Best Food in Madrid

I feel like I have been apologizing in almost every post this summer. I have been so bad about posting and so much of it has to do with the fact that I have been traveling a ton and it has been just too hot to cook. I’m not sure if everyone is like me but when it’s hot outside I just don’t want to eat (no eating = no cooking = no posts). That said, I have three posts that will be going up over the next few days that are all about my favorite culinary adventures in Spain!

We flew in and out of Madrid so we spent our first 48 hours in Spain trying to cram in as much food as possible in the country’s capital. We had a night in Madrid on the tail end of the trip but we didn’t know how much energy we’d have left after two weeks on the road so we wanted to hit everyone our first time around. We landed at Barajas airport around 7am and were at our rented apartment by 11am. By the way, if you travel often and have never tried Airbnb, you have to try it- by far the easiest, most inexpensive and convenient way to handle accommodations on the road. We essentially dropped everything in the apartment and wandered out into the streets with our guide book and a map I bought at Barnes and Noble back in New York.

Our apartment was located on Cuesta de Santo Domingo, which, for those of you who haven’t been, is right in the heart of Madrid. To give a little perspective for those of you have been, we were less than 5 minutes walking from Opera, Callao, Gran Via, Santo Domingo and SOL metro stops and Plaza Major. We were starving so we headed straight for Mercado de San Miguel which had been recommended to us by multiple friends and our guide book.

Mercado de San Miguel

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View from outside before walking in

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View inside down one of the aisle

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No clue what this is. But there was so much amazing seafood!

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Fresh sardines and octopus

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Prawns

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Beautiful fresh seafood

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Oysters- our first culinary stop in the market

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Pinxtos- we tried these even though we weren’t quite sure what they were…

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More pinxtos

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Tinto de verano and even more pinxtos (this is from when we came back to Madrid right before flying home)

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Jamon

Mercado de San Miguel was a perfect first stop. You can bounce from counter to counter and eat everything from oysters to pinxtos to bite-sized desserts to paella. Literally anything you could imagine! We did realize, perhaps a bit too late, that everything adds up quickly. Every stall was better than the one before so we just kept eating. Nothing cost more than €6-€9… but six or seven stalls later… oops?

After leaving, we just started walking. Whenever I travel, I like to do a ton of research (sorry to all my friends for all the emails!) and study a map so I can have a general idea of how to “aimlessly” wander around while still hitting every place I was told to check out. My mom (and others) had told me all about Botin. Botin, which opened in 1725, is considered to be the oldest continuously running restaurant in the world and it is located just down the street from Mercado de San Miguel. We “happened” to walk right by it so we stepped in and made a reservation for later that night. After a quick siesta we headed to dinner!

Botin- The Oldest Restaurant in the World

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Us in front of Botin

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Walking down the stairs into the cellar

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Looking down another stair case into the wine cellar from our seats in the cellar

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Sangria

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Suckling pig

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Very old wine in the wine cellar

A friend of mine from college, who moved to Madrid after we graduated to get a masters degree, told us to check out a Museo de Jamon. They are located all over the city and they make a perfect pit stop before siesta to get a quick snack and a beer. They sell small draft beer- maybe 6 oz at most- and you get free jamon and/or cheese when you order! It’s cheap, quick, delicious and the perfect bite.

Museo de Jamon

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Nick at the counter ordering our beer (and free food)

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Our first small beer and our free snack. When you’re thirsty, these beers go down in a gulp or two!

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Another snack from our second round of beers

Our second night (and first of two “last” nights) in Madrid we decided to do a proper tapas crawl on Cava Bajas,- Madrid’s notorious tapas street. We had a few recommendations and our trusted Lonely Planet so we just headed down the road. Our two favorite stops were Almendro 13 and Posado del Dragon (which happened to be the hotel we had booked for our final night of the trip before flying home). We fell in love with Huevos Rotos and Patatas Bravas!

Huevos Rotos at Almendro 13

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Patas Bravas at Posado del Dragon

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We ended our tapas crawl at a little churro restaurant called San Gines near Plaza Major around 2:30am. We ordered 4 churros (the standard order) with hot chocolate. It was so good! If you are ever in Madrid, you definitely need to check out all of these spots. I know that if I ever find my way back to Spain, you will find me wandering between Opera and Cava Bajas finding every treat in between.

Churros with Hot Chocolate

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Weekend in Maine

I apologize for being so MIA since last week. I decided to take advantage of the weather and squeeze in some beach days and visit my sister in Maine. And one of the best things about southern Maine? Amazing food! We ate our way around Portland and Ocean Park and I enjoyed every bite. My biggest challenge, however, was sticking within my WW points. Usually when I travel, I give myself a “by” and don’t track but my weight has creeped up enough that I needed to get back on the wagon. I enjoyed myself but used all my extra points (all 49 plus some activity points) in order to do so. Here’s a quick look at some of the places we visited!

My first night in town, I had to go to Huot’s which is a few miles south of our beach house in Ocean Park. We have been coming to Huot’s since I was a baby (and before) and are good friends with the owners. The restaurant is in Camp Ellis and I have numerous memories of walking out on the jetty before, during and after every visit!

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Looking out into Saco Bay from the jetty in Camp Ellis

Every time I eat at Huot’s, I have to have a clam cake. I always brag to friends that you can get an amazing, crispy clam cake for only $2.00 so I was amazed to see that price had risen to $2.60! Everything is getting pricer in Maine…

The next stop was Willard Scoops in Willard Beach, South Portland. This was my first trip here but it has become one of Hannah’s favorites since she moved to Portland full time.

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Willard Scoops

Saturday was another day the beach so Hannah and I opted for lunch at the Ocean Park Deli. Our house is on the edge of town so the “downtown” is a 5 minute walk away (OP is wicked small!). The “downtown” consists of the deli, the library, one sit-down, BYOB restaurant, a gift shop, an antique shop and the Soda Fountain. We grabbed salads and sandwiches and spent another hour or two on the beach.

Hannah had to work Saturday night so I dropped her off at 2:45 before heading into Portland for a snack to hold me over until dinner. Every time I am in town, I have to go to Flatbread Pizza whether it’s to enjoy one of their organic, brick oven pizzas or just their organic salad. The Flatbread salad is something I dream about while I’m away. It consists of a bed of organic greens, shredded carrots, seaweed and sesame seeds with a housemade vinaigrette. I almost always add some blue cheese because it’s so creamy and spicy!

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My roommate, Elly, moved to Portland on Saturday for the summer and she invited me out to dinner. I figured I would go because Hannah was working and I would have some company! Her parents treated me to an unforgettable meal at 555 on Congress St. I had a house salad made with all local greens and produce and the pepper-crusted sea scallops with whipped fennel potatoes and veggies. I was able to meet her parents, her aunt, uncle and cousin.

After Elly said goodbye to her family, we headed over to South Portland to visit Hannah at work. We sat on the deck at the Saltwater Grille and had a cocktail while she finished up her shift. Check out that view!

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Once Hannah finished her shift, we dropped Elly off and headed over to Eventide for a drink and a snack (poor Hannah hadn’t eaten in hours!). I went for the Dirty, Dirty Martini made with Beefeater gin, olive brine, oyster brine and hot sauce. It was super salty and spicy and so delicious!!

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Sunday was yet another beautiful beach day so we were back in Ocean Park. Our friend Lynn (more like a sister) came up from Massachusetts for the day so it was great to catch up after almost a year. It was my last lunch in Maine so Hannah and I went to Bayley’s in Pine Point for a lobster roll. At Bayley’s you can choose if you’d like your bun toasted or not toasted and if you’d like it tossed in butter or mayo. I’m a Maine lobster roll kind of girl so I went for the mayo (but light!)- you all remember my Sunday Funday post about Red Hook Lobster Pound, right? The Bayley’s lobster roll is simple and lets the lobster meat shine through- the perfect treat on a summer day in Maine.

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Hannah had to work again, so Lynn and I went into Portland and did the mailboat cruise around Casco Bay. For all the years I’ve been going to Maine (which is my whole life), I have never been on Casco Bay. The mailboat is a 3 hour cruise that stops on 5 islands in the bay dropping off mail and people. The best part- besides being on the water, in the sun and with a great friend- is that it’s BYOB. That’s right, you can bring booze and drink on the boat! We picked up a 6-pack of Sam Adams Summer Ale and spent a glorious (but windy) 3 hours on the water!

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Here I am with Long Island behind me while we were pulling away from Cliff Island in Casco Bay

For my last meal, Hannah and I went to OTTO Pizza to grab some take out. Rain rolled in Sunday night so we decided to grab some pizza to go and settle in at her house to watch some Sunday night TV. We got one of Hannah’s favorite pizzas- sweet potato, ricotta and dried cranberries. I was hesitant at first but, OMG, it was heavenly! Creamy, sweet, tart but somehow savory. It confused my palate, which is hard to do. It was the perfect finale to a perfect weekend in Maine!

Why I Fell in Love with Food in Vietnam

Whenever people ask me how I ended up in New York after college, I have to go back to my semester in Vietnam. I was a History major and concentrated on Cold War American society (specifically how the Vietnam War affected American society) and this is how I found myself headed to Vietnam in August 2008. Little did I know my “career path” would change after my 5 months there.

There is something about Vietnamese food culture that captivated me from the moment I landed. Eating a meal is about sitting with friends and neighbors and sharing what you have created from simple ingredients that were cultivated from your family land- land that has been yours for generations. I will always remember being in Nha Trang (South/Central Vietnam) and out on a boat with the entire CIEE group (which was only 19 of us). We had been on the boat all day when we were lead to the roof where a feast of fresh seafood had been prepared for us. It was the moment I decided I wanted to get into the food industry and be as close to good, simple, local food as possible.

Nha Trang FeastOur meal of fresh fish, prawns, seafood stew and a few other Vietnamese favorites

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My friends, Chris and Summer, enjoying the food on the roof of the boat

This morning Nick sent me an article from the New York Times about a man’s relationship with food in Vietnam. Reading it, I was brought back to my own journey with Vietnamese cuisine . I will always remember my first morning there. I stumbled out of our hotel in the backpackers district in Saigon and I had no idea how to find something to eat. I wasn’t nearly as adventurous with food as I am now and I was all by myself, in a city I did not know, surrounded by a language I could not understand. I walked down our block and stumbled upon a bahn mi cart (I did not know this is what it was at the time). I pointed at something that looked remotely breakfast-like- little did I know that the pho restaurant right behind it would have been the right choice for a true Vietnamese breakfast. What I pointed at was something like a dumpling so I just bit into it. I had no idea what was inside, so I wrapped it up and brought it back to the hotel to find one of our directors so he could tell me what it was. Inside my “breakfast dumpling” was a soft boiled quail egg. I couldn’t finish it knowing what it was.

Looking back, I’m sad I couldn’t appreciate how special that first meal was and how delicious it could have been. I ended up throwing it away and waiting until lunch to eat again but I wish I had just enjoyed experiencing something different. My daily routine did turn into going to a “people’s food” store front twice a day that was located just across the street from our hotel. I would go first thing in the morning for a bahn mi with a fried egg on top and again for lunch for a bbq pork chop with sauteed greens with garlic and rice (exactly what the author describes in the article above). I miss those days of being in the warm sunshine, eating a simple meal that cost less than 75 cents.

I cannot wait to go back to Vietnam (hopefully soon) and experience the food all over again but, this time, with a much better appreciation for just how special Vietnamese food culture really is.