips, in large pillow bags, home made available in corner stores)
- Have churros y chocolate at San Gines
- Pay homage to El Corte Ingles, the quitessential “almacen” or department store
- Eat real paella, and real callos – Paella at La Baracca, Callos at La Chata on Cava Baja
- Pastries at Formentor for ensaimada, which is like a flattened puto and Mallorca, for by the kilo savories and sweets that locals can’t have enough of!
- Buy espadrilles at Hernanz, off Plaza Mayor, a family run shop that has been making alaparagatas since 1845!
- Eat pulpo ala gallego at Asador Real
- Visit Mercado San Miguel for a visual feast of epicurean delights and libations
- Do have a meal at Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, and be marveled by the large Filipino staff. Again abit commercial, but its history
- Do the walk of Rizal, in old Madrid, on Calle Echagaray
- Have a real classic paella
- Go to El Abuelo for a bar that specializes in gambas
- Take the Metro to the Rizal stop, and see a replica of the Rizal monument (without the DMCI condo at its rear)
- Just chill, and drink beer, and experience a vibrant
Where to stay. We like staying in the Barrio Salamanca, a 20 minute walk, or 4 stops from Goya to Sol. Salamanca is by Madrid Rodeo Drive, Calle Serrano, and nexus of great spots, with a more local feel. AirBNB gives options, but there are quite a number of very quaint boutique properties. We have been staying at Vincci Soma for years, right on Goya. If you do stay here, opt for a room with a balcony, and enjoy the Madrid vibe.
The crawl. Madrid is all about tapas and canas. You can find good bars everywhere, and the list can be quite daunting. These are places we have been going to get the feel of Old Madrid.
- El Abuelo
- Viva Madrid (Rizal would sit in the back to keep warm in the winter)
- Museo de Jamon
- La Taurino
- Lhardy (one of Madrid oldest fine dining spots )
- Hotel Ingles to take a peek at where Rizal stayed. Calle Echegaray,17 the last boarding house he roomed. The walk around the area is exactly as he would have been there.He also ate at Lhardy. At Hotel Ingles, a historical marker honors Rizal. He delivered his speech to honor Juan Luna and Felix Resurrection Hidalgo for their winning the grand prize for of Juan the Madrid Exposition in 1884 their murals,“Spolarium”and“Virgenes Christianas.
There are a lot of tourist traps, so be wary. Check your TripAdvisor or the gourmet listings, or even the concierge at the hotel. Spaniards take their food seriously. I am recollecting the ones we always go to…do not get tempted to eat paella, etc in places around Sol--sometimes it’s instant !
To end a crawl we always suggest you walk to Paroquia San Gines (there is a disco nearby) off Arenal and there is a small street going up, you should see a neon sign Chocolateria San Gines…walk up, get a table and order churros y chocolate…Porras are the stick kind…. This will cap your night, but Madrid is just getting ready for dinner….
If museums are you thing, a trip to the Prado is a must. But you need sustenance. These are other choice spots to enjoy.
Formentor. Formentor is a pastelleria, pre war, and is know known for their ensaimadas. About a year ago they moved to Hermosilla, just around the corner from the spot where they stayed for close to 60 years. Again, don’t be a chula (or probinsyana)! Traditional Mallorca style ensaimadas don’t look like what we are used to as Filipino our ensaimada was taken from the Mexican version, as a result of the galleon trade. They look more like a breakfast roll snakes together, with sugar!
Bar culture is everywhere all day in Madrid. To be noticed you will need a bit of hustle to make it to the bar to have chocolate, churros, or café. Café is corto…or just plain black, or con leche with milk…don’t ask for espresso or cappuccino, they will just laugh at you….there are sandwiches at the bar, and point and ask, or just choose from the pasteleria, and the bartender will get it or ask it for you…
If ensaimadas aren’t your thing, you must have a chorizo or sobrasada filled empanada. Walk out with a palmera, the palm shaped butter cookie, and walk they calories off!
Spain is all about paella, or as they call it arroces. There are lots of choices to eat. My very first paella was at La Barraca, opened itn 1935. La Barraca, is on Calle Reina, 29, near the Gran Via, bringing you back to a more gentile time. Waiters that are old yet very simpatico, and helpful. Start of with something small, the paella can be filling. Again, like the more modern paellas in Manila, these are a thin layer, and have an excellent “socarat” or tutong. Other classics are St James on Calle Juan Bravo back at Barrio Salamanca; and L’ Albufera, opened in 1983, at the Melia Castilla is another great spot!
Cocido. Our choice will always be Bola. 8:30pm is early for dinner though, but why not. Prime tables begin at 9pm. You should have done a few tapas to stave off the hunger. Cocido Madrilena is very different from our own…they serve the soup from a puchero, a clay pot where all the ingredients are cooked.First course is the soup, with fideos, or small noodles, then they throw in all the rest. Remenmber no rice, and they bring around the serving of siling haba or guindillas, then some tomato sauce,,,but that’s it. Too heavy, you may decide to have sopa castellana, or a rich s soup with egg, and maybe just have a revuelto de bacalao, or a eggs with bacalao, and share a dessert, like a flan or arroz con leche. Eating in a Spanish resto isn’t for the faint hearted. The food can be overwhelming.
Asadores. These restos serve roasted lamb, or suckling pig – the cuchinillo. We like Asador Real, off Arenal near the Theater. Its been around for about 30 years and is like being in Spanish resto in Manila. Most of the staff, like Botin are pinoy. Also, in Chamberi, you can check out Asador Aranduero.
Tapear. There are so many places to choose. For a more chichi experience, there is Jose Luis. There are six branches for their cerveceria, and a great spot to sit and chat. Familiar with jamones 5J? The purveyor of jamon jabugo and bellota have a few full on restaurants in Madrid, two in Barrio Salamanca. Again, a no fail choice.
We may not always remember what we have eaten, or what we may have talked about, but we will always remember how we feel. Madrid to us is just that, it is a gastronomic paradise that can be very earthy, or very frou-frou. For us, we like it down home and comfy. A small beer, and small order of jamon, warm bread, and the waft of a freshly roast leg of baby lamb, does give the scent of winter.
While everyone in exploring the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, Madrid will always be there, and it is home.
Another cana, and a surtido of tapas please!