A bellyful of Madrid 

May 21, 2023

   Since the train ride to Madrid wasn’t a destination, then Madrid would have to be one. Only thing was neither Carol nor I had any bucket lists to scratch off for the capital of Spain. Typical American narrow-mindedness right? Yup. Turns out, a wood-fired pizza place just up the corner from our apartment and a second-hand shop peddling 10 euro espadrilles is all you need to create a sense of home sweet home.

“Happily, we’d walked in a huge circle that delivered us back to the wood-fired pizza joint, and right before the dinner rush of about 11 o’clock that night.”

   We passed the pizza place on our first night out, but felt wandering aimlessly in a section of the city we knew nothing about would certainly yield a plethora of eateries superior to a joint where they were already lining up to order a pepperoni with mushrooms. An hour later, we realized we were in the middle of Madrid’s Little Asia, and we simply weren’t in the mood for Chinese. Happily, we’d walked in a huge circle that delivered us back to the wood-fired pizza joint, and right before the dinner rush of about 11 o’clock that night. That night would define Madrid as a food destination for our trip so far. 

Learned this trick from The Green Book

   In addition to finding an authentic paella that the locals would eat, there was this eatery singled out in a Rick Steves episode we’d sussed out on YouTube. The place was called Restaurante Botin, billed as the “earliest” restaurant in Europe, and featuring world class garlic shrimp and a suckling pig that was (literally for these little guys anyway) to die for. It was also a place where reservations were a tight get. When I went online on April 18th for a table for two, the result was an 11:15 pm availability for the following May 14th. And here’s where I turn the narrative over to Carol and her Yonkers-nurtured quietly assertive determination.

   “I just want to walk past and see it,” she told me. Then, when we’d done that: “Go stand in front of it,” Then, “That waiter is just standing there, go ask him if there’s a table available,” Then, when we were miraculously seated at an available table outside: “Ask him if we can be reseated inside.”  Mind you, neither of these tables were supposed to be available for almost another month. How do you New Yorkers do it?

 Pretty little piggies all in a row.

   The world class paella turned out to be easy peasy, especially considering we were in the heart of a heavily trafficked tourist corridor when we found it. Since neither of us knew what was good, local paella and what was just tourist swill, we relied on what the locals were ordering as our guide. Being told it takes 20 minutes to prepare was one sign of authenticity, and when it was delivered, our first taste of it eliminated the need for any other local authentication. I think paella is to Spain what red beans and rice is  to New Orleans: if you like it, you can’t really screw it up.

Best for kicking down the cobblestones.

   At about 1:00 a.m. in the morning, we were jolted awake by what sounded like a huge truck crashing through our front door and into our living room. We grabbed each other, thinking we were about to be run over and crushed to death in a fiery inferno. Turned out to be only the nightly trash pick up. In the morning we saw workers serenely washing down the streets. If they could only invert their schedules, it would be like an urban alarm clock. But Madrid has made its presence felt!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *