Madrid Tapas Bars


Spain is the reason T. and I had a bumpy start to our relationship. Spain in general, Spanish restaurants specifically. But then again, it was Madrid (and its tapas bars) that brought us back together.

See, it was in a Spanish restaurant (in Düsseldorf) that T. during our 4th or 5th date told me he had met a very nice woman a couple of days after we had met, and no, nothing had happened yet but it just might; and we are not committed, are we; so he just wants to be fair and inform me. No, we were not officially committed but I had laid eyes on this man and I was not sharing him, so I staged the one and only Hollywood-ripe scene in my life: I got up without a word (leaving boquerones on the table, can you believe it?), left the restaurant, threw myself into the next cab that came by and didn’t answer his phone calls for a couple of days.

Eventually we talked, of course; I wished him luck and happiness and that was almost it. Couple of weeks later he called to tell me he is taking time off and going to Madrid for a month (yes, the glory of being a freelancer!), freshen up his Spanish. In a half sentence he mentioned that it hadn’t worked out with “the other woman”. During his stay in Madrid I visited some friends in Munich, his hometown, and got nostalgic about a past we might have had together! So I called and left a message on his mailbox about me being in Munich and him not and that I hoped he ate well in Madrid. I wasn’t hoping much, but two weeks later he came back from Madrid, called me and we had breakfast together and etc., etc., etc.; as Yul Brynner would have said… That was exactly 9 years ago.

One summer later, we were officially committed and had already moved to Munich where we rented a flat together and started a company, he finally set out to fulfill his dream (of which I was informed from the first day): Take a year off and travel first around Spain, later across whole South America. And no, he didn’t want me to come with him and actually he wasn’t planning to write or call a lot during that year, either. So he drove away in early June, in his ragtop, to Spain. I know that the friends I started making in Munich didn’t really believe my stories about the boyfriend who supposedly moved to Munich with me and left exactly 6 days later to travel around the world. After a couple of weeks of writing daily emails and multiple short text messages he finally said: “won’t you come to Spain so we can travel around together?”

We traveled around Spain for 3 weeks. The last days we spent in Madrid, where he knew a lot of secret bars and corners. We had the time of our life. I fell in love with Madrid and its tapas bars. I had to go back to Munich, to earn money. But I met him again in South America and we backpacked around 5 countries in 2 months. Then he decided it was time to fly back with me to Munich, fly home only half into his year off. Since then we haven’t spent a night apart except when I was in the hospital for a couple of times (rollerblading is dangerous).

We were in Spain many more times. We re-visited Andalusia, the Basque Country, Barcelona. But somehow we never made it to Madrid again. When we met someone from Madrid, we would talk about our favorite tapas bars and revel in memories. “Oh, the bacalà and croquetas place opposite the el corte ingles in Puerta del Sol” we would go; or “remember the cabrales that was sitting in the shop window under the sun for at least a year?”. So when I finally booked a flight to Madrid, last December, three months ahead of time, I told T. only to take the day off on a certain date as I would be kidnapping him, and that he should pack for a warmer climate. Three weeks ago on Thursday I picked him up at work, we went to the airport and as we reached the display panel with over 60 flights coming up and I told him to guess where we are going, he didn’t skip a beat and said “Madrid”.

It was beautiful. Again. We found all our “secret” places again, and discovered new ones, too. Not a thing had changed, not the food, not the decoration, not the staff.

Pouring Sidra 2

Go to Madrid. Go out late. Later. Visit these places if you like. Eat and drink well. But don’t forget to find your own “secret” places as well.

Jamon Pouring Sidra cimg5942_filtered.jpg Zapatilla Merluz Tigres Boquerones Churros y chocolate Casa Labbra


No-Knead Bread

After excursions into the more elaborate food stuff and earning me the nickname “trufflehande” (the chocolate sort as well as the fungus sort), it is time to dwell with more basic nourishment.

I come from a country where the word for bread (ekmek) is synonymous with food, even life. Instead of “to earn a living” we say “to earn one’s bread”. Even in the most genteel homes it is not possible to have a meal without bread being present. For the poor, it is sometimes the only food for days on end, spiced up with some onion eaten along with it. A lot of people I know from back home eat even their pasta or rice dishes with bread, where it sometimes takes the place of a spoon to push stuff on the fork and mop up the juices. Most of the time it is white bread and always it is fresh. The bread from the morning is for breakfast, you can’t and don’t keep it for dinner, where it will already be considered old. The bakeries work at full speed the whole day and you buy your bread for dinner just before dinner. The common illness in Germany and many other European countries nowadays, bakeries just being shops where the bread is delivered in the morning, is unheard of. The most common type of bread is a big fat loaf with a golden and crunchy crust, almost like a really good baguette, only before it went on a diet. It has a plait, or a crease if you will, which sticks up and runs along the whole upper side, which is usually darker than the rest of the crust.

It was this bread that made me and a bunch of other victims escape from the re-orientation camp on our return from an exchange student year in the USA at 4 in the morning, many many years ago. After a year of novel food in the USA as teens, all were, umm, well-fed to say the least, but we were all starving for this bread. We found the nearest bakery, waited before its doors till they opened at 5, and bought loaves and loaves of the bread. A nearby grocery store supplied us with “kasar peyniri”, a hard and aged cheese not unlike a manchego, and with these bounties we went down to the Bosporus, sat on the water’s edge facing east, facing Asia, and watched the sun go up over some of the 7 hills Istanbul has been built upon while eating our bread and cheese. It was at this moment that I realized I was home.

This is half a lifetime ago, and I don’t call Istanbul home for some time now although I do get tears in my eyes from time to time. A song may do it, the cries of seagulls; or a smell, of a charcoal grill, of sea, of raki. But never before has a bread outside of Turkey managed this. Until this one, which of course is not the same, the shape is off and it just didn’t lie on the stone bottom of a wood fired oven where thousands have lain and left their mark before, but it is close. It did bring tears to my eyes.

The recipe, which is extremely easy and requires no kneading, just some patience, is here (don’t shy away from the cup-measurements, for once they do work!), and here is a video. If you google it you will find that a lot of people have been baking this since the beginning of November.

Late Summer Bounty

Late summer bounty vegetables

late summer bounty

When I was around 12 – 13 years old, my father would take me food shopping with him. At the time we rarely bought our fresh vegetables and fruit in a supermarket, maybe there weren’t many yet, maybe their offer was not good enough. These were the times when we still had the milkman at the door twice a week, measuring the fresh, creamy milk directly from the buckets dangling on his two sides from a stick over his shoulders. I hated that milk. It always had a thick layer of skin in my glass and I felt like puking. My mom tried to make me drink it with various tricks, she even let friends bring Nesquik from Germany. It never worked.

In those days, my mom would buy (or, more likely, send me for the task) the odd onion and yogurt from the little grocery store on the corner during the week, but the real shopping was done by my father and me on saturdays. We would drive to the nearest of the many marketplaces around Istanbul, fight for a parking space and then go off for the hunt.

Sweet LightningFor it was hunt. We would first go around the huge market place, from stall to stall, to see what vegetables and fruits are in season, which are just arriving (therefore at horrendous prices), which are fading off; whose stall has which goods in what condition at what price and which stall owner brings the due respect to a customer as important as a know-all father with his pre-teen, easily amazed daughter with him. Who remembers the customer from last weekend and offers a special price. Then we would start the second round, this time with clearly defined destinations.

CourgetteMy father would go from stall to stall, buying 5 kilos of green apples and 3 of the red, and yes, we want some pears as well, oh, special offer when you buy 3 kilos?, well of course make it 3 then. At the next stand it would be 3 heads of lettuce, 4 kilos tomatoes, 2 kilos of cucumbers, the small, dark green ones (I come from a highly agricultural land and never saw 40 cm cucumbers until I came to Germany, I just do not believe in them to this day). The bunch of parsley and green onions are not even asked for, it is clear that you need them and they go into one of the many plastic bags.

SquashOn and on this spree would go, my father always giving me more and more bags to carry, I am sure he never let me carry more than I should, but I would always feel like I am carrying the greater portion of our bounty, I would be proud, he lets me carry the bags, he believes I am strong, his son is still a baby, his wife is at home, I am the one who goes shopping with him. He tells me what to look for when I am shopping vegetables and fruits, I learn to see and appreciate the freshness. Every peach, every cabbage, every eggplant has its story, the stall owners yell all the time praising their goods, where they come from, that they have been just this morning plucked from their trees, bushes, stalks; they even talk in dialects to make it clear: These tomatoes are from Manisa, I am from Manisa, I gathered them this morning before sunrise and came with my lorry all the way up to Istanbul and instead of going to a wholesaler I came here to this market, so you can be sure where your salad comes from.

White eggplantThen we would finally have everything that was in season and head back to the car. Coming home, my mother would just shake her head and whisper “what am I to do with this much food?”, but only loud enough for me, for she knew that my father would be deeply insulted if he heard this remark. Although living in Turkey for decades, I think she never got used to the amount of food bought, and eaten, in my family. Of course it didn’t make it easier for her that she was never asked if she had some special dish on mind and needed something explicitly for that. She got the provisions that were in season, she got the freshest and she got them in abundance, now it was her problem to come up with the dishes accordingly.

Bi-colored carrotsThis “saturday shopping with my father” period lasted maybe two years. Then I grew up, other things became more important. I may even have moaned about the burdensome task at some time. Then I stopped going with him. And at some point I just began drinking coffee instead of a glass of milk in the mornings. I still hate milk. But I do love going food shopping, maybe after a break of around 10 years in my teens and early twens. And to my delight, T. loves food shopping as well. In any new town, we always look for the local market and spend hours marvelling at the sometimes familiar, sometimes foreign food.

This load of vegetables in the pictures I bought on the market place in Stuttgart. They were all familiar but with a little twist. They looked so good on our old wooden table and they tasted even better in the simple stew I made of them the next day, after allowing T. to admire them in the evening. It tasted good, in a hearthy stock made from the rest of the bistecca fiorentina, and most of all, it brought back memories of earliest food shopping.

Vegetable stew

vegetable stew