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Eating and Drinking Well in Madrid
Spain's capital draws the finest cuisine, from seafood to rice dishes, from all over the Iberian Peninsula, but Madrid's most authentic local fare is based on the roasts and stews of Castile, Spain's mountain-studded central tableland.
With a climate sometimes described as nueves meses de invierno y tres de infierno (nine months of winter and three of hell) it's no surprise that classic Madrid cuisine is winter fare. Garlic soup, partridge stew, and roast suckling pig and lamb are standard components of Madrid feasts, as are baby goat and chunks of beef from Ávila and the Sierra de Guadarrama. Cocido madrileño (a powerful winter stew) and callos a la madrileña (stewed tripe) are favored local specialties, while jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Ibérico ham)—a specialty from la dehesa, the rolling oak parks of Extremadura and Andalusia—has become a Madrid staple. Summer fare borrows heavily from Andalusian cuisine while minimalist contemporary cooking offers lighter postmodern alternatives based on traditional ingredients and recipes.
Itinerant grazing from tavern to tavern is especially important in Madrid, beneficiary of tapas traditions from every corner of Spain. The areas around Plaza Santa Ana, Plaza Mayor, and Cava Baja buzz with excitement as groups arrive for a glass of wine or two accompanied by anything from boquerones (pickled anchovies) or aceitunas (olives) to raciones (small plates) of calamares (squid) or albóndigas (meat balls).
Sopa de ajo, garlic soup, also known as sopa castellana, is cooked with pimentón (paprika), a laurel leaf, stale bread, and an egg or two for flavor and texture. A warming start to a winter meal, bits of ham or chorizo may be added, while a last-minute visit to the oven crisps the surface sprinkling of Manchego cheese. Often eaten during Lent as an ascetic but energizing fasting dish, garlic soup appears in slightly different versions all over Spain. Caldo (chicken or beef broth), a Madrid favorite on wet winter days, is often offered free of charge in traditional bars and cafés with an order of anything else.
Cocido madrileño is a Madrid classic, a winter favorite of broth, garbanzo beans, vegetables, potatoes, sausage, pork, and hen simmered in earthenware crocks over coals. Estofado de perdiz is a red leg partridge stewed slowly with garlic, onions, carrots, asparagus, and snow peas before being served in an earthenware casserole that keeps the stew piping hot. Estofado de judiones de La Granja (broad-bean stew) is another Madrid favorite: pork, quail, clams, or ham stewed with onions, tomato, carrots, laurel, thyme and broad beans from the Segovian town of La Granja de San Ildefonso.
Asadores (restaurants specializing in roasts) are an institution in and around Madrid, where the cochinillo asado, roast piglet, is the most iconic specialty. From Casa Botín in Madrid to Mesün de Cándido in Segovia and Toledo's Asador Adolfo, madrileños love their roasts. Using milk-fed piglets not more than 21 days old, oak-burning wood ovens turn out crisp roasts tender enough to cut up using the edge of a plate. Close behind is the lechazo or milk-fed lamb that emerges from wood ovens accompanied by the aromas of oak and Castile's wide meseta: thyme, rosemary, and thistle.
The traditional Madrid house wine, a simple Valdepeñas from La Mancha south of the capital, is giving way to designer wines from Castilla-La Mancha, El Bierzo, Ribera de Duero, and new wine-growing regions popping up all over the peninsula. Traditional light red wines lack the character to properly accompany a cocido or a roast, whereas many of these new wines combine power and an earthy complexity capable of matching central Spain's harsh continental climate and hearty cuisine.
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