You may have missed my food critiques for some time now due to my attempt at learning Spanish in Madrid during the month of June. I had intended to update the blog regularly with postings describing all the marvelous Spanish foods I was eating abroad but unfortunately did not spend much time by my computer. Madrid was an exciting and fantastic city that reminded me of New York in so many ways and my new amigos from Universidad de Antonio Nabrija made this trip el tiempo de mi vida.
Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain. The metropolitan area is the fourth-most populous urban zone in the European Union after Paris, London, and the Ruhr Area. While Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of it's historic neighborhoods and streets. Some of its landmarks include the Royal Palace; the Teatro Real; the Buen Retiro park, and superb art museums such as the Prado Museum, which hosts one of the finest art collections in the world, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a museum of modern art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which had a brilliant Matisse exhibit during my visit.
Madrileños have a much different custom of eating than Americans. They eat very little for breakfast, usually just a pastry and coffee and then have their largest meal at lunch, around two o’clock, before siesta (the regular afternoon nap to avoid the heat). One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas, or snacks, which are served at any time of day in local bars. These were usually costly and difficult to order without an understanding of the Spanish menu, which we didn’t study until the last week of class for some reason.
The gastronomy in Spain is heavily influenced by the different cultures which have passed through the Iberian Peninsula. Some events that heavily influenced Spanish cuisine include the Roman Invasion, the Invasion of the Moors, and the discovery of the Americas. The Romans developed wine, oil and wheat production while the Invasion of the Moors contributed to their knowledge of water management for agriculture and also introduced oranges, lemons, and rice to Spain. The discovery of the Americas provided the Spanish with potatoes, maize, cocoa, tomatoes, and peppers. All of these products form Spain’s current food culture. Madrid is an amazing city and will always have a place in my heart but this does not waiver my loyalty to New York City which is still the food capital of the world.
Restaurants offer tourist menus (menu del día) which include a primero and segundo course plus a glass of tinto for 12 to 15 Euros. Among the popular Spanish food recipes that make up the varied cuisines of Spain, a few can be considered common to all or almost all of Spain's regions, even though some of them have an original origin such as Paella, a typical Valencian rice dish. Paella is one of my favorite Spanish dishes. It can be prepared in many ways, based on meat or seafood. One of my favorite paellas was from Riofio in Columbus Plaza. I also had a wonderful Hake dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin, where most go for su especialidad, el cochinillo (the specialty, the pig).