Eating la Huelga: Shrooms, Bombones, Vino, Jamón

In support of the Huelga General in Madrid today, this writer is also going on strike. Happy Thursday, folks.

… or might have considered it, had someone’s decidedly uncivil disobedience not deposited a heap of smeared refuse at the crossroads of my street. Seriously, I’m all for (dis)respectful social protest, and I do think that the recent proposed EU labor reforms raise some legitimate concerns – I suppose it boils down to that I’m honestly a bit ashamed to have MP see my city this way.

I see that it’s probably a large part of the point – it’s embarrassing to think what the city would look like without the support of government workers. But something still stinks here, more than mere garbage. Shawn over at A Casual Notebook wrote up a great post with his perspective on the strike if you’re interested in further detail from another English auxiliar’s point of view.

Just like back in October, Gran Vía is temporarily cut off from traffic due to the announced march from Cibeles to Sol.

Since the huelga’s necessitated a rescheduling of our flight to Naples, we view this as a bit of a gimme day in Madrid, and take the opportunity to leisurely roam and munch. Private businesses on the whole do not appear to be on strike – makes sense, given the huge extra customer base wandering the streets today. Our first stop is Pouss Café in Chueca, where we coffee and blend with the color scheme.

All public transport today is running at bare minimum, which is fine with us – we’ve got to walk if we’re to build up a continual appetite (it’s beginning to be a theme, here). I propose we visit El Mercado de la Paz in barrio Salamanca, to which I’ve only been once prior in an investigative expedition to the cheeses of La Boulette. The goods are pricey, attractive, and gourmet – perfect food nerd browsing.

MP zeroes in on a high-end Spanish product stall near the entrance, replete with bags of dried mushrooms and burlap sacks piled high with legumes. The row of glass jars filled with scarlet pimientos asados ends with a squat set labeled “Pimientos de Cristal” – bingo! For those not keeping score, these are the same unbelievably smoky peppers we opened with at La Manduca on Monday. Honestly, we’re not even sure what we’re going to do with them, but it seems obvious that we require them in our arsenal.

Pepper perusal leaves us hungry for shrooms, and we scoot back into the heart of Chueca for what’s perhaps my favorite restaurant in all the city: El Cisne Azul.

The specialty here is obviously mushrooms; the listing of “setas” takes up half the menu, although the availability varies significantly based on season. However, we decide this time around that El Cisne really focuses on foraged ingredients more than anything else. I notice a ración of percebes on the bar – much like the Hawaiian opihi, these barnacle-like crustaceans grow on tide pool rocks just where the waves are most constantly breaking. There’s also wild asparagus and cauliflower on the menu, and we hone in on the salad of “pamplinas.” The waiter explains that it’s a wild herb that’s in season right now, and I’m totally sold.

A bit of in-phone Googling suggests its English name might be chickweed, and its mildly sweet leaves are perfect teeny platforms for olive oil and pepper flakes. An herbaceous opening is just what we require as a first, because –

– our second is clearly a plate of sauteed shroomies, complemented simply by the runniest of yolks. We’ve done the Boletus and Niscalos before, so this time go with Lepistas. Their savory stems are particularly toothsome.

A kind guy at the bar munching percebes and swilling a glass of white offers to snap a photo of the fearless duo. It’s good to be a regular.

We fancy coffees and a spot of chocolate post-fungi, and MP knows just the spot.

In the far northern reaches of Chueca, Cacao Sampaka takes its chocolate seriously enough to have an entirely separate menu showcasing its variety of over fifty distinct bombones. We select a pair each: cinnamon/clove/nutmeg and coco-pineapple (MP), plus coffee/cardamom and parmesan cheese (myself).

The rich dark sweetness coating all four inspires us to select a pair more from the list, a “picante” square that ends up being the most subtly spicy one could possibly imagine, plus a lovely one infused with rosemary.

We’ve coffeed but somehow still are up against a slump – a siesta looms imminent. MP has taken up residence in my flat this evening due to the unexpected delay in plans, so we hoof it back to Anton Martin and crash out like sleepy sardines in my twin bed.

The nap is just the thing; an hour an a half later has us feeling fresh and ready. I’ve arranged vague plans to meet up with friends of mine for drinks tonight, so we troop valiantly northward once more.

With Sean we do Diurno, where the tinto de verano is made special with granizado de limón. We talk Portugal, Ireland, and magnifying glasses.

Sean has class in the evening, so MP and I head to café-wine bar La Ida for a round of Ribera. We’re awaiting James, a friend of mine who’s gotten held up by the severely reduced huelga metro schedule. Eventually, we decide we must depart if we are to reach our final stop this evening in time to make it back to bed for a few REM cycles, and I text James our new destination: Sula.

Sula is a bit of a strange place. Very upscale in design, although not nearly as stark as La Manduca. Bottles of Dom are prominent on the wall.

We skip the bubbly and request a Madrid-made tinto, which turns out to be quite good. The paella tapa is replete with chorizo, and also tasty.

But we’ve come for the ham.

“Joselito is my life” – Ferran Adrià

This brand of jamón iberico de bellota (specialty black-hoof pigs, fed exclusively acorns, the whole shabang) is favored by big namers like Joël Robuchon, Juan Mari Arzak, Andoni Luis Aduriz, and Ferran Adrià himself in their own restaurants. We need it.

We taste, and we savor. But, and however. Honestly? It’s fabulous – it’s jamón iberico de bellota – but we don’t notice any massive difference between the meltingly complex saltiness that is Joselito and the jamón that we enjoyed in Poncelet a few nights before. No complaints whatsoever; it’s magnificent. But definitely not mindblowing.

The metro does finally pull through, bringing James along with it. He enjoys the wine and jamón with us, and offers giggles and further Portu-stories. I’m extraordinarily fortunate to be able to call happenstance co-workers such good friends of mine, and I love being able to introduce them to MP – think she has a ball with them as well.

Certainly looks that way.

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One thought on “Eating la Huelga: Shrooms, Bombones, Vino, Jamón

  1. You ladies always have such a good time especially when you stay home. Janel, I really understand why your mother has fun with your friends.

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