The Menú del Día

One of the most appealing things about Spain is the food, as I’ve already described here and here. And the epitomy of Spanish cuisine is the Menú del Día.

The Menú del Día (or Menu of the Day) is offered by a lot of restaurants and bars. It typically consists of an appetiser (or primero plato), followed by a main course (or segundo plato), accompanied by bread and a drink. For the final course, you usually get a choice between a dessert (postre) or a coffee.

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Typical Menú del Día sign

But having the Menú del Día is like playing a game of Russian roulette. The result can be very good. Or absolutely disastrous….

The good…

If you look carefully, you can often find a Menú del Día for about 10 Euros, which is pretty cheap, considering what’s included.

I’ve had a couple of amazing selections. For instance, on Sunday, I went to this place, where I had a fantastic paella for an appetiser, followed by a hearty chickpea dish for main, and then a coffee.

And in Cuenca, I stumbled upon a bar in the main street which had a wonderful vegetarian stew for the first course, and a gluten free cheesecake for dessert. Plus a free glass of liqueur at the end!

But this paled in comparison to the homecooked Menú del Día which my friend Liz created. Her Menú consisted of salad for a first course, with chicken stew and tortilla for seconds, and then churros for dessert. Yum!


The bad…

However, let’s not pretend that everything is fine and dandy in Menú del Día land. It isn’t. Sometimes, try as you might, you end up having something which is both poor quality and overpriced.

My first Menú del Día fell into this category. I went to restaurant in my street, feeling proud of myself for supporting a local business. Whilst my first course (a soup) was nice, my second course (fish) had clearly been hanging around the bain-marie since the early hours of the morning, and was-how shall I put it?-a bit overcooked.


The ugly…

But even that pales in comparison to the infamous Toledo experience…

A couple of months ago, I went on a day trip there with my friends. The city was festooned with banners, proclaiming it to be the culinary capital of Spain. This got my taste buds working, and although it was only 11 o’clock when we got there, the Menú del Día was immediately on my mind.

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We had a look at a number of restaurants, and eventually decided upon one which was affordable and seemed to be incredibly popular (think queue snaking out the door).

After waiting 30 minutes, we were finally allocated a table. Except that it was for two people, not four. The waiter was not happy when we asked if we could have another table, acting as if it was a personal insult that we all wanted to sit down. But still, no worries. We looked at the menu, and made our selections. The first course was bad. It was spaghetti (FROM A CAN!) or chorizo soup (which was a gluggy mess of congealing bread and a single piece of chorizo).

The second course was little better- some kind of meat (????) accompanied by lukewarm chips.

But the dessert was the real tour de force. When we went to order, the waiter looked at his watch, declared that it was 3p.m., and thus, time for his break, and sat down at the bar to tuck into his lunch. Finally, one of the bartenders came and helped us, and our desserts arrived presently.

I had ordered ice-cream, and my expectations were low. However, even I was surprised when I was presented with one of those dinky little cups with the wooden spoon in the lid, rather than ice-cream in an actual bowl.

Still, it was what one would call a “learning experience.” And it’s true that the sub-par experiences make the best stories. I know I’m going to be dining out (boom tish-sorry, that was bad, even for me!) on this for many years…

My favourite place to eat (and the best toilet) in Madrid

When I first visited Spain 4 years ago (2012! Can you believe it?), the offerings for people like me with Coeliac disease were a bit limited. I could buy bread and pasta from the pharmacy (!), but that was about it.

Two years later, when I came back again, things were better, and there were lots of gluten free products in the supermarket.

But this time, things have REALLY improved, because a Spanish chef who has Coeliac disease has opened up two new cafes in Madrid which only sell gluten free products. This is the website.

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This is the cafe on Calle del Barquillo

And, miracle of miracles, the things there actually taste decent. Well, more than decent. I am scared to say it, but they are GOOD. This is a pretty major achievement, given that the majority of gluten free food has the taste, texture, and general appearance of a piece of soggy cardboard. Not that I’ve eaten soggy cardboard myself, but you get the idea…

Since a friend showed me these cafes on my fourth day in Madrid, I have been back five times.

The first three times, I had cupcakes, but then I decided to branch out with the lasagne:

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And the steak sandwich:

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Everything I’ve eaten has been great. Apart from the coffee, which is absolutely appalling. I guess I can’t have everything.

But all this pales into insignificance when we get to the pièce de résistance– the toilets. See, the cafe on Calle del Barquillo is next to a five star hotel, and because it doesn’t have its own toilets, diners are “forced” (although that makes it sound like we’re suffering here) to use the hotel’s facilities.

And let’s just say, they are somewhat palatial.

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Sneaky shot of the toilet entrance that I took yesterday.

In order to get to the facilities, you have to walk through a lobby, which is filled with comfy chairs and with bottles of champagne on the table (perhaps they know that the coffee in the cafe is undrinkable?). You then casually press a mirrored door, which opens to reveal this fancy pants bathroom, which is all posh tiles, waterfall taps, and expensive fittings.

It’s fantastic.

In fact, I would even say that it is worth visiting the cafe simply to use the toilets. They are THAT good.

So next time you’re in Madrid, and looking for somewhere nice to go (“to go”- see what I did there?), all I can say is, remember Celicioso on Calle del Barquillo 🙂

An ode to tortillas

One of the first things which people think about when the word “Spain” is mentioned is tapas. And whilst I would like to say that I have sampled a wide variety of exotic tapas, I must admit that every. single. time., I find myself ordering EXACTLY the same thing.

Tortilla Española, or Spanish Omlette, or Tortilla de Patatas.

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The weird thing is, I don’t like omlettes as they are typically made in Australia, with loads of eggs and not much else. I find them, well, too eggy, for want of a better word. But Tortilla Española is different. The eggs are mixed in with potatoes (and onions, although if you are a purist, you might argue that these are an unwanted “improvement”), then cooked gently to form an absolutely delicious concoction, which you can eat by itself, or with aioli, if you so desire.

Just writing this is making me hungry!

Tonight, my friend Maria (I’ve mentioned her in the “People I’ve met” post) and I went to  a fantastic bar called Malaspina, and they gave us some free tortilla as a tapas. Let me just say, I never say no to a tortilla, so when this came out, on its mouthwatering little plate, that was the end for me…

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The worst part of the tortilla craze is that I have now started buying pre-packed varieties. But what really makes this bad is that I buy them in bulk.

This unhealthy obsession began when I discovered that the 24 hour supermarket near me sells pre-made tortillas in packs. You chuck them in the microwave for 4 mins, and voila, they’re ready. At first, I was dubious about the quality (tortilla aficionado that I am), but it was surprisingly good. And, even better, each pack lasts for two meals!

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Consequently, every weekend, I find myself at the supermarket, buying the ready-made tortillas en masse because I’m too lazy to a) go out; or b) learn to cook for myself.

If “we are what we eat”, I will be returning to Sydney in the shape of a potato omelette….