I only came to Madrid to eat

The food scene in Madrid is crazy good that all I wanted to do in my short stay there was eat. My Eat Pray Love version of my Madrid trip was Eat Eat Eat! No touristy activities, no sightseeing—nope, none of that stuff! Surely this post will blow the taste buds out of your mouth, you’d be begging to eat Spanish food at the end of it! :p
Enjoy!!

When I was planning a spring break vacation with my son, I originally planned to meet him in Oxford and from there we would fly to Amman, Jordan. But my plans were complicated by my husband’s business trip schedule and I was forced to cancel the whole trip.

Story of my life….

I moped around, threw a pity party for myself, and cried like a toddler on temper tantrum until my son, who was on his way to the airport to begin his European adventure, called me. He told me that we didn’t have to completely scrap the whole trip and we can certainly work around my husband’s schedule. He also suggested to change our destination.

“You can still come to Oxford and visit me,” he consolingly said.

“Yeah but I also want to go somewhere else besides Oxford,” I told him.

“We can go to Madrid!”

Umm……no!

I’ve already been to Madrid several times before. And I’m sticking to this inspirational quote by the Dalai Lama:

And thus I’m crossing Madrid out! “Been there, done that!” I stubbornly said.

“We can go to Madrid for a couple of days and then fly to Morocco from there. Morocco has been in your bucket list for years now right?”

Smart kid. He had me at Morocco. Okay, I told him I’d include Madrid but in one condition:

“I’m only going to Madrid to eat!”

And we did just that for the two days we were in Madrid.

Getting into Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas Airport is probably one of the most daunting airport experiences I’ve had in several years. It took us at least over twenty minutes to get from one terminal to another by tram! I’m still confused thinking about it to this day. I don’t remember this airport to be this huge. But then again, the last time I was there was probably twenty years ago! It was when my husband and I were trying to have our first child. I wanted my baby to be “made in Spain” which of course didn’t happen. And now that first child is with me, here in Madrid, helping me navigate this complex airport. After several guessing game, we finally got on the right train (they have two different ways by train—the Cercanías or by metro). When we were transferring to another line, a woman tripped over my luggage as we were entering the train. I turned around to look at her, she gave me a smile then apologized. My son and I sat as soon as we got inside the train, the woman walked away from where we were sitting. A few minutes later, she walked towards me holding my pink passport holder (it was one of those covers that had slots for credit cards). “This is yours,” she said in Spanish. I was surprised and thanked her but she didn’t respond. She continued to walk away from us. I opened my passport holder and saw that my passport and debit card were still there. But then I realized later, she wasn’t giving me back my passport holder out of the goodness of her heart, but actually stole it. If my passport holder had fallen out of my bag, then it should’ve been where I was sitting. But she was coming from the other direction and I wondered how it could’ve fallen from there. Great! I became a victim of a pickpocket on my first day in Madrid! The irony is that I was grateful that my thief had a conscience! 🙂

Our hotel, Hyatt Centric Madrid, was not too far from the train stop. The reception gave us suggestions on where to go for dinner. She told us that although we shouldn’t miss out on Mercado de San Miguel, we should consider going to a less touristy one such as Mercado de San Ildenfonso. I already had my heart set on San Miguel and that’s where we went for our first night of my foodie adventure.

As soon as I stepped inside the market, my body experienced a thrilling sensation. I thought I was going to pass out from extreme excitement.

HELLOOOO!!!

I think I just died and went to heaven!!!

Be right back……

Definitely one of the best gazpachos I’ve tasted

Calamares heaven
Sangria!!!

Empanadas in different varieties

Bocadillo de calamares

Who goes to Spain and doesn’t eat paella?

Churros

churros con chocolate

Rich and oh-so-sweet desserts

This is the face of someone who died and went to foodie heaven! Lordy, if that’s what heaven is like, I don’t mind dying at all!

As you can tell from the pictures and on my face, the first day of my foodie-filled Madrid adventure was definitely a resounding success! I decided that Mercado de San Miguel is one of my favorite food destinations! I don’t care if it’s catered heavily to tourists, it certainly did a great job catering to my palate.

Second Day

If my first night of culinary heaven wasn’t enough to blow the taste buds out of your mouth, well then my second day will get you salivating and begging for Spanish food. A few weeks before coming to Madrid, I signed up for a walking food tour with the company, Devour. Their most popular tour, the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, captured my stomach heart. It initially sold out but I emailed them and asked if there’s a possibility of opening up another tour to accommodate me and my son. They immediately emailed me back and said yes, they will have another tour that will start at 9:45am on the day I requested. This is what I call excellent customer service!

So let me begin this four–hour walking food tour adventure…

We met at Plaza Mayor with our tour leader, Arantxa, whose name sounds nothing like Español. Although a short woman, she’s bold, opinionated, and definitely big in character. I loved her story telling ability that surely made this tour entertaining.

Our first stop was at Confiteria El Riojano, a family–owned pastry restaurant where we tasted a home-baked soletilla dunked in thick hot chocolate. A soletilla is a soft biscuit or cookie similar to a lady finger. The rich thick chocolate is heavenly delicious. For you history buffs out there, chocolate made its way to Spain from Mexico in the 1500’s but it was flavored with chili peppers that didn’t appeal much to the Spaniard conquistadors. As a result, they sweetened the cocoa with sugar cane in which the Spanish were the first to popularize in Europe. It soon became a popular drink in Spain and was served to its monarchy. Chocolate in Spain was the equivalent to the tea in England.

Another interesting fact that Arantxa pointed out is if you see a plaque in front of any of the establishments in Spain, it means the business has been standing there for a hundred years or so.

Our second stop was at Mercado de Jamon Ibérico. We were presented with three different types of hams: jamon Serrano, jamon Ibérico de Recebo, jamon Ibérico de Bellota. Serrano is the most common, packed in salt and cured for two years. It is what the Spanish use instead of bacon. Ibérico de Recebo is a different breed of pig from the Serrano, less fatty, and cured for three years. The Ibérico de Bellota is the leanest, most expensive, organic (only fed with acorns), and are cured for 4–5 years.

The hams were paired with a tempranillo wine. Tempranillo grapes are native to Spain. We also tried two varieties of olive oil (coupage and picual). Did you know that Spain is the #1 producer of olive oil? They sell their olive oil to Italy and Italy bottles them up and sells them as Italian olive oil (if your olive oil doesn’t say “product of Italy” then it is most likely from Spain). Be sure to buy virgin or extra virgin because their acidity (pH) have been tested by scientists in labs. If the acidity is less than .08, it is extra virgin; if it’s between .08 to 2, it is virgin; and if it’s just marked as “olive oil”, its acidity is more than 2 and considered unhealthy like canola, peanut or sunflower oil.

The food at the third eatery, El Anciano Rey de Los Vinos, was probably the most unforgettable. We had shredded oxtail meat with vegetables simmered until almost puréed. They were wrapped in filo dough and topped with piquillo peppers. I’ve never had anything like this before. It was so delicious that I wanted to have the whole plate all to myself.

This dish, called bull tail regalito, is a modern twist on the traditional beef stew. It was paired with a red sweet vermouth.

The fourth stop was at Taberna La Bola. This tavern is one of Madrid’s oldest kitchens specializing in Cocido Madrileño, a stew consisting of flavorful broth with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizos, and pork. We were allowed to come inside the kitchen and watch the ladies make this famous stew that has been simmering for hours.

Pictures of famous patrons

Demonstrating how to make this stew

Cocido Madrileño is eaten in three ways. When it is cooked, the broth is separated from all the ingredients and the soup becomes the first course. The second course is served with a plate of all the chickpeas and vegetables. The stewed–to–perfection meats are served last. Eating this dish takes a considerable amount of time and unfortunately we only got to taste the first course, which was the stew’s flavorful broth.

By this time we were all “complaining” of being almost full. But we still had three more places to go! Walking towards the fifth one, Arantxa told us we would make a brief stop at a convent where the nuns bake lemon cookies. She knocked on a window and spoke to a lady inside. Then the window opened and a box of cookies was placed on it and the window was immediately shut right after. We never saw who the lady behind the window.

Onwards to the fifth establishment—Bar Cerveriz is a small bar owned by Carlos who makes the best tortilla de patatas. Although the bar is located in front of Mercado de San Miguel, it is still a hidden spot from tourists. Tortilla de patatas is a simple dish (it is basically an omelet filled with potatoes) but it is a staple in Spain. I’ve eaten this before but Carlos’ version is made with runny eggs and the ones I’ve had were more firm. I like his version so much better. We were also given slices of Manchego cheese to try and a shot of Trabanco Asturian cider. He demonstrated how this cider should be poured: holding the bottle close to the head while holding the shot glasses below the waist. He asked each of us to try (I didn’t) but my son did.

By now, we were all full! They could’ve ended the tour after the fifth stop and we would’ve all been happy and content but no trip to Madrid is complete without tasting the city’s most famous sandwich: Bocadillo de Calamares, or calamari sandwich!

So here we were.. still eating even after complaining of being completely full! But the bocadillo was so good in spite of having only two ingredients: crusty bread and fried squid. I have no idea why something so simple makes this as one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever eaten!

And thank youuu Jesus, we have finally reached our very last stop at Torrons Vicens. The staff came Out with a big plate of four different types of turrones and shot glasses of Madroño liqueur. With my stomach about to explode, I was no longer interested in eating and all I wanted to do by this time was walk off all the calories I’ve consumed, perhaps do a little of my favorite cardio: shopping! 😀

After the tour, my son went back to the hotel to practice the art of siesta! And as for me, I forgot to mention in the beginning that I’m also in Madrid to shop! My seven pairs of Toni Pons shoes were heaven in my feet.

After a few hours of cardio shopping and my son’s exposure to Spanish culture siesta, we were ready for more food tripping. We wanted to try the less touristy market that our hotel’s reception had recommended. She boasted that Mercado de San Ildenfonso is the place where all the locals go. That got us curious…what do locals eat? So we had to go and see for ourselves. It was smaller than San Miguel and less selection. It was underwhelming to say the least. They had tacos and Asian style dishes that didn’t appeal to me one bit. If this is what the locals ate, then I prefer to be a tourist in Madrid lol!

FYI, Devour had suggested 7 Must-Try Typical Foods in Madrid:

1) Cocido Madrileño

2) Huevos Rotos

3) Bocadillo de Calamares

4) Callos a la Madrileña

5) Churros con Chocolate

6) Oreja a la Plancha

7) Pincho de Tortilla

If you are in Madrid, you might want to look for these foods. Happy eating!!

What I learned about myself while in Santiago, Chile

Santiago has been overshadowed by its South American neighbors (it does not have the beaches of Rio or the architecture of Buenos Aires) but it is definitely emerging and is slowly recognized by global travelers as THE next exciting city in South America. The food scene is exploding, neighborhoods are swanky, and trendy bars are plentiful. Oh, let’s also not forget its close proximity to some of the top notched wineries!

Santiago is also full of surprises. On my second day there, I learned more things to love about the city as much as I’ve learned about myself.

Before we left for this trip, I made a reservation at Concha Y Toro for a wine tasting tour. For a little over $40, we get four glasses of wine and a charcuterie. But when I mentioned about it to Jorge, our city tour guide in Santiago on our first day there, he talked us out of going. He said it’s very touristy and he preferred Sta. Rita winery instead. Because we didn’t have a transport to Concha Y Toro, we decided to book us a wine tasting tour at Sta. Rita Wineries in Spanish (the English tour was sold out). My friend speaks Spanish but I do not, and honestly, this was a big mistake on my part.

The driver wasn’t going to pick us up until 1:30pm so we had the morning to explore Bellavista, a Bohemian neighborhood in Santiago, and only a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. If you are looking for bars and restaurants, this place has plenty of them. Pio Nono Street is the main street where most of the bars are located. Towards the end of the street, you’ll see people lined up for the funicular and teleférico to reach the summit at Cerro San Cristóbal. It was about 11:30 am and they told us it’ll take more than a couple of hours for the whole experience. We decided to buy the tickets now to avoid the long line later when we come back from the wine tasting tour. Waking back to the hotel, we looked for the restaurant, Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). We were told tourists come here just to take their pictures in front of the restaurant. After looking inside and checking out the scrumptious menu, we decided to have dinner there tonight.

It took a little over an hour drive to Sta. Rita winery. I realized that this tour that costs about $46 was the classic tour, not a premier tour unlike what I had reserved at Concha y Toro for about $41. After realizing that, I felt that we made the mistake (we wanted transportation, which we got, but the tour itself was nothing special). And also the fact that it was in Spanish, I stood there, lost among the crowd (who were giggling and laughing whenever the guide would crack a joke). I did feel I was cheated of this experience (at least my friend was enjoying herself and sometimes she would translate something to me). I only have myself to blame because I agreed to the Spanish tour (thinking I was there for the wines so who cares if the tour was in a language I barely understand). But I wish I hadn’t listened to Jorge. Yeah, now that I think about it, this was his fault! If he hadn’t dished on Concha y Toro, then we wouldn’t have been here in this vineyard right now. Of course, it was too late when I became fully aware of the mistake I made. We were already there, I might as well make the most of it.

To make the long story short, I didn’t really enjoy my time there—something that I kept to myself because I didn’t want to ruin it for my friend. The whole time she kept saying how much she enjoyed the tour and that it was the highlight of her trip so far. Yeah I would’ve perhaps enjoyed it too if I knew Spanish lol! I kept thinking how dumb I was to let this happen to myself—on my own dime and time.

Fortunately, the wine was good. I bought a 2015 Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenere that was awesome and from what I was told it was not widely sold in the stores in the US (or Texas—I can’t remember which one, not after the good amount of wine they poured on my glass 😁). I’m such a lightweight, I was tipsy after the wine tasting. I’m glad wine makes you forget everything. By this time, I was no longer feeling angry at myself.

On the way back to the city, we asked the bus driver to drop us off in Bellavista, where the funicular was, instead of dropping us to our hotel. We only had about less than three hours before they close. Luckily we were smart to get our tickets beforehand, skipping the long line.

This funicular is probably the steepest funicular I’ve been on. I’ve only been on three other (in HongKong, Paris, and Southern Italy) but I don’t remember them to be steep. Suffering from acrophobia, I almost shit my pants when I looked down while the funicular was going up. I thought I was going to have a panic attack (this explains the lack of pictures).

We got to the cumbre (summit) and there it was another birds eye view of Santiago. It was also here where we rode the teleférico (cable car). I failed to mention to my friend earlier that this was my first time to ride a cable car and told her just as we hopped on it. She laughed and couldn’t believe I’ve never been on one.

I developed my fear of heights when my husband (who was my fiancée at the time) and I went to Mexico City and climbed the pyramid (I can’t remember which one, either the moon or the sun) in Teotihuacan. I had no fear climbing up until it was time to go down. I panicked when I saw how high we were and my knees were trembling while going down the pyramid.

To ignore my fear of heights and be willing to get on the cable car knowing how high it was going to be was a huge accomplishment. It meant I was willing to overcome my fears. Of course it didn’t stop me from screaming as soon as the cable car started moving. The people we were riding with didn’t help either because just like me, they too were screaming at the top of their lungs. I guess I wasn’t the only scaredy cat there. 😹

On our way down, on the funicular, a young Indian guy (who looks like he was in his twenties), screamed to one of the operators to let him out (he saw how steep the funicular was and panicked). His friends were laughing, thinking he wasn’t serious. But he did get out and his friends at this point were quite shocked. I asked the young man how he’d get out of there without taking the funicular, he said he’ll find a way. My friend and I didn’t think he would be back at his hotel tonight if he had to walk down. Tomorrow perhaps! I bet he had to take the funicular anyway and had no choice but to face his fears. If not, he’d get stuck there overnight.

We went back to our hotel to change our clothes for dinner. I was excited to go to Como Agua Para Chocolate. If you read the book, Like Water for Chocolate, this restaurant is exactly based off of that. The waiter told me the restaurant was already in business even before the movie was released. But the movie enhanced the restaurant’s popularity. We were initially at the bar waiting for a table to open up and the bartender was really helpful describing the different drinks in the menu. I ordered his recommended specialty and glad I did because it was really good.

For dinner, I got the Cazuela de Jaiba y Camarones (spicy broth with crab and shrimps) served in a clay pot. I could’ve ordered a lot more (appetizers and dessert) in the menu but sadly my friend vetoed that desire. She decided to eat less not only on the first few days of our trip but on the entire trip! It was too bad because the reason I travel is to immerse myself in the country’s culture and trying out the food is a huge part of the learning experience. I don’t ever think of dieting when I’m in a different country. Also after each breakfast, she’d announce that we better skip lunch and that was every.single.day we were in South America (except in Patagonia because we were at an all-inclusive resort). Our three days in Buenos Aires was even worse and I missed out on trying a few great restaurants. Of course, I could’ve gone by myself but that’s not easy to do when you have a travel partner. But I was still grateful my friend was there with me although I realized traveling solo gives you the optimum results if you want to accomplish everything in your trip.

There were so many things I learned about myself on this trip. First, I learned that I can challenge myself to overcome my fears. Second, I also learned that I really enjoy traveling solo and third, I have FOMO–fear of missing out (which in this particular trip, I did miss out on a few things 😭)!

Como Agua Para Chocolate was the perfect place to conclude my last night in Santiago. It signified what the city of Santiago is—charming, hip, modern yet romantic, and definitely unforgettable.

Fonda San Miguel, an old world hacienda in Austin

It’s been a difficult month for us—having gone through the stress of dealing with some health issues, the shock of my father-in-law passing a few weeks ago while we were on vacation in New York, and for missing our older son, Joshua, terribly who is currently away for a Debate Camp at the University of Texas at Austin. With all that, I haven’t had enough time (or energy) to plan a party for my husband’s 50th birthday.

For the Fourth of July, my older son had a free day from his Debate camp. We decided to drive to Austin to see him and also to start celebrating Hub’s birthday. Since time and (a ton of) money are two luxuries we don’t have at the moment, I came up with the idea of taking him “around the world” — that is, eating different cuisines at several restaurants. First stop is Mexico at Fonda San Miguel.

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This place is tucked away in a residential area in Austin. The restaurant is reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda, colorful and vibrant. Interesting artwork hung on the wall, full of character and charm. Inside the main dining room is a center table that has a display of different terracota clay pots and Mexican potteries. (I also noticed that several of the waiters are very handsome. If only I could’ve taken a picture of ours 😄). Moving along, I would give the food a B. I had the Pescado Veracruzano, broiled fish filet in the traditional Vera Cruz tomato sauce with capers, onions, and Spanish olives. The fish was delicious but I didn’t see much of the capers and olives. Instead it was topped with a lot of onions (and I hate onions). Hubby got the Cochinita Pibil, a Yucatan specialty baked in banana leaves. I tasted it and it was delicious. Perhaps the best Cochinita Pibil I have had so far.

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My plan for the second stop is Brazil (churrasco) but since we are still in Austin, and older son doesn’t like eating a lot of meat, we may just opt for Thai food instead. Perhaps we will do Brazilian when we go back to Dallas. All I know is we will end up in Hawaii (Roy’s) on his actual birthday because he originally planned to spend his 50th in Hawaii. I’m hoping in spite of the lack of a grand trip for this special milestone, I can make it up to him through his palate and still make it a memorable birthday celebration.

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