As my wife accurately put it in her post of the other day, we ate a lot of interesting tapas during our time in Madrid. Several of these are specialities of the city and cannot be found elsewhere. We felt it our duty then, to give at least some of them a try. Long-term readers of this blog will know that while it’s not exactly a passion of ours, we do like trying less popular cuts of meat when we can, in the belief that anyone can make a filet of beef taste good, but only the skilled cook can make tripe or kidneys into a delicacy. We are pleased to report that we found abiding by these two philosophies (trying the local specialties and eating non-prime cuts) surprisingly easy and very enjoyable in Madrid.
On our first afternoon in the city – at the same tasca we had the sepia a la plancha discussed below, in fact – we ordered some orejas a la plancha. Anyone who’s taken Spanish 101 will know that this means we ordered ears. Pigs’ ears to be precise, grilled or griddled and accompanied with a spicy tomato sauce the same consistency as ketchup or barbecue sauce. We did this knowingly too. Neither of us had eaten the ears of any creature before (as far as we knew) but decided that most meat products dipped in ketchup tasted pretty good. How were they, you ask? Well, very porky – like pork crackling, so crunchy on the outside – but also crunchy on the inside too, on account of the cartilidge that keeps an ear flexible but stiff. Oddly enough, they weren’t that chewy, but they were quite rich tasting and we found that with a racione (or large tapa usually for between 3-4 people) we had ordered more than enough. To sum up, I think we’re both glad we tried them and quite enjoyed their taste and texture, and would certainly eat them again, but we’re not raving about them, you know?
Later in the week, after spending the morning in El Prado (perhaps the greatest art museum this side of La Louvre), we had a selection of tapas/pinchos as a late lunch. (Pinchos are tapas served on toothpicks and often on rounds of bread.) Amongst these was one I remembered having seen on TV once – fried anguilas (baby eels) with garlic and oil, (in this case served on a round of bread with a slather of garlic/lemon mayonnaise.) – on fatty chinless Andrew Zimmern’s show Bizarre Foods. Actually, unless you know they are eels, you’d probably think they were very thinly sliced calamari (calamares) or something, because they have a similar maritime taste and familiar chewiness. Zimmern made out that these were one of the most expensive treats to be found in Madrid, but we only paid Euro1.50 for it, which was kind of weird. Still, you should definitely try them if you get a chance (and are a lover of calamari). Don’t be put off by what they are or how they look. They’re a far cry from the British jellied eels that used to terrify me every time I entered a chip shop as a child.
On our final night in Madrid, filled with sadness, at having to leave with only about thirty different tapas under our belts, and horror at how we would feel without jamon iberico readily available, we sought out a new neighborhood’s tascas to check out. Entering the first one, which was filled with purple-nosed old men and a thick fug of cigarette smoke, we ordered callos a la Madrilena, or tripe in the local style. I’m a big fan of tripe (the lining of, usually, a cow’s stomach) – I really like it’s slightly gelatinousness and the peculiar cross-hatched texture of it’s underside – but I had no idea how this would be served. It came in a big clay bowl together with hunks of chorizo and pork fat in a spicy, reddish sauce. It was absolutely delicious, although no doubt not recommended by any cardiologists. Sure, it was porky and fatty, but the sauce was addictive and the chunks of chorizo added a spicyness to it that cut through the fat and made it too easy to a eat a lot of. Visitors to Madrid should by all means try this if you find it on a tapas menu, but understand that you’re going to have a devil of a time working it off in the gym when you get home!
How do you feel about eating pig’s ears, baby eel or tripe? Do you know of any other interesting Spanish preparations using off-cuts?
Check out the post that was written on some of the more tame tapas we ingested during our time in Madrid… you may be more inspired to eat them again after reading this post!
Also, if you are interested in making a few tapas, check these out:
Also, check out our other posts about Spain: