It has been 5 weeks and 3 days since I’ve had my last breakfast taco. And it feels like an eternity. Yes, the freshly-baked artisanal baguette that I toast and slather with Spanish olive oil and perfectly ripe tomato for breakfast every morning is positively scrumptious. But it will never compare to the sloppy perfection of a warm tortilla bursting with scrambled eggs, fried chilis, guacamole, cheese and three kinds of hot sauce. Now THAT is a breakfast of champions. And it is glaringly absent from my eating options in Madrid.
This city is, in so many ways, a foodie paradise. I can assuredly say that some of the best bites to ever cross my lips were constructed within these ancient city walls. But despite the mouthwatering jamón, mind-blowing tortilla española and worship-worthy croquetas, I would lick a city sidewalk right now for a Torchy’s taco or a massive pile of hot-off-the-barbecue ribs.
Although I spend most of my spare breath (and blog space) waxing poetic about my infatuation with Spanish food, I confess that there are a few things this country is sorely lacking.
Exhibit A: Tacos
Tacos are a food that I can never get tired of. Breakfast tacos, fajita tacos, fried avocado tacos, pulled pork tacos, bean and cheese tacos, corn tortillas, wheat tortillas, thick tortillas thin tortillas… With so many marvelous options how could I ever not want a taco?
While this food of all foods is starting to show it’s glorious face in a select few places in Madrid, there are still lightyears to go before any of the said taquerias arrive at the sheer taco glory that is Austin’s Torchy’s Tacos. On my next trip back to the States I’m setting a daily taco consumption requirement.
My Spanish remedy: Maria Bonita on Calle Olmo 23 in Lavapiés. Their tortillas are made from specialty corn ground the right way on a machine they shipped in from Mexico. The owner and chef were both born and raised in Mexico and are spectacularly committed to ensuring that the marvelous flavors of their country shine through each and every dish. Not to mention their Micheladas are the best in town.
Exhibit B: Cartons of Quality Ice Cream
The polar vortex temperatures and bone-brittling winds that we are currently enjoying in Madrid are making my winter-hating self downright grouchy. And my one sure-fire way to cure a bought of wrinkle-inducing grouchiness is a cozy bed, a large spoon and a fresh half gallon of Coffee Chocolate Chunk ice cream. Inexplicably, a half-decent tub of ice cream is nowhere to be found on the grocery store shelves of Madrid.
Icy imposters in increasingly disturbing flavors like “whipped cream” and radioactive pink “strawberry” fill the one freezer of ice cream options at my local Carrefour. Ridiculously overpriced pints of equally uninspiring Häagen-Dazs add insult to ice cream injury, turning my grouchiness into full-blown annoyance. What does a girl have to do for a creamy carton of sorrow-expelling, chocolate-coated calories?! Pop over to America, apparently.
My Spanish remedy: While the grocery store is a good ice cream wasteland, the streets of Madrid are quite the opposite. Positively stellar ice cream shops abound if I can find enough layers to brave the winter cold. My go-to? Kalúa on C/Fuencarral, 131 between the metros of Bilbao and Quevedo. They’ve got at least two different coffee flavors and do things with Ferrero Rocher bonbons that are too delicious to be legal.
Exhibit C: Barbecue
I’m blaming this glaring hole in Spanish cuisine on lack of space. As no one in Madrid has a free-standing house, let alone a back yard (this is apartment-only territory), I can understand how a metal box of fire next to the clothes lines on the balcony could present some serious safety concerns.
But this is a country of patience. If you’re going to cure a ham leg for two years, can’t you throw one of them into a smoker for a mere eight hours? While I understand the at-home limitations of throwing a Texas-style BBQ, I positively can’t get on board with using the same word to refer to pan-fried hamburgers. If it ain’t been roasted to slow, smoked perfection for more than five hours, it’s grilled, not barbecued.
My Spanish remedy: Hamburgers. It’s not the same but it’s the closest I’ve found to the delectable smokiness of real Texas barbecue. And I feel equally as burstingly full after my meal. My Madrid go-to: Naif on Calle de San Joaquín, 16 in Malasaña.
Exhibit D: Wild Game Meat
Growing up in a family of hunters, beef was never what’s for dinner. At my grade school birthday parties the hamburgers were venison and on any given weekday everything from elk to alligator made it onto our plates. As a consequence, I am rather finicky about farmed meats.
Luckily, Spain is a meat-lover’s Mecca. The beef is almost always pasture-raised and most of the hormones and antibiotics used in U.S. beef are illegal in Europe. Spanish cured ham is out of this world and the hamburger meat is ground to order by my neighborhood butcher. That being said, the lean and abundantly flavorful meats of the American forest are nearly impossible to find. If only customs would allow care packages of deer steaks!
My Spanish remedy: Chuletón de buey. It is not often that I’m struck with a craving for red meat, but when that craving hits (like, for example, now) it’s fierce and demanding. As deer is practically an endangered species here, I instead turn to Spanish ox meat. The typical way of serving the two-inch thick steak (which is always to share because its ridiculously massive) is nearly raw and sliced into thin cigarette-pack size rectangles.
This platter o’ meat is delivered to the table with a sizzling hot iron upon which you sear each slice of meat before devouring it with a sprinkling of salt. If that didn’t cure my meat craving nothing would! My favorites are at Urugallo next to the lake in Casa del Campo and Albur on Calle de Manuela Malasaña, 15.