After spending all morning at the Museo del Prado, I was looking forward to exploring the narrow cobblestoned paths of Madrid, where many small restaurants and bars were located. I had worked out quite an appetite and a good starting point to check out was the Madrid Plaza Mayor. I arrived there at dusk, a perfect time because the sun was no longer biting but still bright enough to enjoy a leisurely summer-time stroll. I loved the fact that I did not have a schedule to follow. It was wonderful to just sit and people-watch while waiting for my hunger to kick in. I watched a young mother playing with her toddler son who was struggling to catch the ball she threw to him, a toy vendor tentatively approaching people to buy his coloured, flying toys, people busy taking selfies with the Plaza Mayor as their backdrop, while the restaurants started filling up with people drinking cervezas and red wine.
(Monkfish at Chirinquito)
As the plaza became busier, it signalled to me that it was fast becoming dinner time. I strolled along a cobblestoned path until I saw this quaint little seafood restaurant named Chirinquito. It caught my eye because there was this huge Monkfish, displayed in an open ice-box at the entrance which was very eye-catching. If that was the intention to draw customers, I say it was an effective ploy to catch the attention of any passerby. Being a diver, I have never seen a monkfish in my dives but have always been curious and excited for a first-hand encounter. Too bad that my first time was in a seafood restaurant in the streets of Madrid. As soon as I was seated, I was served a shot of chilled gazpacho with a drizzle of olive oil topped with crisped bacon. The gazpacho was very refreshing after my stroll, the flavors dancing perfectly in my mouth.
(Chilled gazpacho with bacon and Cocorocho and boqueron)
Then my order of a cocorocho and boqueron arrived. It is actually calamari and fresh anchovies rolled in flour, fried to a golden finish then served wrapped in this cone-shaped faux newspaper print reminiscent of the olden days. This was how it was served traditionally and even until today. The chilled, crisp, white wine was the perfect pairing for this delectable, fried finger food.
After sampling the fried seafood I was off again to search for Taverna de la Daniela, a cantina that serves this cold chickpea bean salad called Roja Vieja. The place was simple and unpretentious and served this bean salad mixed with tomatoes, bell-peppers, olives, tuna and onions. Depending on the weather, this basic chickpea dish becomes a cold salad during summer and a tapenade during winter. What is great about this recipe is that it is very easy to recreate and all the ingredients are available in the Philippines.
The evening was still young and the midsummer sun was still out by the time I left the Taverna de la Daniella. It was 8:30 in the evening, but it was still bright outside like it was just lunchtime. I still haven’t gotten used to this phenomenon of long days that last until ten in the evening. What a strange experience for me coming from Asia. But I wasn’t complaining because I had one more taverna to visit. I continued my leisurely stroll until I arrived at Casa Curro Taberna. As I was approaching the establishment, I knew that I was going to experience a party. A lively, fast guitar music was being played and I got excited when I noticed that the place was frequented by locals more than tourists. The place was alive, the energy fast and passionate. The clientele were singing and dancing right where they were standing as the guitar tempo reached a feverish tempo. Wow! I was suddenly awake! I decided to order their own version of gazpacho served in a big glass capped with a crisp toasted bread and topped with a sliver of Iberico ham. I had heard that this was the best gazpacho in town and true enough, it was amazing! And the Iberico tapa was delicious! That was really the perfect place to end my evening, sipping my big glass of gazpacho and taking time to finish it however long it took me. It was that good!
(Gazpacho at Casa Curro Taberna)
A half-empty glass of gazpacho later, I made my way back to the direction of Plaza Mayor and made a last stop at Puerto del Sol to step on the Km.0. It is actually the center from which all the Spanish roads originate. They say that if you step on the marker, you will eventually find your way back here. I know that I will come back one day to this beautiful and gracious country. I am not leaving anything to chance.
(Km. 0 at Puerto del Sol)