You would think that being on the verge of a bailout by the EU, Spaniards would be just a bit more conservative in their lifestyle and spending. But this just isn’t very apparent from what I’m seeing around me now. Sitting in a café in Plaza Mayor of Spain’s capital, Madrid, the many bars and cafes are as busy as it also has been, with locals and tourists alike sitting on the outside terraces enjoying the lovely 25 degrees summer sunshine, with a glass of wine, beer, or sangria in hand and some tapas casually laid out on their tables.
The Spanish lifestyle appeals much to me. The people are beautiful and passionate; Beautiful such that ¾ of the women here are taller than me with model figures, with lashes as long as faux ones, while hosting nice tans and sensual cheeky smiles; Passionate such that I would see at least 10 couples making out in public in the span of a day (with some unabashed gays and lesbians at that). We will probably never get to see such scenes in Singapore much because of the fear of being featured on Stomp, but if Singaporeans can’t have public displays of affection in public nor at home (as almost all youths still stay with their parents), I’d like to think that we are quite a sad bunch.
Superficial looks aside, the Spanish dining habits complement my lifestyle well too. Restaurants typically open for lunch between 1pm to 4pm, and dinner between 8pm to 11pm. And in the day, most shops close for a short break between 3pm-5pm, and we wonder why Spain is defaulting on its debt.
Anyhow, almost all restaurants and cafes in Spain offer 3-Course Set Lunches usually priced around 10 Euros (which is a steal given the portion sizes). Apart from the Starter (often as large as the Main) and Main, the 3rd course is usually a choice between Dessert (or Postre as it’s known in Spanish) or coffee. It’s also common knowledge here that a drink is included within the Set Lunch, with a choice of mineral water, a glass of wine, a mug of beer, a soft drink or a glass of sangria. Hence, I find dining most affordable here. And since portions are so ginormous, I think most people can get by by sharing 3 set meals between 4 people. So far, I have been trying my best to finish set lunches by myself, which has led me to slip into food comas for 3 days in a row now, where I have had to head back to the hotel around 4pm to sleep off the meal before waking up for dinner again.
One of the highlights of the Madrid leg of my Eurotrip is definitely dinner at Botin, which based on the Guinness Book of Records, is the oldest restaurant in the world today at almost 300 years of age.
Included in almost every Madrid guidebook, Botin is the place to go for an authentic Spanish traditional dish; Roast Suckling Pig. Roasted in a traditional wood-fire oven, a whole supple young piglet is then cut up and serves 2 and a half portions. So if you are a fan of suckling pig during wedding dinners, or have been to the highly raved about Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali for their Babi Guling aka Roast Suckling Pig, do head down to Botin and savour what the best really is like.
Though it opens at 8pm for dinner, there were already at least 50 people queuing outside at 7.45pm, most of whom had made reservations. While my family didn’t make any prior to coming, we decided to still give it a shot and prayed that some group had decided to ditch their reservations last minute. Miraculously, from what I witnessed, everyone else without reservations was turned away at the door (even a couple ahead of us) but somehow my family managed to get seats. Perhaps there really was a cancellation for a 5 pax reservation!
While the highlight is on the Roast Suckling Pig, Botin does a decent job with their Roast Chickens too, where the meat is kept succulent and juicy while the skin is really crisp.
For those with a huge problem with excessive sodium, they can easily settle for the Baked Sole, which is also rather fresh and tasty.
What I would suggest avoiding however, would be the Grilled Veal. It is cooked simply and thus tastes as such. They don’t even bother asking you how well you want it done, so I’m guessing well done is the default.
It wasn’t my idea to order Assorted Vegetables with Iberian Ham. It costs about half as much as a meat main, and is doused with lots of oil. Coupled with the salt from the Iberian ham, I think this really isn’t worth the future hypertension and stroke. Death by suckling pig seems more appealing than death by assorted vegetables, don’t you think?
I visited Botin again for lunch alone 2 days later for their Roast Lamb; the other of their signature dishes I had missed that night. And it was so tender and crisp, devoid of any gamey taste that I initially mistook it for the Suckling Pig! However, I still preferred the subtly more cripsy crackling of the piglet compared to the lamb.
Calle Cuchilleros, 17, Madrid
Metro: La Latina