Tickets booked, visa stamped, less than a month to go before I board a plane to Spain. Needless to say, I can't wait! :)
It's a super short stop (basically a day and a half in Madrid each way, sandwiched around a longer trip to Portugal and France) and it's sure to be fraught with the battle I always face on visiting a place I've been to before - should I eat at a tried-and-tested favourite or venture out to sample something new?
I think I might have to meet myself halfway - visit top food haunts such as the Mercado de San Miguel and order stuff I haven't eaten before, and dine at new tapas bars and restaurants on bites I can't afford to miss (like croquetas de jamón Ibérico).
Either way, I'm sure I'll leave knowing a lot more about Spanish food than I do currently. Here are the top 5 things I learnt in Spain last summer:
Number 1: How to order coffee the way I like it
Until I went to Spain, I thought 'caliente' was something semi-rude Latino men shouted at hot women. Turns out it is something Latino men shout at hot women, only it isn't rude. It simply means 'hot' in Spanish. And adding the word caliente to the end of my coffee order made sure I always got my cup of coffee just the way I like it, steaming hot and not at a terrible tepid temperature.
Number 2: Salt + chocolate = delicious
I can't believe I never came across this combination until my very first taste of churros. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! Hot, crisp churros (or porras, their thicker cousins) are the perfect vehicle to deliver this sinful flavour combo. Deep-fried salty dough, dipped in sweet, muddy chocolate of perfect churro-coating consistency... heaven!
Number 3: Squid ink has a distinctive flavour (and mouth feel)
Until actually tasting squid ink paella in Barcelona last summer, I always assumed squid ink was used primarily for its food colouring abilities. Turns out I was wrong. Squid ink actually has a pretty distinctive taste - something that's somewhere between briny and metallic - and even more weirdly, a distinctive feel - like something thick, heavy and comforting that coats your mouth. I can't really describe it, but let's just say seafood paella with squid ink tasted (even if it didn't look) a lot nicer than seafood paella without.
Number 4: Coffee with condensed milk can actually be improved
As I have described before, Vietnamese ca phe sua da was a revelation -something that made my world instantly a better place to live in. But how could anyone improve the potent coffee+condensed milk combo? Enter cafe pipo - a shot of espresso, a liberal layer of condensed milk and a shot of whisky. Nothing could make a more perfect night cap than this sweet concoction (as we found out almost every night in Barcelona). This is one thing I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for in Madrid.
Number 5: Toothpicks = tab in pintxo bars
I've written about this before and I'll probably mention it again at some point. Holding onto the toothpicks that spear your pintxos to arrive at your bill is probably one of the coolest food customs I've ever come across. (Yes I know, it really doesn't take much to amuse me).
PS: I plan on maintaining a very healthy toothpick tab when I head to Spain next month :)
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