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!!

Life, interrupted

I’ve been crying lately, losing sleep over my dream trip to Nepal. For eight months I held on to this dream which kept me feel alive and inspired. Unfortunately due to uncontrollable circumstances,  I had to postpone my trip indefinitely. My fantasy of trekking the mystical Everest region may have vanished this time but the hopes of making it a reality someday has not.

Story of my life…..

On a lighter note, I’d like to share something I found that revealed about my past: an old journal!  One day I was frantically searching for something (which I can no longer remember what) but to my  surprise I found my  1997 journal instead. I rarely keep things this long because I’m not sentimental in that regard, but now I’m glad I did. Reading through my journal, I realized how different my life was.


1997 was full of excitement. My husband and I traveled constantly, loving the expat life in Tokyo. He had a busy 1997, flying all over Asia on business trips. I didn’t tag along each time but I had a busy life of my own, mostly socializing with friends (having lunches out and discovering new places in the city).

In April of that year, we went to Beijing on vacation.


“Lots of taxi hustlers. Heard Celine Dion and Prince on the radio,” I wrote on our first day there. It’s interesting that I thought Beijing resembled Mexico City. I believe I pictured it with bikes everywhere but it was also congested with automobiles, just like any other big cities.

On our way to The Great Wall, I was relieved to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city, passing through small farming villages. I wrote: “Women gathered around, having small talks, with no regard for time. Life must be really simple for these folks.” I wonder now if life in Beijing is still that way after almost twenty years. With China’s economic boom, I highly doubt it.


“Great Wall was spectacular! It’s hard to believe we’re standing on a structure built thousands of years ago. At the same time, I thought of the thousands of peasants who suffered and died building the wall.”

Yeah, I’m not surprised if those pensive thoughts even crossed my mind. Sounds a lot like me–always reflecting on the deeper side of life. I can never relax and simply enjoy what’s in front of me. I always find guilt in any pleasure.  😊

We ran into my husband’s boss at the airport in Narita before boarding our plane to Beijing. He told us about a great Peking duck restaurant in Beijing and invited us to go with him for dinner. He was right about it being great because I still remember how much I loved the food. But I wouldn’t eat duck now. On my daily walks, I pass by the lake nearby that is  often visited by ducks. Watching them go about their day gave me so much  pleasure. Hence I can no longer justify killing them for food.

shopping in Beijing near the American embassy

In the month of July, we were off to Europe for another vacation. Pondering on the great life I had then, I know why I’m so depressed now–unable to jetset anytime I please. Traveling is a big part of my life and it’s the reason why I became a flight attendant fresh out of college (even though my major was totally unrelated).


On our way to Madrid, we had a two hour layover in Amsterdam. Alhough we would  stop there later for two nights coming  back from Spain.

We spent most of our time in Spain touring the Andalucia region by bus. We used the company Pullmantur. I wonder if they’re still around.


In my journal I wrote,”long drive to Córdoba. It’s so beautiful! This is how I perceived Southern Spain. We saw the Mezquita. Words could not describe how I feel. We went on to Seville, had dinner at our hotel, Hotel Macarena, and saw a flamenco show by the Torre del Oro area.


In the morning, we did the city tour in Seville and stopped at the Piazza de Spagna where I bought fans, very  typical Spanish.


Everything I’ve seen here is just so incredibly beautiful. We went strolling down by the Torre del Oro and had some drinks by the water.”

We visited Torremolinos, in Costa del Sol, which I didn’t particularly like. I loved the Alhambra in Granada. I thought that was impressive. We also stopped at the Straits of Gibraltar. According to what I wrote in my journal, going there felt like a waste of time. We were back in Madrid on August 4, did some shopping, and left the next day for Amsterdam.



I am guessing from what I wrote (above), I didn’t like Amsterdam as much. It felt scummy. “Prostitutes behind glass windows, drug shops, and all the scummiest people from all over the world are probably hanging out here.” Anyone can assume where we were–the Red Light District! I’m no longer that prude though. Tolerance is a quality I’ve acquired over time. Certainly a lot can change in nineteen years!

On October 31 we were off to Singapore. This was quite a memorable trip because I brought a pregnancy test kit with me. In the early morning hours in Singapore, I found out I was pregnant with my first son! The funny thing about this trip (and only because I was pregnant), I had developed a disdain for Asian food. I remember gagging when the Singapore rep took us to eat curry fish head, a must-have delicacy there. After that, I asked my husband to take me to American restaurants where I can eat bland foods for the rest of the trip. Hooters and Burger King became my go-to restaurants. It’s perplexing because I’ve always had an eclectic taste and eating the regional cuisine is something I always look forward when visiting a foreign country. Eating buffalo wings and burgers in Singapore is blasphemous! Surely I can blame it on the pregnancy.   😊


In December, we went to Manila, Philippines, to celebrate Christmas with my parents.


An afterthought:

1997 surely was a great year of traveling for us. With the birth of my son the following year, life–with a baby–was not quite the same. But we had new experiences that were as equally gratifying–the love of a child.

I also noticed I don’t do handwritten journals anymore. Instead, I use my iPad. I hardly see my handwriting nowadays, which I think is sad. I still collect notebooks because they make me happy but I should make an effort to type less and write more.

Another thing I didn’t realize back then was that I had an amazing, mind-blowing experiences while living  in Tokyo. Unfortunately you will never know how good you have it until it’s gone. When I look back at the things I complained about–the overcrowded  subways, the language barrier (the  difficulty of learning a new language that was completely foreign to me), and the peculiarity of the people–I realize now those things made living there more magical.

I’m always faced with difficult situations, experiencing the highs and the lows. I  constantly battle with life’s unpredictable nature and to keep my sanity, I go for long walks, take deep breaths and reminisce the good times. Yes…especially the good times! Because they are a reminder that life doesn’t always suck.