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La Leche? Food in Madrid

By: C. Gallati (U. South Carolina)
The barista looks over her shoulder at me as she finishes pulling the shot of espresso for my cortado, her question hanging in the air for only a second. "Caliente." I reply, digging into my pockets for a loose euro.
Spaniards treat their coffee like a tool, often opting to stand at the bar for just long enough to finish it before heading back into the streets. When it comes to ordering your coffee (always espresso, never drip) your choice of drink depends on the amount of milk you'd like and, as my barista had just queried to me, the temperature of the milk.  ES Chad coffee
For the steely eyed and steady handed, café solo will get you a shot of the black stuff with no adulterations. If you're like me and want the bitter edge of straight espresso softened some, café cortado will come "cut" with just a splash of milk. The ever popular café con leche is an equal part milk to match the espresso shot and is usually consumed as a breakfast drink (and sometimes making up the entirety of a Spanish breakfast). At the other end of the milky spectrum from café solo is the café manchada, a large glass of warm milk "stained" with a shot of espresso. And for those longing for the coffee of home (well, my home at least), a café americano will simulate a tall drip coffee by adding hot water to espresso. 
            And now, a lightening round for those drinks that exist a little more on the fringes of the Spanish coffee scene: 
  • Café con hielo: with ice (can be applied to any drink- solo, cortado, con leche, etc.). Especially popular in the summer.
  • Café bonbon: with sweetened condensed milk (!!!). 
  • Café carajillo: with brandy or whiskey, for when you're feeling more adventurous in the afternoon or evening.
  • Café descafeinado de máquina: decaf espresso. Leave out the de máquina and be  prepared to receive a warm glass of milk and a packet of powdered decaf coffee.

When the barista asks "the milk?" over the roar of the coffee grinder, she's referring to the temperature of the milk. Your two options are templada or caliente, room temperature or hot. Simple, right? This question also brings to mind the cultural significance of la leche (the milk) in the Spanish language. For example, ser la leche (to be the milk) can mean to be incredibly great or horribly awful, depending on the context. If this is confusing, think about an English equivalent like "sick". Mala leche (bad milk) can mean bad luck or a bad mood or temperament. It only makes sense that an ingredient with this cultural weight pairs so well with a drink that plays such an important role in the average Spaniard's day. Now that I've sufficiently showed my cards as a coffee addict, lets explore some other typical Spanish foods that are very much la leche (the good version). 

No, not the thing that comes wrapped around your burrito. In Spain, a tortilla is similar to an omelette or frittata with potatoes and onions. While they may have all sorts of ingredients, the most traditional (tortilla española) contains just eggs, potatoes, and onion. It’s made by frying off sliced potatoes and slightly caramelizing onions in a generous pour of olive oil before mixing them into scrambled eggs and returning the mixture to the same pan. ES Chad Tortilla
Halfway through cooking, a plate is used to carefully flip the tortilla so that the other side may set. A proper tortilla should be golden brown on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. This has quickly become one of my favorite Spanish dishes (no doubt a product of my love of all things eggs) and it has the added benefit of being a very cheap lunch when placed in the middle of a halved baguette to make a bocadillo de tortilla
If you order a drink in Spain, you can be sure that won’t be the only thing you’ll receive. Most Spanish bars and restaurants serve a tapa with every round of drinks, whether it be as simple as a bowl of mixed nuts or as extravagant as a slice of tortilla on toast topped with lettuce and tomato. While tapas have become synonymous worldwide with small dishes meant to be ordered in twos or threes, they aren't typically ordered in Spain and the selection is made by the bartender or waiter. ES Chad Tapas
They have their origins in old bars where legs of ham hung from the ceilings. To keep dripping fat from falling in drinks, bartenders would offer a plate to cover (tapa) the glass and naturally, some began offering small snacks to go on the plates. Clearly, this was popular with the patrons and the rest was history. For the best tapas in Spain, head south towards Sevilla and Granada.
Perhaps the most well known Spanish food worldwide is paella, a rice dish flavored with saffron (which gives it a distinct yellow color) and topped with any combination of seafoods, meats, and vegetables. It originated in Valencia and is typically cooked in a large, shallow pan over a wood fire. The most traditional paella contains rice, saffron, chicken, rabbit, duck, snails, beans, artichoke, and tomatoes. While you can get it all over Spain, most Spaniards tend to consider more of a Valencian dish than a Spanish dish. If you have a chance to have it in Valencia, it’s an opportunity you cannot pass up. Here is the paella that we ate while visiting Valencia. ES Chad paella
You and your friends are walking through Puerta del Sol, Madrid's version of Times Square, at around 3:00am (don’t ask me why you're here at this time, that’s on you) and your stomach growls. After a quick exchange of knowing glances, your party turns down a side street towards la Chocolatería San Ginés to get some of the best churros and chocolate on Earth. But Spain doesn’t play favorites with its pastries (pastels)- its love for sweet baked and fried foods is wide and far-reaching. When the sun comes back up, be sure to stop in La Mallorquina (also on Puerta del Sol) for the best napolitana (a sort of flat croissant filled with dark chocolate and topped with sugar) in the city. ES Chad napolitana
And each city has its own delicious creation:
  • Sevilla: Torrijas- imagine the sweetest french toast ever soaked in syrup
  • Granada/Santa Fe: Piononos- a cylinder of thin pastry fermented in different kinds of syrup and filled with toasted cream
  • Segovia: Ponche-  sponge cake layered with cream and wrapped in marzipan
  • Bilbao: Bollo de Mantequilla- a delicate bun filled with sweet butter paste
One could write an entire book on Spanish cuisine and there is no way I could capture it all in a single blog post. So come to Madrid and experience some of the world’s best food it in first person!


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