My European Vacation — The Flavors of Madrid

Carma and family outside of Marbella“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
–George Bernard Shaw

Ask me about any place that I have visited or lived in, and I’m bound to tell you about the food. My strongest memories of Berkeley, Calif., was my introduction to Batura Chole, an East Indian fry bread served with curried garbanzo beans. I remember Tampa, Fla., for my introduction to spätzle at a German restaurant and almond jelly at a Chinese buffet. So it is that the first things I think to share about my two days in Madrid are the foods I experienced there.

I remember the smell of waffles wafting out of the bakeries and cafés each morning like a child’s siren song — but they weren’t waffles. They were churros. My first introduction to churros was as a snack at the Renaissance Pleasure Fair. You can find them on street corners and in malls across the U.S., usually served coated with cinnamon sugar. I always associated them with a daytime snack.

But this is not the case in Spain. Churros are breakfast food, best served with the thick, pudding-like hot chocolate for dipping. My mother and I had breakfast our first morning in Madrid at El Museo de Jamón. I didn’t see it, but my mother said the waiter behind the counter looked askance at me when all I ordered for breakfast was a bocadillo (a small sandwich). I was craving protein and the last thing I wanted was a bunch of carbs. But, I was convinced that churros and chocolate would go quite well with my bocadillo, and the waiter was very pleased at my decision.

Later that afternoon, after seeing signs advertising it all day, Mom and I indulged in some Horchata de Chufa. This beverage, made from the tubers of a sedge-family plant, is quite addictive — at least it was for me. Also called earth almond, the chufa gives the beverage a nutty, faintly almond-like flavor. The sweet, milky almost-a-shake was like a guilty pleasure, and quite filling, too. It sometimes had a powdery texture, and at other times reminded me of a melted milkshake. Mmmmm. I could go for one right now.

I enjoyed several bocadillos, too. My first contained fried calamari on a medium-sized baguette. Others featured jamón Serrano (a prosciutto-like ham quite common in Spain), montuto (a Spanish salami) and cheese.

And then there were the people. Spaniards, to me, seem to love their food. Food is social, something to be shared with family and friends over lively conversation. But it can also be intimate. At an outdoor café, I witnessed two lovers, probably in their late 30s or early 40s, share a quite moment over coffee and cigarettes. She was dressed in a deep purple pantsuit and he a nondescript corporate shirt and tie. What kept drawing my eyes back to them was how tenderly, affectionately and unselfconsciously he touched her.

At one moment, he’d caress her hand. At another, he’d brush a stray hair from her face. It was very intimate and romantic and made me feel that I was watching something special.

And that is exactly what my time in Spain was for me — something special.

Next time … More Days in Madrid