The 7 Most Ridiculously Delicious Things I Ate This Christmas

7 Best Christmas Vacation FoodsThe Spanish truly deserve a prize for how many crazy huge, fantastically raucous meals they can fit into one holiday season. Here in Madrid the cenas to celebrate Navidad start the first weekend in December and become ever more frequent as the actual holiday approaches. By mid-month every lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday has a decidedly festive feel and ends with extra-friendly dos besos and emphatic exclamations of “Feliz Navidad! Feliz Año! Feliz Reyes!”

For me, this tasty tradition coupled with my holiday trips to two Christmas wonderlands (aka Prague and Vienna) made for a ridiculously delicious month.  This year my holiday meals spanned six restaurants (eight including my elementary school cafeteria and the kitchen in my Madrid apartment) and seven Christmas markets across three countries. It included three 5+ course Christmas meals, dozens of new ingredients and untold bottles of wine. Needless to say, I ate fantastically well this Christmas.

While nearly every meal was packed with goodness, there were seven dishes that sent my tastebuds into full-blown celebration mode. Varying from high-class cuisine to street food, imaginative to traditional, here are the seven most delicious dishes I had the sweet, sweet pleasure of tasting this Christmas. 

7. Sauerkraut and sausage potatoes at the Wenceslas Square Christmas market in Prague

Christmas Market Potatoes

I am not and have never been a potato person. In my family and in Spain potatoes are relegated to the role of  meat accompaniment. They are the white mountain of fried, mashed or scalloped starch that fills up the rest of the plate. Then I went to Prague and discovered the true awesomeness that potatoes can be. In the huge cast iron skillets of Prague’s Wenceslas Square Christmas market potatoes reached their full potential.

The intoxicating aroma of sausage, sauerkraut and spices floating up from six steaming skillets envelops the dozen or so market stalls on each side of this potato goodness. Rather than Spain’s fried slivers, Prague’s potatoes were halved, boiled and left peel-on. They were doused in spices, cheese and a sweet, tangy sauerkraut and slow-cooked into a mess of goey perfection. I opted for half sausage-and-sauerkraut potatoes and half cheesy potato dumplings. I will never look at a potato the same way again.

6. Beef carpaccio with lemongrass and a mango foam at Sticker in Madrid

Beef Carpaccio with Mango Foam

When eight food bloggers, guides and entrepreneurs celebrate Christmas dinner together there better be some downright stellar dishes. Madrid’s new gastropub, Sticker, did not disappoint for the Madrid Food Tour team’s holiday dinner.

Our six-course tasting menu was packed with creative adaptations of traditional Spanish favorites, like a Manchego cheese yogurt with cured ham dust and a peanut-crusted poached egg over chips. But by far the most tastebud-tantalizing moment of the meal was the beef carpaccio, or rather the bright yellow dollops of mango foam atop it. The espuma was both tart and sweet; it was light as air and melted in your mouth like good dark chocolate. I’m not much of a beef eater, let alone raw beef, but I’d take a plate of carpaccio any day just to get another taste of that mango goodness!

5. Homemade market-fresh sliders at my apartment in Madrid

Homemade beef sliders

After eight days of traveling, my sister and I were more than ready for a nice home-cooked meal. With no specific menu in mind, I took her to El Mercado de Maravillas, Madrid’s fresh food wonderland. Weaving through mountains of vegetables, glaciers of seafood and brightly lit displays featuring every conceivable part of a cow, pig or goat, we searched for something to tempt our growling stomachs.

We loaded up on leeks, carrots, strawberries, cheese, membrillo (a thick jam-like brick made from quince fruit). On a whim we picked up some ground-just-for-us beef. Two days later, after freezing our faces off at the Three Kings Day parade, we huddled back into my kitchen to turn our ultra-lean, utlra-fresh Spanish beef into some super American sliders. Dividing the ground beef into two bowls, Lisa seasoned her half with soy sauce, pepper and “secret ingredients” she declined to share with me. I sprinkled my half with basil, thyme, black pepper and olive oil and tucked a small square of aged Manchego cheese in the center of each little patty.

For toppings we caramelized onions, wilted spinach and toasted garlic in olive oil. By the time the table was set we had created a choose-your-own-adventure slider extravaganza with enough flavor to rival our fancy Christmas Eve dinner. Good things happen when Lisa and I cook together.

4.  Seared scallops on a mango and Thai basil salsa at Coda in Prague

Christmas Eve Scallops

For Christmas Eve we decided to go all out. I wasn’t buying a cross-Atlantic plane ticket to see my family, so instead I decided to buy an ultra-fancy dinner to ring in the holiday. After weeks of research we decided on Coda Restaurant in Prague. The seven-course Christmas menu sounded spectacular, the atmosphere looked adorable and the price was stomachable.

When we walked in on a rather frigid Christmas Eve there was a fireplace crackling, a pianist playing and a plate of Christmas cookies waiting on our table. Yep, good decision. With the help of our waitress, we chose a stellar Gala sauvignon blanc, my first Czech wine, to accompany our meal. And then began the parade of scrumptiousness… My “International Christmas Menu” included, and I quote:

  • Pan seared fresh scallops served with fresh mango & Thai basil salad and homemade chili jam
  • Farmer’s smoked trout ravioli with a light horseradish sauce
  • Traditional fish soup with bread croutons
  • Homemade orange sorbet
  • Roasted & sliced juicy beef tenderloin with truffle rissoto and foie gras sauce
  • Traditional plum jam ravioli served in plum brandy glaze with butter roasted breadcrumbs

My sister will tell you the trout ravioli was life changing. But that’s only because she has a shellfish allergy and could not partake in the pure ecstasy that was the seared scallop – chili jam combo. The mango salad played third wheel to the glorious marriage of spice and silky seafood that was blossoming between the scallops (my favorite food) and the chilies (um… yum.).

3. Pork Sausage and sauerkraut at U Tri Ruzi in Prague

Czech Sausage and Sauerkraut

As a rule, I never go to the same restaurant twice while exploring a new city. U Tri Ruzi in Prague not only forced me to break my own rule, but it shattered my stereotypes about sausage (hot dogs disguised as something edible), sauerkraut (rotten), fish soup (creamy blandness) and non-wheat beer (hop-tastic).

One bite of their thin pork sausages dipped in homemade whole-grain mustard and topped with a pinch of perfectly tangy, sweet sauerkraut and I vowed to never hate on German food again. It was real meat bursting with flavor and spices. We Americans need to come up with another name for those nasty putty-logs we call “sausage.” This was too heavenly to even share the same word.

2. Sausage sandwich at the Republic Square Christmas market in Prague

Christmas Market Deliciousness

Minutes after stepping off the airport bus into downtown Prague and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a Christmas dream. Toys, candies, food and mulled wine peaked out from the openings of tiny wooden houses strung with garland and lights. The smell of roasted nuts, cinnamon, cider and sausage wafted around us. Our resolve to first drop our bags off at the hostel before going Christmas market exploring evaporated instantly.

The smell of pure heaven drew me in toward one of the first stalls at the Republic Square market. Somehow without using one correctly-pronounced word of Czech I managed to order a sausage sandwich. The vendor sliced the thick sausage lengthwise and seared it on a hot skillet, adding a delectable crispiness to the center. Then he threw the two juicy sausage slices onto thick, crusty bread, added two lines creamy red sauce, and a couple tomato slices and asked for the equivalent of about 3 dollars. It was easily the best $3 I spent in the Czech Republic. I think I devoured the entire saucy mess before we even got to the table.

1. Giant apricot jam filled donut at the Schönbrunn Christmas market in Vienna

Best Donut in the World

You really can’t go wrong with a jumbo donut. But this face-sized creation went above and beyond where any American donut (or Spanish donut or any donut I’ve ever tasted) has ever gone before. Besides its fantastic size, this riesenkrapfen achieved the ideal balance of crisp crust on the outside and fluffy heaven on the inside.

When my sister and I ordered our most excellent dessert, the vendor pulled out the still-steaming donut, pumped it full of sweet-but-not-too-sweet apricot jam and covered it with a healthy dousing of powdered sugar. My new life goal: to install one of these donut stalls on my balcony. Holy donut heaven!

Now, excuse me while I go for a run….

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Thanksgiving in Spain: A Madrid Scavenger Hunt

I have a whole new appreciation for cranberries. And also red currants, for that matter. Which, although they are red and round and relatively cranberry-shaped and might have been on the “arandanos/cranberries” shelf at Corte Ingles, are actually nothing like cranberries.

These Aren't Cranberries

This is one of the manyyyyyyy fun little lessons I learned this year while attempting to bring all the goodies of my family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner to a table halfway around the world. My American amiga and I invited my Spanish roommates and neighbors to celebrate their first Thanksgiving with us on Saturday (seeing as we all had to work Thursday and Friday). We promised them an authentic American holiday, and, by dios, we were going to give them all the deliciousness of a true American Thanksgiving! Pulling that off in a country were pumpkin is usually pig food and pecans don’t even have a word in Spanish took a bit more planning than just scratching out a grocery list. It was more on the scale of a city-wide scavenger hunt mixed with an opening hours roulette. The first hurdle on our list of Turkey Day adventures: find a whole turkey.

In Spain, the big box buy-everything-you-could-ever-want-at-one-time American-style stores are just beginning to pop up in the commercial (read: accessible by car only) parts of town. Being carless and having a mild obsession with food markets, food quality and freshness I was determined to get our turkey from a stand-alone butcher shop, or carneceria. Why I decided to chose a butcher that was 10 metro stops away from my apartment… well, that just adds to the adventure, right?

Weighing the Turkey

Hauling our 13-pound raw turkey 30 minutes down Madrid’s brown line turned out to be massively worth it. Señor Pavo, as the butcher told me, was raised on a farm near Zaragoza (a city in Northeastern Spain). He was butchered on Thursday, driven to Madrid on Friday and we ate him on Saturday. Hellooooo fresh! When I first spoke to the smiley, cleaver-waving butcher about our Thanksgiving experiment, he immediately picked up the telephone to call his farmer. The farmer vowed to find us a reasonable-sized turkey after my eyes bulged at the butcher’s 7-kilo suggestion. Fourteen pounds, apparently, was small. “But it’s Thanksgiving!” the farmer told the butcher, “She’s supposed to have a giant turkey!” The 6.5-kilo (13lb) pavo we ended up with was one of the smallest he had. The butcher later told me that turkeys from this farm get as large as 23 pounds!

With the most important part secured, I moved on to the sides and stuffing. Cornbread mix was my next target. Last year while living in the rural Northwestern province of Galicia I attempted to make cornbread (an ingredient for my stuffing) from scratch. It was, to say the least, a massive fail. This year, in a city of 3 million where Taste of America stores and Corte Ingleses exist, I had high hopes of having help from Mrs. Jiffy. I was wrong. I could buy gingerbread mix, funfetti cake mix, crepe mix, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, wheat bread mix and Duncan Hines double chocolate brownie mix. But nowhere in Madrid (that I could hunt down) sells cornbread mix. Our stuffing would just have to go without.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

After similarly unsuccessful city-wide wild goose chases for crystalized ginger (yes, it was a castillo en el aire kind of dream to begin with) and some serious price-gouging on pecans, yellow cake mix, karo syrup and pumpkin spice, we decided to drop all of the above from the menu. No pecan bars for us this year. But not to fear! We would still have my aunt’s famous apple pie and Maureen’s aunt’s infamous pumpkin-ginger pie. Also impossible to find were fresh cranberries, although we didn’t realize that until the night before our cranberry sauce was to make its Thanksgiving debut. While unloading the jumbo bags of supplies Maureen brought, I spotted some small, red  definitely-not-cranberry berries. Apparently the signs had been switched at Corte Ingles. Instead of “arandanos rojos” we ended up with “grosellas” aka red currants. Oops! We dashed down to the grocery store, bought some dried cranberries and tossed them in a bowl to rehydrate overnight. Crisis averted? As my Andalucian-accented roommate would say, “ma o meno.”

Mercado de MaravillasThe week leading up to our cook-a-thon I was exploring Madrid’s top food markets for a post over at the Madrid Food Tour blog. Amid the insane variety of random (and apparently edible) items at the Mercado de Maravillas I found almost all of the fresh ingredients on our list: gorgeous brussel sprouts, ecologically-produced apples, ridiculously flavorful sausage, sweet potatoes the size of my forearm, adorable little cheery tomatoes and unfairly good goat cheese. I was in market food heaven. The sausage-selling man told me all about how much his daughter loves America (she is working in New York). The ecological fruit and veggie people described the flavor profiles of their three types of tomatoes and helped me pick out the perfect pie-making apples. This, to me, is how grocery shopping should be. Each item we bought for our Thanksgiving meal had it’s own story, it’s own history and knowing those made each dish that much more delicious. That is, after all, what the first Thanksgiving was all about right?

Will the ingredients gathered (or at least we thought) Maureen and I invaded the kitchen Friday night to begin our two-day cooking adventure. The pies came first.

Thanksgiving pie crust making

What I imagined would be a quick two-hour pie making sesh turned out to be an all night pie creating extravaganza. At 1:30 am we finally pulled the last pie out of the oven and fell into bed.  Señor Pavo joined the sleepover and spent the night on my balcony. There was no way he was fitting in the fridge.

Sleepover with Señor Pavo

Saturday morning started off as all Thanksgiving days should. With mimosas. We encountered our first hiccup approximately 5 seconds after we began. We had the turkey. We had the oven. But we had no way to get said turkey into said oven. In our haste to gather ingredients, we might have forgotten to buy a pan…  Maureen frantically searched the grocery store, the convenience store and finally the everything-you-could-ever-need Chino store for a pan, while I got to work on the stuffing. Shee finally found a pan just barely big enough to fit the turkey and just barely small enough to fit in the oven. Señor Pavo made it into the oven with literally centimeters to spare on all sides. Thank the pilgrims we didn’t end up with a 13-kilo turkey!

The next five hours were a blur of chopping, sipping, laughing and explaining as my roommates and neighbors trickled in and out of the kitchen to check on our progress. Around 2 p.m. we convinced them to partake in the traditional Thanksgiving morning mimosas and before we knew it the guys were taking turns making Cava and OJ runs. I don’t think I want to know how many empty Cava bottles ended up in our recycling that afternoon…

Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

While Maureen and I were basting turkey and stirring cranberries, my piso-mates were (unbeknownst to me) preparing their own slice of magic in the neighbor’s spacious salon. Since my apartment doesn’t have a dining room, we had asked the neighbor guys if we could have the eating part of Thanksgiving in their grande salón. Being amazing as they are, they erected a huge table and together with mis compis laid the most perfect table for our celebration, complete with starry tablecloths and candles.

When at last we decided (guessed) that our turkey was ready, a flurry of table-setting, food carrying and cork popping ensued. The second the turkey hit the table phones flew into hands as every single member of our 11-person feast snapped photos. I have to admit. It was a beautiful sight!

Our Thanksgiving Turkey

Then, we dug in. Plates filled, glasses emptied and the room filled with the rumble of mixed-language chatter and bilingual “yums and ñums.” Looking out over the scene with a ridiculously juicy, flavorful bite of turkey in my mouth all I could think was que perfecto. After an enthusiastic round of seconds, I proposed a toast to the gracious and truly amazing friends who gathered to eat our odd (to a Spaniard) food and celebrate our 100 percent American tradition. We then went around the table and each person said what they were thankful for. Some of the Spaniards made a valiant attempt at saying their piece in English while some of the Americans gave it a go in Spanish. It was a massive collision of cultures in the best kind of way. And I couldn’t help but wonder… hope… if next year we would all be sitting around the same table, raising our glasses to Spainsgiving 2.0.

Spainsgiving 2013

A Madrid Walkabout: The City Beyond the Travel Guides

Madrid, as I am coming to find out, is a city made for walking. Yes, it is rather massive. Yes, it has an amazingly well-connected metro system. Yes, Google Maps doesn’t usually know whether I’m walking down Calle Jordán or the similarly tiny Calle Olid. But that’s part of what makes exploring Madrid de pie such an adventure. I usually have no idea which direction I’m going (or should be going) but with playground-filled plazas, impresionante old buildings and hub-ub-filled markets popping up everywhere, being lost is turning out to be far more fun than being on time.

Madrid Streets

The other night I decided to take a stroll around my new neighborhood near the Chamberí and Trafalgar barrios, just north of the heart of downtown Madrid. The guide books would have likely advised me to take a left out of my front door and walk down calle Fuencarral (the main street) towards the city center  where I could admire the quintessentially Madrid buildings: statue-topped skyscrappers featured on post cards, the main plaza Sol with it’s bear and tree statue, the expansive whitish-grey Royal Palace and it’s perfectly manicured gardens.  These are the icons of Madrid, but not, contrary to their central geography, the heart and soul of this city. For that, I had to walk the opposite direction, through the winding, absolutely un-grid-like streets of the upper barrios.

Rather than attempting my poor mapping skills, I opted for a meandering paseo with no destination in mind. I turned when the side street looked prettier than the main one, crossed the road only to examine the menus of cute cafes or peruse the old records at a hole-in-the-wall shop. The longer I strolled the more I began to understand the resting pulse of this city, the daily lives of its citizens and the driving force of its beauty.

Missionaries on a Park BenchHidden just off the main thoroughfare that is Fuencarral I stumbled upon a Plaza Olavide, where scores of kids still sporting their school uniforms kicked soccer balls and wobbled past on roller skates while their parents gossiped on the benches, guarded the strollers or had a caña  of beer at one of the dozen bar/cafes surrounding the plaza. This little neighborhood park/plaza didn’t have the splendor of Sol nor the intricacy of Retiro (Madrid’s version of Central Park) but it was real. It was functional. It had only a handful of empty benches and rumbled with the sound of chatter and children.

Beyond the plaza was a tiny (even by Spain standards) fresh fruit store, one of may absolutely favorite places. I peaked my head in to ask the shop attendant if he had any figs, my new fruit obsession. He snapped on a blue surgical glove and dropped six gorgeous, deep purple higos into a clear plastic bag asked me for a euro and slumped back down on his stool. Half of those juicy fruits would later become a spinach, goat cheese and fig salad for my dinner.

An Evening PaseoAs the sun began to set, I wandered deeper into the Chamberí neighborhood, which judging from the grand buildings, is home to Madrid’s more fortunate inhabitants. I saw a red brick school that looked like a relic from an old movie set at Oxford. I walked past a pop-up flower shop selling olive tree saplings that were bent from the weight of their bright-green fruit. I meandered past two old men in tweed suits and old-man caps arguing in whispers on a sidewalk bench. I spotted a small, faded blue sign on a ten-story tall apartment building advertising “Gas on every floor.” I slowed my steps behind an old couple out for their evening walk and watched as they shuffled towards a nearby church, the abuela explaining to her husband which parts had been recently renovated. Her show-and-tell complete they decided to call it a night and turned around to head back home.

It’s these little moments that give this city it’s magic. Of course I love to stand in the plaza outside the Royal Palace and admire its majesty and I can’t get enough of the flower gardens in Parque de Retiro. But it’s the more routine experiences of Spaniards that I’ve come to admire most. These are people who take walks just to take walks, who take hours to finish one beer because the stories are more important than the beverage, whose kids think a piece of rope is the funnest toy on the playground, and who have stores that sell nothing but scissors. This is the Spain I love and the Spain I yearn to know better, the Spain I’ll never find in a guide book.

Madrid, One Tapa at a Time

Living in Spain is amazing. But sharing all the wonders of this glorious country with a first-time visitor, now that is truly joyous. When one of my oldest friends, Andrew, said he could make a four-day pit stop in Madrid  on the front end of his Spanish work trip, I was — to say the least– ecstatic. As this would be Andrew’s first time in my pais de maravillas I was determined to enlighten him on all of the reasons why I feel in love with Spain in the first place. Somewhere near the top of that list: tapas!

Within hours of being reunited at Barajas’ T4, Andrew and I were on the hunt for Madrid’s top tapas.

Tapas time!

Andrew and I embarking a three-night tapas spree.

Google translate tells me “tapas” in English means “finger food” or “savories” but both of those words seriously underestimate both the scope and the vibrance of Spanish tapas. At it’s most basic level, a tapa is a size of a dish. They are always small, about the size you create by touching your two forefingers and thumbs together to make a circle. 

But more importantly, tapas are meant to be shared. Going for tapas is as much about tasting a smorgasbord of scrumptious food as it is about socializing. In Spain, evenings revolve around going out to the calle, reconnecting with old friends, striking up conversations with new ones and soaking in the vibrance, beauty and life of the city. Tapas are the method (you could even say the excuse) for meeting and mingling. And with heavenly options like croquetas and jamón on the menu, there are few things in life I love more than an evening of tapas. So without further pontificating, here are the top 6 tapas we fell in love with in Madrid. 

6. La Zapateria- Patatas caseros con morcilla (Boiled potatoes with blood sausage)

La Zapateria's Huevos Rotos

These “broken eggs” and chorizo served over fried potatoes were so good I had to go back to the Zapateria twice last time I was in Madrid!

My notoriously bad Spanish is to blame for Andrew and I discovering this new gem of a tapa at La Zapateria. While I intended to order us some of my favorite huevos rotos con chorizo (directly translated: broken eggs with sausage which come served over Spanish-style french fries), I instead ordered us patatas caseras con morcilla (homemade potatoes with blood sausage).

Luckily, it was still delicious! Large medallions of blood sausage, which was hearty tasting with a speckling of rice inside, were nestled among perfectly cooked potatoes drenched in an array of red spices. I was apparently too intent on devouring this new dish (and the perfectly delicious pitcher of Sangria) to snap a picture of it (so unlike me!). Pictured above are the huevos rotos that made me fall in love with La Zapateria the first time I came to Madrid in 2010. This cozy hole-in-the-wall style tapas bar is also where I was first introduced to the tastiness that is caracoles, aka snails!

Where to find this deliciousness: La Zapateria – about 5 minutes walking from Puerta del Sol on Calle Victoria #8

5. El Almendro- Huevos Rotos con Jamón (Broken eggs with cured ham)

Huevos Rotos con Jamon

Fried potatoes with fried egg and bits of jamón from El Almendro in Madrid.

El Almendro is nestled slightly off the beaten path in the La Latina district of Madrid, the oldest part of the city. Inside, the first floor of the restaurant is dedicated solely to tapas-goers. It’s an order-at-the-bar style affair where the bartender was extremely patient while helping me decide between the fruity, semi-dry or dry white wine (I’d DEFINITELY go with the dry).

The huevos rotos (a Madrid specialty, if you hadn’t noticed yet) at El Almendro came highly recommended by a friend who used to live in Madrid and they were absolutely not a let down. This restaurant takes their own spin on the traditional dish, serving it with chip-style potatoes instead of the usual french fry style. While I prefer the more chunky potatoes, the chips made it much more of a finger food, which lightened the atmosphere and turned into a fun evening of catching up and chowing down!

Where to find the deliciousness: Calle Almendro, 13 in the La Latina district.

4. La Pasa- Croquetas de Boletus (Mushroom Croquettes) 

One of my favorite tapas: croquetas! La Pasa serves theirs as round balls, rather than the traditional log shape.

One of my favorite tapas: croquetas! La Pasa serves theirs as round balls, rather than the traditional log shape.

Croquetas being one of my all-time favorite tapas, I was stoked when a friend recommended La Pasa as the best place to grub on the best croquetas in Madrid.

The vibe at La Pasa can only be described as a mezcla. The tables are glass, the walls are covered in modern-ish art and the best of the 2000s is playing at just the right loudness over the speakers (oh yeah they played Jack Johnson!).

Being, as always, excruciatingly indecisive at ordering, we opted to get half boletus (a type of mushroom) and half seafood croquetas. Initially, I was surprised at how large these La Pasa croquetas were! Usually croquettes are about the size and shape of a thumb – long, skinny  and small. These, on the other hand, were slightly larger than golf balls and perfectly round! One bite into these globos and I understood perfectly the reason behind their unusual shape.

By making them round, La Pasa increased the amount of the gooey delicious filling you get in one bite while decreasing the amount of fried outer shell. The result was a mouthful of fantastic flavor with just a hint of that oh-so-familiar fried olive oil taste. Can you say delicious! These easily put my feeble attempt at homemade croquetas to shame.

After a careful taste test, I have to recommend the boletus croquettes. They were muy suave and packed with flavor!

Where to find this deliciousness: La Pasa, calle La Pasa, 4 (also in La Latina district)

3. Potente- Tortilla y Empanadilla (Spanish Omelet and Empanada)

Tapas at Potente

Caramelized onion tortilla, meat-filled empanadilla and jamon tartas with a hefty cup of Tinto de Verano. Aka HEAVEN.

Deciding which amazing Spanish tapa should be Andrew’s inaugural taste of Spanish food was obvious: the classic tortilla. And just as perfectly, a friend had recommended the perfect place to savor the best tortilla Madrid has to offer: Potente. This Latina-area bar not only has traditional Spanish tortilla (heaven in of itself) but has three or four specialty types of tortilla as well! We opted for the caramelized onion version over one with mushrooms, one with chorizo and one with peppers. It was slightly sweeter than a normal tortilla but just as fantastic. While it may be seriously breeching Spanish traditionalism, I could definitely get down with tortilla innovationism. Yum!

We paired this tortilla heaven with a carne empanadilla, or beef, potato and pea filled pocket of joy. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory wrapped in a breading that was neither too dense nor too flaky. Galicia needs to get some of these on their menus. I want more!

Slices of bread topped with olive oil, tomato paste and jamon came for free with our glasses of tinto de verano. One of the most refreshing drinks on the Iberian Peninsula, this beverage is a mix of red wine and lemon Fanta. Just try it. It’ll change your life. And yes, they do sell it in juice boxes at the grocery stores. (See why Spain = heaven?!)

Where to get this deliciousness: Potente – Calle Cava Baja, 42 in La Latina

2. La Mallorquina – Napolitana con Chocolate

Napolitana con Chocolate

My favorite food in my favorite place! A chocolate-filled croissant at La Mallorquina!

There are few things in life that are better than napolitanas con chocolate. And there are few (if any) chocolate-filled croissants better than this marvel from La Mallorquina bakery right off of Puerta del Sol in the very center of Madrid. This place was packed with fellow dessert-lovers like myself. While there was seating upstairs, we opted to grab and go for this sweet version of a tapa. (Okay, so technically napolitanas, or any desserts really, are not tapas. But I think they should be and this is my blog so here all things chocolate will forever be considered tapas.) 

The croissants in the napolitanas con chocolate at La Mallorquina somehow manage to find the sweet spot between too fluffy and too flat and bread-like. Unlike many napoltianas that have only a thin smattering of chocolate inside, this delicacy was equal parts chocolate and croissant. It was, without question, the second best napolitana con chocolate I have ever tasted (which is saying something considering my 5-month long goal of tasting every chocolate-filled croissant in Spain while I was studying here!) The best is, and always will be, from my horno in Sevilla….

1. Taberna los Huevos de Lucio- Huevos Rotos con Chorizo (Broken Fried Eggs with Chorizo)

Tapas Don't Get Better Than This

This is, without doubt or question, the best huevos rotos you will ever eat. Thank you Lucio for creating happiness.

In poetic fashion, our last tapa  before leaving Madrid was, without question, the most amazing. At least six Spaniards independently recommended I eat at Lucio’s while in Madrid. That recommendation was always followed by some version of “It is the best place in town!” “The king eats there!” “Bill Clinton ate there!!” Oh yeah, we had to eat there. So after a few unbelievably cheap Mahou cervezas (the beer of Madrid) we squeezed our way into a table at the back of this llena establishment.

If we would have done as the true Spaniards do, we should have ordered our huevos rotos at the bar, along with a couple more cervezas, and parken in this perpetually stunning dance/balancing routine in which you have a beer in one hand, a purse and jacket precariously perched against a wall/wooden nook and a fork in the other hand. Then, the group passes around the plate and somehow the whole thing is devoured over a 30 minute time period all while talking, laughing jostling and drinking. Spaniards are a truly gifted people when it comes to tapas.

Instead, we took our huevos with a side of bread, a seat and glass bottle of water (the only way water comes in Spanish restaurants. Que fancy). They arrived with the smell of heaven: sausage pleasantly smokey and perfectly crispy, eggs fried to exact moment when the whites are solid but the yolks are ready drench a bed of freshly-cut, freshly-fried potatoes in a yellow bath of flavor. It’s official. I could eat huevos rotos every. single. day.

Where to find the deliciousness: There are two Lucio’s – one is the restaurant (the more expensive option) which is called Casa Lucio. The other is across the street and is more for tapas, such as the joyousness pictured above. That one is called Taberna los Huevos de Lucio, which is located in La Latina district on calle Cava Baja, 30.