November 26, 2014 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you probably know that experiencing travel via food is kind of my religion. Sure there are museums and monuments and castles and bla, bla, bla. But then there’s food and wine!

Lauren, a fellow blogger at Spanish Sabores, feels the same. A couple of years back, she founded Madrid Food Tour. A brilliant idea, really, because there is truly no better way to get to know this country – or probably most any country — than via its flavors.

Around that time, Lauren mentioned I should come along on one of their tours sometime. I said, yeah, maybe, let’s see. But the thing is, I figured I was an expert on Spanish food and plus I was busy having a kid and all, so ya know, the timing wasn’t right no matter how hungry I was and always am for Spanish food.

But a couple of weeks back I finally joined one of her (growing) company’s tours. With a nice chap named Luke (chap because he’s English) as our leader, we spent four generous hours exploring Madrid’s historic center, largely with our taste buds as our guides. Hope you’re not hungry, because here’s a little look at some (yes, just some!) of the foods we sampled.


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Our first stop was El Riojano, an over-century-year-old café, where I tried their speciality, the soletilla, a ladyfinger-like pastry that is meant to be dunked in hot chocolate. Though I knew the place, I did not know the soletilla, a treat I wisely plan to get to know better during many future visits.


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At Mercado de San Miguel, I savored an early-morning glass of fresh-from-the-tap vermouth as I snacked on my olives, called Campo Real. Somehow I failed to realize until this tour that these olives only come from Madrid — all the more reason to love them!

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This rabo de toro, or oxtail, came wrapped in crispy dough and topped by pimiento del piquillo, and served with a glass of wine. It was magical.

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Fresh-from-the-oven empanadillas filled with egg and tuna are never a bad idea.

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At Bar Cerveriz, I tried a new tortilla (!!), acclaimed as one of the city’s best. My top tortillas in Madrid still stand, but this particular one was pretty darn good too!


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No Spanish food tour would be complete without trying jamón. In this case, we contemplated the curious differences between jamón serrano, jamón ibérico de recebo, and jamón ibérico de bellota – a side-by-side comparison that I’ve never done before (and really think I should repeat more often, because jamón).
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Our last nibbles of the tour included a fat sandwich of fried calamari, a very typical Madrid treat, followed by a Spanish holiday favorite — and a personal year-round favorite — turrón (an almond-y, nougat-like sweet whose soft version can most closely be compared to peanut butter, and is therefore amazing). I savored every last bite.

So what was my tour take-away apart from a very full and satisfied stomach? Well, truth be told, I was wrong: there was so much more for me to taste in Madrid. Indeed, not only did I taste the city in a way that I didn’t know possible, but I learned new things about it — beyond just the food — and experienced it with new eyes. What I especially appreciated about the excursion was that it really focused on the Madrid specialities that tell the city and country’s culinary story. And my tummy was very happy to listen.

*Full disclosure: Madrid Food Tour generously invited me along as a guest. I was quite skeptical, so trust me when I say that I was completely won over by the experience and that my rave reviews are legit. 

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January 18, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

I think I ate an entire tortilla española last weekend. Yeah. I hadn’t eaten any of the egg-and-potato omelet since my return to Spain after the holidays, and so I really made up for it. Like a lot.

Now I realize you too may be longing for Spain a bit – after all, my blog posts these days have been filled with more about places like India and Morocco than anything to do with Spain. And I think we can both agree that this is pretty tragic. So allow me to beg your forgiveness with a little talk of tortilla and, more importantly, a list of my favorite places in Madrid where you can get your hungry hands on some.

First, let’s address what makes a good tortilla. The most telltale sign of a good or bad Spanish omelet is its juiciness. Almost nothing in the world is worse than a dry tortilla, and anyone serving one as such should immediately be exported from Spain!!!!!!! (Can you tell that I’m passionate about this?)

A distant second to juiciness is the subtle flavor of caramelized onion (mind you, some tortillas are served without onion, which I think is just silly and unreasonable). Other components come into play of course, but for me, these are the main points that — *in my opinion* — tortillas tend to hit or miss.

Enough of that — let’s get down to business. Here I present you with my list of best places in Madrid to get yourself the perfect Spanish tortilla.

1. Wherever my mother-in-law is (LOVE her). I know everyone thinks their Spanish mother or mother-in-law makes the best tortilla, but you’re all wrong ;). Glad that’s settled. Moving on.

2. Juana la Loca in the La Latina neighborhood serves up proper pincho-style tortilla, with its gooey masterpiece delicately balanced on a slice of baguette bread. In terms of flavor, this one ticks all the boxes. The only downside is that the portion is rather small and, while I realize I can simply set my bread aside (like it is often served), I would prefer this tortilla beauty as a stand-alone.

3. Txirmiri has four brag-worthy locations, making it a great go-to in times of tortilla desperation, which can, honestly, strike at any moment. But truly, they may very well have the most reliably delicious Spanish omelet in town. The portion is generous, always juicy, and salted and onion-ed to tortilla perfection.

3. La Ardosa in Malasaña wins for over-all tortilla experience, though. While theirs can occasionally miss the salt-mark (too much or too little), the quintessentially Spanish bar filled with tiled and dusty-bottle-covered walls makes up for anything that its egg creation lacks.

4. My runner-up is Sylkar in the Chamberí neighborhood, which I lived practically next door to for almost a year without even knowing it (thanks, Colleen, for making that discovery!). The juiciness of their omelet is on point, but often lacks that subtle kick of onion that could elevate it to best-tortilla status.

Alright tortilla fans, I set you free to get your tortilla fix, whether making it at home, or hunting it down here in Madrid.

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November 5, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine

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Well, it’s about time I write a post dedicated to the Spanish tortilla. If you’ve ever been to Spain, you’ve surely tried la tortilla española (or often called tortilla patata) and know that it bares zero resemblance to its Mexican counterpart – ZERO (ok, they’re both round). While I personally don’t discriminate against any tortilla española, it is true that some are less than impressive than others. This is not the case with Jacobo’s mother’s tortilla however. Like every other Spanish mom, SHE has the best tortilla – but in this case it really is true!! While it’s a labor intensive effort, perfecting your tortilla making skills is a worthwhile endeavor. Let’s get started! Go out and get yourself:

    5 extra large eggs
    5 large yellow potatoes
    1 yellow onion
    Olive oil – duh (this should just be assumed with all Spanish cuisine)
    Salt

Let’s first discuss the frying pan issue, just to get it out of the way. Make sure that you have a medium sized frying pan along with a light-weight plate that can easily cover and fit over the top. You will need to flip the tortilla onto this plate. Alternatively, you can just buy a frittata pan, which will certainly make your life a lot easier. Lastly, you could just reduce the recipe and use a smaller pan and plate to make flipping easier.

Ok, now for the good stuff. First, you’re going to want to dice the onion and then saute it in olive oil. The trick here is that you saute it on extra low heat for about it hour – or until they are clear, soft and golden brown. Be patient and let them cook away while you move on to the next step.

Now beat all five of your eggs together adding five pinches of salt (one pinch per egg). Set aside.

With the onions still cooking, and your eggs all beaten up, get your frier ready (if you have one) or fill up a large pan with olive oil (or if you don’t want to use olive oil, you can use canola or something cheaper, it just won’t be as good 😉 ). To determine when you should start heating up the oil will depend on how quickly you slice potatoes (if you’re like me, it could take days), because your next step will be to tackle the laborious task of peeling and slicing. Be sure to start heating up your oil at some point so that it is hot once you’re done with the potatoes. Once you’ve finished thinly slicing the potatoes, add them to the hot oil. Make sure that the potato slices are sizzling – if they are, then turn down the heat a bit as you want to make sure that you don’t completely fry the potatoes (potatoes should sizzle, but not McDonald’s french-fry-style), but instead cook them slowly until they are soft and pliable.

Keep checking that onion, giving it a little stir here and there. How’s it looking?

Once your potatoes are done (you may have to do a few batches), drain them on paper towels. Once cooled, add them to your egg mixture and mash the potatoes into fine mushy bits (such technical terms I use, I know).
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Once your onions are finally done POUR them through a fine strainer and preserve the oil you’ve used to saute them (this is part of the trick!). Add your drained onions to the egg/potato mixture and combine. Meanwhile, go back to that pan you used for the onions and add the onion oil (imagine that yummy flavor!). You will use this pan to make your tortilla.
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You may want to add just a touch extra olive oil to the pan so that you can move the oil around the bottom and cover the pan thoroughly. Once you’ve done this, add your mixture. You will want to cook the tortilla on medium or so and just continually check the edges until you see that the bottom has started to become solid. Now you will want to make sure you have your plate ready, along with an oven mitt and maybe even a towel over your “turning hand” – this is just in case any hot oil comes out.

And now it’s time for the big climax. Place the plate on top with one hand, hold the pan with the other (and the oven mitt). You may want to do this over a bowl, just in case you lose some of the tortilla. Ready, set, flip!

Add a touch of extra olive oil to the pan so that it covers the pan like last time, and then carefully slide the half-cooked tortilla back into the pan and cook until the other side has become solid. The most delicious tortillas have a golden yellow cooked outside, but a soft gooey inside! A true expert will only have to flip the tortilla once to get it cooked perfectly on both sides, but feel free to flip away until you get yours just right.

Once cooled (as it is usually served room temperature), you can either cut it into pie like slices (as is often the case at restaurants), or into cubes (as you will usually find at people’s homes as an aperitivo).

Enjoy!

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June 23, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Traditions

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Who doesn’t love paella? And a good homemade one at that! But let me keep your mouth watering for a little bit and start earlier in the week.

The week began with more cold and rain but it seems to have finally turned into a Spanish summer – the last few days have been hot, hot, hot. The week brought more English classes and exciting developments in the progress of my residency here. On Thursday I headed to another cata de vinos, but this time with Jacob’s sister Paloma as Jacob was in Paris on business. Afterward we headed out with a friend of hers and had dinner outside on a terraza and enjoyed the perfect Madrid evening weather. Nothing beats having dinner outside on a terraza during these warm summer nights. On Friday I traveled into Madrid to meet up with Jacob’s aunt Ana Maria to take a walk around Retiro Park and go for lunch. It was a hot day, but Retiro was beautiful – all of the trees were so full and lush from the ridiculous amount of rain we’ve had (since the minute I arrived here!!!). Saturday Jacob I headed to Plaza Mayor in central Madrid to again enjoy the amazing evening weather and dinner outside in the busy Plaza.

So, the paella! Yesterday Jacob and I headed to his parents house for lunch. Lucky for me, his mother cooked my favorite – tortilla! Her Spanish tortilla is the best, hands down. If you haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying Spanish tortilla, you are missing out. Just to clarify here, Spanish tortilla in no way resembles a Mexican tortilla, they aren’t even closely related – Spanish tortillas are more like omelets consisting of egg, potato and onion. As if the tortilla weren’t enough, Jacob’s mother cooked an amazing seafood paella as well! I am pretty sure it doesn’t get much better than authentic homemade tortilla and paella!

The weekend ended with the quarter final Euro Cup soccer game between Spain and Italy. Soccer is obviously a big deal here, but the quarter final of the Euro Cup is pure pandemonium (especially when it’s against the Italian world champions). Jacob and I opted to stay in and watch the game rather than going out. After a full game and overtime with no scoring they finally had to make penalty kicks, resulting in Spain’s win!!! At the end of the game you could hear the entire neighborhood and city yelling and cheering. There was so much excitement that Jacob and I headed into downtown Madrid to see the festivities. It was nuts! If you were in Madrid last night and in your car, then you were incessantly honking your horn – literally the whole city was consumed by horn honking (even hours after the game). The streets were covered with people proudly displaying the Spanish flag in one way or another – cars, motorcycles, you name it, everyone was waving their flag proudly and screaming. I knew this country was proud before, but last night that became brutally clear. You truly haven’t seen fans, or country pride, until you’ve seen Spain after an important soccer game. Thursday will be the semifinal game against Russia….I can’t even begin to imagine what will happen if Spain wins that one.

We are off to Amsterdam this weekend and then I will be returning home to the States after that for a month and a half. The adventure continues!

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