Category Archives: Madrid

Tapas of the Week #17 – Percebes

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Last month to celebrate my birthday, and that of a friend, we went to a modest Galician restaurant in our central-eastern neighborhood of Madrid which is locally popular for its low prices and great food. Their cider is brought directly from Galicia in barrels, and the tapas in this basement restaurant are generous, and delicious. However, this was not a day for only tapas, we were going to have a feast.
Among plates of octopus with potatoes, patatas bravas, morcilla with pimientos de padrón, we treated ourselves to what is considered a delicacy in
Spain, Percebes or “Gooseneck Barnacles”

An interesting and strange food, its said that before the 18th C its unlikely people actually ate these crustaceans, considering them as appetizing as rocks, or even imagining them to be small monsters with many, very ugly, feet. Some accounts state that they were thought to be the early form of Barnacle Geese, birds which to the medieval eye seemed to appear out of nowhere. The geese don’t of course, but in an age before mass transport, people had no idea that these birds migrated and therefore hatched their eggs elsewhere.

Percebes in Spain are found along the rugged coasts of Galicia, especially near the dangerous cliffs of the appropriately named “Costa da Morte,” or the Coast of Death. It’s a beautifully striking landscape, with jagged cliffs with the cold Atlantic waters pounding the huge rocks below. This creates the perfect habitat for these barnacles who attach themselves permanently to the rocks beaten by the surf and feed off the plankton and other small crustaceans that the waves bring them. Fisherman risk their lives as they swim to harvest the Percebes, thus explaining the high prices Spaniards will gladly pay to indulge in this delicacy.

Percebes, Goose Barnacles

Percebes are cooked for just a few minutes in salt or sea water. As the Galician saying goes, “auga a ferver, percebes botar” When water boils, take out Percebes. Nothing else is added to the water or the Percebes once they are cooked as to preserve this special, sought after flavor except maybe a bay leaf.

But how do you eat these strange looking critters? The head, well, I think it’s the head, is covered with a strong shell which is easy to twist off from the body, exposing the moist, soft and yet firm meat within the tube of the neck or body. With every bite its like getting a squirt of the delightfully salty sea.

Where to try Percebes? If not in Galicia they can be had in many Galician restaurants around Spain. Madrid, although landlocked, is an excellent spot as well because of the enormous amounts of fresh seafood arriving daily. Try a Galician restaurant such as Maceiras on Calle Huertas, 66.

Or if you want to try my neighborhood place, its called “De’Galicia” and located near Metro Manuel Becerra on Paseo Marqués de Zafra, 8. Tel 91 356 91 69.

For more formal dining, with higher prices try:

El Pescador: High quailty fish and seafood at a Madrid standard.

Combarro – bills itself as Galicia in Madrid.
Que Aproveche!

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Tapa of the Week #14 – Octopus – Pulpo a la Gallega

Pulpo a la gallega
One of the more difficult dishes for me to convince visitors to Spain to try is octopus. I have given many tapas tours and it’s a rare occasion that someone says “YES, I’d love to try octopus!” Maybe its the texture, maybe its the shape, maybe because its not chicken, but I suppose its fine if people don’t want to take the chance and actually have to feel the shape of a sucker on their tongue. It means more for the rest of us! Octopus are caught off the north and east coasts of Spain, and although they are diminishing in numers they are still an important component of the Galician diet, and one of the most popular dishes in Galician restaurants. Both pictures are examples of “Pulpo a la Gallega” – Galician style octopus. The octopus is boiled and served with boiled potatoes and sprinkled with olive oil, paprika and sea salt.

Pulpo a la gallega

In Madrid, there are several places to try octopus. Usually you can’t go wrong at a Galician or Asturian restaurant. Around the Plaza Mayor octopus is usually present on the menu but I find those places to be expensive for the quality of food generally served.

One of my favorite Galician restaurants in Madrid is Maceiras on Calle Huertas. I like its informality, wooden chairs and tables, handwritten menus, the sounds of Galician, Celtic influenced music, and even the gruff yet efficient wait staff. Don’t expect lots of smiles, patience or overt friendliness, but they are quick. The food is simple, traditional, inexpensive and most importantly, good! There is a nice selection of red and white Galician wines which you will drink in the traditional way, in white ceramic bowls. The decoration with nets, barrels, reminds you of the rural fishing communities found in Galicia. Notice the “Nunca Mais” flag on the wall and at the back the sign that warns “NO hay Coca-cola” – There is no Coke. So don’t ask. No problem, we will settle for a nice Albariño. As far as food, besides the pulpo, try the clams, mussles, empanadas, pimientos de padron, Galician sheeps-milk cheeses, patatas bravas. Finish your meal with an almond cake which tastes just like a Galician grandmother would make, the “Tarta de Santiago.”

Maceiras Restaurant

Maceiras is immensely popular so if you go for dinner on a weekend do not even think of arriving after 9pm unless you don’t mind waiting over an hour for a table. There is a waiting list, but no pre-reservations are accepted.

Maceiras in Calle de las Huertas, 66 and around the corner on Calle Jesus.
Huertas is a popular street with several bars so you won’t have to look far to find some nightlife. Its not far from the Prado Museum, and just a few blocks downhill from the outdoor caf’és and bars of Plaza Santa Ana.

Address: Calle de las Huertas 66, 28014 Madrid, Spain – +34 914 295 818

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Tapa of the Week #11 – Pimientos de Padron

Fresh Pimientos de Padron

One of my favorite tapas is the flavorful and simple peppers found at many bars throughout Spain. They originate in Padron, a small town in Galicia and are extremely popular here in Madrid as well, especially since there are alot of Galician bars and restaurants here. The fun thing about them is that some are hot and some are not. In the language of Galicia (Gallego) this would be: “Os pimientos de padrón uns pican e outros non” A lot of people say every 5th one is spicy which sometimes is about right. They are a bit more expensive than a regular pepper as they must be picked at an early stage to avoid getting too hot. Once they are on your plate its a gamble as to which will be spicy. Its like they try to catch you off guard, you timidly try one, its not spicy so you eat the whole thing, its great! So you take another, and another, you begin talking to your friends and without thinking you eat another pepper and ZING! It got you!

They are easy to make at home if you can get them. Fortunately for those of you not in Spain there are some farmers in the US and UK who grow them and they can be bought online.


To prepare, just wash them, pat dry and fry them in a metal frying pan in a bit of olive oil (a few tablespoons). You need to fry them for a few minutes until they start getting soft. When they are done, transfer to a plate, sprinkle with some fine rock salt and enjoy!!

Pimientos de Padron

There are many bars and restaurants in Madrid where you can find Pimientos de Padron. If its from Galicia for sure they will have them. Also many places in and around Plaza Mayor, and near Plaza Santa ana. Some examples are Maceiras restaurant on Huertas. El Rey del Pimiento and El Madroño next to it. Both are in the Plaza Puerta Cerrada just down Calle Cuchilleros from the Plaza Mayor.

El Rey del Pimiento

El Madroño

Although you dont have to go to only these places, I would say its as easy to a place that serves Pimientos de Padron as it is to find the spicy peppers. Every 5th bar or so will have them. 🙂 Enjoy!

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Madrid Tapas Bar – Almacen de Vinos

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Also called Taberna Gerardo this historical bar in La Latina has huge vats at the back, and the smaller ones (above) which used to hold wine that would be poured into casks and sold to the locals. Thus the name, which translated into English is “storehouse of wines.” Now it serves great tapas and a nice variety of Spanish wines. I made the mistake of going on a Sunday afternoon at 3:30 which is already pretty late and it was packed full when we arrived. Weekday evenings afford better service and a more relaxed setting. For tapas they offer a variety of Tostas, which are toasted bread with toppings, (like Canapes) and also some raciones. (but for those you have to go earlier than 3:30 on Sundays.) I was impressed with the selection of wines, and happy that they had a Txacoli, a young white from the Basque Country. Below you can see a list of some of their white and rosés offered by the glass.

 

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 The only thing is that there is not a good air conditioning system (a fan in the window) and the bottles are all stored upright in the hottest part of the bar, so if you are a purist for those things you can make the trip down here to one of the oldest neighborhoods in Madrid, a neighborhood which hasn’t changed much in the last 70 years, enjoy a wine and some tapas in an authentic atmosphere, and complain about it.

 

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The Almacen de Vinos is on Calle Calatrava, 21 in Madrid. Metro Stop: La Latina.

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Tapa of the Week #10 – Your average tapa

After a busy month I’ve finally found some time to write, and to share some recent pictures! A couple weeks ago, remembering to take along my camera, I joined some friends after work at a little hole in the wall bar just off Fuencarral, not far from Gran Via. We hastily ordered pimientos de padron which disappeared before I could remember to take a picture. This is the real challenge of TapasTalk. To actually get pictures before the food is devoured by my friends. Ok, ok, I am guilty too! Along with the first “cañas” that we ordered, we were served this little plate, a salad kind of tapa. Its got some boiled ham chunks, cucumber, onion, tomato, olives, potato and its doused with white wine vinagre and olive oil. To get served this kind of tapa, go to a place which has those refrigerated glass covered cases on the bar full of food of all sorts. It should be a neighborhood type bar, not one of those cool-looking ones in La Latina. No, go to the side streets, or an area that is not touristy, the bar will probably have some gambling and machines, tacky decorations and napkins strewn on the floor. Think of all that as a tourist deterrent and a way for you to experience typical, everyday life in Spain.

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At the same bar we ordered Patatas Bravas, (with some extra spicy sauce) mmM!

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For anyone wanting to venture in, the bar is on Calle S. Onofre, just between Calle Fuencarral and Valverde near the Gran Via Metro stop in Madrid.

Que aproveche!

Janelle

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Tapa of the Week #9 – Croquetas de Bacalao

Another tapa with cod for this week! Katie over at España Profunda has posted her favorite croquetas in Madrid so to continue the theme, I’m posting mine. Which is better is yet to be tested!

For my favorite croquettes, I go to Casa Labra which is located in the heart of the commercial district in Puerta del Sol. Its a charming little corner of history nestled on a side street in the shadows of the Corte Inglés. One of the historical bars in Madrid, this was the place in 1879 where the Spanish Socialist political party was founded. But if you are like everyone else you are there to have the fantastic “croquetas de bacalao” which are well-known by every Madrileño. At busy times of day, just before lunch and dinner the crowd spills out onto the street. But the lines are fast moving and the staff very attentive and make sure everyone is served quickly.

I was fortunate to remember to snap this picture of the last half of a croqueta before it was too late!

Casa Labra does offer other tapas but most popular are of course the freshly made croquetas and pieces of fried cod. Order them as you enter then after paying for the tapas order your drinks at the bar. The typical drink here is either a caña of beer or vermouth “vermut” which they have on tap. For a non-alcoholic drink order a bottle of Mosto which is white grape juice and is very refreshing for the summer.

Qué aproveche!

Casa Labra is on Calle Tetuan, 12 just next to the Corte Inglés in Puerta del Sol.

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Tapa of the Week #8 – Bacalao Ahumado

Salt cod is found anywhere and everywhere in Spain. And its not even a fish that is found in Spanish waters, but more than any other fish, this one is probably has the most deep rooted traditions attached to it.  Cod in Spanish cuisine arrived back in medieval times, possibly discovered when Basque fisherman went to northern waters to hunt for whales. Basque legends claim they discovered Newfoundland centuries before Colombus set sail and discovered a “New World.” Today the bacalao in Spain comes mostly from fisherman from Scotland and Norway. Once a food for the poor, now bacalao is one of the luxury foods of Spain. And smoked cod is quite the delicacy. The texture is a bit grainier than smoked salmon and the mild, sweet saltiness of the cod seems to melt in your mouth. It has a flavor of the sea but not fishy.

So on your quest for bacalao ahumado you could try one of my favorite little wine bars on Cava Baja in Madrid, La Concha. They serve interesting Spanish wines by the glass and tapas that are pleasing both to the eye and palate. Below is their Canapé de Bacalao Ahumado with small (delicious) fruit for decoration, a balsamic reduction design on the plate, olive oil and paprika sprinkled over the top. A flavorful work of art!

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La Concha

Address: Cava Baja, 7

Tel. 91 365 0551

Click here for a map including other bars in the area

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