El albergue

El albergue

Friday, September 10, 2010

A culinary affair

I almost can’t believe that I’ve made this many posts and haven’t really talked about food yet.  How silly of me!  Good food is one of my staples for having a good time, and let me just say that I’ve been having plenty of good food.  First major culinary delight was the delicious paella Hilda and I ate in a cooking class at the hostel we stayed in while in Valencia.  A cook who’s life love is making paella (he apparently does it for a living) talked us through the steps of getting it ready, saying that including all the shopping and prepping, a good paella requires at least two days to get ready.  Of course, he usually makes enough for dozens of people in one pan, which would require more time, but I guess he should probably know what he’s talking about.  I don’t really remember the step-by-step instructions any more, but I doubt you would really be interested in something as dry as that, so instead I’ll just tell you some of the things that were in it.  There were three kinds of meat – chicken, rabbit, and duck – butter beans, green beans, and fried artichoke.  It’s simmered for about an hour with various kinds of spices (including saffron!) and rice, until it you end up with a sumptuously tender meal that smells like heaven.  It was fun having a multi-national conversation with two guys from Germany, one from England, and another from Italy during dinner, but the food was definitely the main attraction.

I had been told before I left the States that Spanish cooking included a lot of olive oil.  I didn’t realize though just how much oil that entailed until Marisol and I came home with Maria.  It’s really quite a lot of olive oil.  A lot.  The other day the cupboard was open and I saw that she had bought a gallon jug to replace the other gallon jug that was only half gone.  And there are only three of us in the flat.  That’s a lot of olive oil. 

Okay, so they use a lot of olive oil, quite a bit more than I’ve been used to, but the food is delicious.  Honestly, almost every single thing Maria has made I have really liked.  Sometimes it hasn’t looked quite like something I would like to eat, but it almost always is a complete success.  She uses canned peas in some of her dishes.  I grew up hearing my father say he hated canned peas.  But wouldn’t you know, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the food!  She puts a lot of meat in every dinner, a lot more than I’m used to eating.  And yet it’s always so good.  I usually come away from the table feeling, like one of my friends said the other day, as though my host mom was “stuffing me like a turkey,” but I don’t mind.  It’s delicious.  For example, she made some awesome chicken legs the other day – Marisol and I decided that they were probably one of the best things we have eaten yet since being in Madrid.  They were a bit messy, but so worth it!

I haven’t eaten out very much yet, and to be honest, I don’t think I really want to all that much because Maria’s food is so good.  Plus, she’s introducing us to all types of Spanish traditional cuisine, so I don’t want to miss out!  However, we did go out last night and try one madrileña tradition that one does have to go out to experience, chocolate con churros.  No joke, it’s heaven.  Marisol and I met up with two girlfriends in the Puerta del Sol around midnight, as the rest of the youth in Madrid were heading out to clubs, and we went to a restaurant/bar nearby to get some sangria.  We enjoyed our tasty drink as we sat outside on the “terraza,” which is basically just seating on the street, which, being small, was completely filled with tables and people.   Then around 1:30 we paid our bill and headed out to find a chocolateria that’s supposed to be famous so that we could taste of the delights of chocolate con churros (Maria was telling me that they just opened up an identical branch in Japan because the Japanese are going crazy over this stuff). 

We spent about an hour in San Gines, a charming little chocolateria that introduced us to this genius culinary tradition.  Really.  It’s quite delightful.  You should try it.  Order a plate, and behold with wonder the five churros and molten cup of chocolate goodness.  The churros themselves are just simple churros, fried sticks of dough that melt in your mouth.  They’re a little bit thinner than the churros you get in the States, and they don’t have cinnamon sugar on the outside, but they’re fresh and hot, straight from the fryer and onto your plate.  Torn into pieces, they make the perfect carrier for the amazing chocolate in the mug in front of you.  It’s a little bit thinner than straight up melted chocolate, but thick enough to coat the churros with an appetizing layer of bittersweet brown.  I say bittersweet, but the flavor is more than just that word can say.  It isn’t really sweet at all, but neither is it really very bitter.  It’s smooth and creamy, dark and compelling.  It’s almost sad when you finish the churros and still have most of the chocolate left in the mug, but then you remember the spoon they gave you.  Oh yes.  The spoon.  It’s so wonderful.  Perfect spoonfuls of chocolate.  Such strong flavor, intense yet not overpowering.  Of course, then you have to try sipping it.  It’s so thick that you really feel like your drinking chocolate.  Ok, maybe that’s a little too much – back to the more genteel pace of the spoon.  Oh, it’s delightful. 

Perhaps some of my enjoyment of chocolate con churros stemmed from the fact that it was about 2 in the morning, but I still think I could enjoy it intensely at any time of day.  It’s just that good.  And remember, good food is most definitely one of my staples for having a good time.

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