Friday, January 21, 2011

Puerto del Sol, San Miguel Market - Madrid

Day 2 (cont'd)
Plaza Plodding: A mariachi band played us into Puerto del Sol, the city's central square bordered by shops and eateries – were we in Spain or Mexico? Either way it was a warm welcome, and we were getting warmer…to finding the legendary pastry shop on the plaza’s edge.

We came upon a place reminiscent of the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel with delectable scenes lit up like Macy’s window displays at Christmas.

Inside brimmed with a chaos close to that of the Stock Market floor…trading their share of ├ęclairs.Two confectionery cases lined either side of the alley where patrons bowled their way through, hailing a cherry danish with as much determination as hailing a cab. One taste and the commotion made sense. Even Rumpelstiltskin would be impressed with their ability to spin butter into pastry. Mom’s cross between a croissant and turnover brought “ooze” (of chocolate) and ahhs, while Jon ordered a creampuff big enough to make our faces disappear behind each bite.

This little piggy went to market: Trying to purge pangs of glucose gluttony, we continued trekking along and passed through Plaza Mayor to discover one of my tip-top trip tips – San Miguel Market. This culinary campground housed endless rows of vendors integrating every food group.

Never had I’d seen vegetables so surreally vibrant, enough to make me want to reach out and grab them…I guess that’s why there’s a sign that said, “No touching”.

Whether it was the prior pastries or just food fantasy overload, I became a child on a sugar high, jutting my head in between coats, gobbling each edible prize with my eyes before turning and running amuck through the crowd again.

Fish flirted. Tapas teased. Olives ogled (who needed some branch to bring peace? These would do). And apparently pigs could fly because I had just entered...

Jamon Heaven: Sometimes you’ve got to take the bull by the horns, but I’d much rather grab the Jamon by the hoof…now this was rustic. A skilled butcher skinned paper thin slices right off the whole leg. I’m talking hoof and all, held in a metal contraption that extended a leggy invitation.

Jamon = the Boogeyman of Spain. It’s in every window, it’s behind every corner, it’s under your bed…you cannot get away from Jamon! But it is your friend, especially the Iberico variety, a region known for hocking quality hams.

Public Picnic: Seating was an issue, but who cared if I could splash around with a glass of wine while choosing my first bite…the mini-kebob with fresh mozzarella, tomato and pesto would do – let the feasting begin!

The four of us met up in the center and stood at a bar-height table with everyone else who managed to elbow their way in. The few stools provided were like a cruel game of musical chairs, but we were more focused on feeding.

All of us had gone in different directions - I headed to the cheese stand for an assorted sampler, Jon went for fish tapas, Mom hit the olive counter (stuffed with everything imaginable – garlic, cheese, peppers, etc). And Bubba hoofed it over to the Jamon.

We gorged and grabbed from each other’s plates, full again, but we’d only scratched the surface. Other market items we coveted:

Croquettes (spinach, mushrooms, cheese)
Soup (escarole, chorizo, white bean and escargot chowder)
Fish, fish and more fish (tapas, whole fish, smoked fish)
Ice cream/gelato
Pastries (cookies, meringues)
Fresh potato chips

And that’s just what I can remember. Weekends here were almost too mobbed, but come once…and you’ll probably be part of that mob.

**most photos courtesy of Mom Alkema

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