Sunny Sexy South
Why life is more fun closer to the equator

Apr
14

For some time, I’ve been meaning to rave about a Mexican hole-in-the-wall taco joint called Mi Ciudad that my dear friend R., who is Spanish-Mexican, introduced me to a couple of years ago. The original site at Calle Fuentes 11 expanded to Calle Hileras 7; both are just south of Ópera. To me, the best taquitos are tinga and mole, but they have the usual pastor and even nopales. Their cebollita (onion marinade topping) is fabulous.

Then last year I happened upon the D.F. Bar near Antón Martín on Calle León 31. It’s just north of the Filmoteca (Cine Doré), making it the perfect place for an after-film snack. It´s supposedly known for its tortas (something I´ve never found that interesting, as they are too close to American sandwiches served on hamburger buns.  To me its tacos are not as good as Mi Cuidad, but this is compensated by the fact that have a very, very nice green tomatillo sauce which Mi Ciudad does not offer.

Another taquería opened last year at Calle Cabestreras 4, just across from Baobab Senegalese restaurant (which I reviewed here). It´s a bit more expensive than the others, but provides some consolation if the Senegalese is closed, which is frequently as it closely follows usual Spanish dining hours. Watch out for the disgusting taquitos de camarones, as someone has had the insane idea of adding little pieces of super low-quality pork (pesco-vegetarians be especially warned). When I first bit into one, expecting the pleasant smooth texture of shrimp I had the extremely unpleasant experience of ending up with a piece of gristle in my mouth. It was quite disgusting. Despite this, I am willing to recommend the place with some qualifications. The tinga is just as good as that of Mi Ciudad. The mole is perhaps above average – only a small hint of sweetness but strong flavors of chocolate and chile. Note that most of the tacos cost 2 euros instead of the standard 1.50, as do quesadillas (several types are available).

Aside from taquerías, every Mexican restaurant I’ve tried in Madrid is just tourist crap, rather like the sort of Tex-Mex cuisine that ruins it in the United States. Beware especially of insanely electric color combinations and so many Mexican artesanías that you can hardly turn around. But with these three taquerías you are guaranteed good-tasting, reasonably authentic and very reasonably priced food.

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Oct
18

A few nights ago I was remembering Tapapiés, last year’s gourmet tapas festival that offered a very nice alternative to the usual slab of crappy ham on a slice of baguette or overly mayonaisey potato salad you get at most bars. Since I hadn´t heard anything, I figured the 2011 event (see here) was a one-time thing. Today I was walking down through Lavapiés and saw the signs again; it started yesterday, which made me so happy that I immediately revised my dinner plans and managed to hit 4 places. As before, I´ll keep a running tally of what I sample through to the end (Oct. 28th) and then let you know my personal favorite.

Day I
La Inquilina (Calle Ave María): Ovni Noruego — 4 stars
La Grândola (C. Sombrerete): Pesto ao Bomfim — 3 stars
El Rincón Guay (C. Embajadores): Empanada Colombiana — 3 stars
Lamiak (C. de la Rosa): Bacalao Ahumado — 3 stars

Day II
Benteveo (C. Sta. Isabel): Mini-Lomito — 4 stars
Parrondo (C. Sta. Isabel): Langostino Kadayif — 4 stars
Alma Café (. Sta. Isabel): Canasta Griega — 3 stars

Day III
Fántastico (C. Argumosa): Pincho Babel — 3 stars*
Maisha (C. Argumosa): Beef Masala — 4 stars
Donner Kebap Argumosa: Samosa — 2 stars

Day IV
Teatro la Victoria (C. Sta. Isabel): Tinga — 3 stars
Eucalípto (C. Argumosa): Causa Limeña — 4 stars**
Ruedatape (C. Miguel Servet): Arroz con Pollo — 2 stars

Day V — the newly reinauguerated Mercado San Fernando which now has an organic/bio focus
Komoenkasa: Carrillada con setas — 3 stars
La Republicana: Tamalito + Pisco con canela — 4 stars
La Huerta del Sol: Abejas que Aman Ovejas — 2 stars (but this takes the prize for the most creative title)

*I won a free tapa here!!
**One of these stars is for serving the tapa on a paper plate instead of plastic as so many are doing.

Sep
03

A few weeks ago I boarded a flight to carry me away from Madrid to spend the entire summer, the first in five, away from Madrid´s sizzling heat.  Walking to the metro on my way to the airport, I thought back to my first post (here) about arriving in Madrid, over four years ago. I was toting two more big suitcases, close to the limit of what I can physically manage on my own. This time was the same, in reverse. I yanked the suitcases onto a subway car that was even more crowded, struggling to control them, and there again in front of me was a man’s clad foot which I couldn’t avoid wacking with one of my suitcases, particularly as he made no effort to move it aside. But this time he was ringed by 4 other men, 3 of them in suits, none of whom made the slightest motion to open space to accommodate my rather large load. I couldn’t help myself; my mouth opened and out came, “Y aquí tenemos 5 ‘caballeros’ mirándome a la mujer.” (And here we have 5 “gentlemen” looking at me, the woman.)

You see, it’s probably barely neutral when I dress to impress with the careful accessorizing so important to Spanish women – I must seem a large ungainly stork to them, albeit a nicely put-together stork. But when I’m actually doing something physical, like rollerblading, especially in a crappy T-shirt and sweat pants, as opposed to a form-fitting color-coordinated athletic ensemble, or, infinitely worse, man-handling multiple pieces of luggage, I can imagine they think I might as well be a man in drag. I simply cease to exist.

Spain demonstrates, toward me, much less enthusiasm than even Mexico, of all places, which at least manages a passionate love-hate relationship with its gringo neighbors. In Spain I rarely have any sort of identity beyond my tall, slender, fair-skinned appearance. I’m just a “güera”, meaning bland, as in white-bread bland. In Madrid I have completely failed in not only the romance department, but even in the casual relationship category. My appearance isn’t the only problem, of course; there are always going to be men who like my look, even if they are socialized from the moment they draw breath to like morenitas bajitas. The problem is that, despite all the hype in Spanish society about sex, as far as I could determine, there´s neither quantity nor quality. And that quite simply does not work for me.

I wish I could say it has been more fun that it was.  Sunny, it is, without a doubt.  But sexy, no, it´s just not.

 

Mar
29

Today’s general strike started out promisingly with this picture taken at sunrise this morning from the window of our flat near the Ronda de Atocha by Chema, a real live Spanish anarchist who’s my new housemate.

Here’s Sol during the main mobilization in the afternoon. It was a respectable turnout but lacking any of the energy from the Democracia Real Ya/15-M movement. The many red flags are from the CNT, the main labor union in Spain, which called to strike to oppose the labor reform due to become law. The right argues it will stimulate the Spanish economy by making it easier to fire workers.

UPDATE: The day following the strike, the labor reform passed into law.

Oct
29

Mexico wasn’t the first time I worked internationally, of course, as that was in the mid-80s in Nicaragua. But Bob was the one who discovered me stuck in an unhappy marriage in the wasteland of California’s Inland Empire, a place I in no way belonged, and packed me off to Tijuana to help out with one of his many environmental projects. That eventually led to my 5-year stint working on the border the first half of the ’00s, where I believe that a group of us from both sides of the border really did make a positive difference.

I remember the first trips to Tijuana in the mid-90s, sampling at the infamously polluted Metales y Derivados, in the maquiladora-and-slum hell that is TJ. And I remember the first night out in the cheap glitz of la Revo. Bob was renting a room in Tijuana at that time, but it was not long after that he moved to Ensenada and I moved in with R. in LA. Bob would sometimes stop to crash on our couch on the way down, but often enough just talked me into going along. His indiscriminant enthusiasm for anything Mexico was infectious.

It was a good five years later, after I got back from my second stint in Nicaragua, moved to the Bay Area, and started the job on the border, that we became close friends. There was his house on Whitney Street in North Oakland where R. and I eventually ended up living in ’05 and ’06, after he moved upstairs to the attic apartment. It was the last place I lived in California or the U.S., for that matter. There were endless dive bars, innumerable games of pool and music ranging from shitty punk at Oakland’s Stork Club to Paulina Rubia in the big stadium by the TJ bull-ring. There was whale-watching with him and A. and her guy; she got terribly sea-sick but we did see whales and they were amazing.

Bob could drink me under the table any time, and I’m no greenhorn when it comes to tequila. I could always plead the excuse of being the designated driver, but when it was a night at home, especially after he moved to the house north of town with the beautiful ocean view, he would quite simply do me in.

E. and I eventually browbeat him into retiring; I launched the campaign before I left the U.S. After E. and I discovered we’d both moved to Berlin in the same month (!) and became friends in our own right, he and I joined forces when Bob visited Berlin in 2007 (memories of E.’s squat near Frankfurter Allee and Bob’s discovery of the Absinthe Depot). He did retire soon after, at age 62, and threw himself heart-and-soul into the Ensenada scene.

The last time I saw Bob was back visiting Berkeley/North Oakland at the end of ’09. We decided to ring in the New Year with a big dive-bar tour, starting with our stalwart, the Stork Club, hitting bar after bar on the way up San Pablo Avenue, ending at the Hotsy-Totsy up in Albany. The requisite bad pool was well covered, but the Hotsy-Totsy, to which neither of us had ever been, turned out to not be the strip club I imagined. In the spring he finally sold the house on Whitney Street and dived 110% into the Ensenada scene. During my last visit to Northern California, a year ago, I didn’t see him, as he was doing one of his many long-term tours from Baja into central Mexico. I didn’t mind; he seemed so happy.

Those of us who lived or worked on the border were very conscious of the risk of being in that very dangerous part of the world. Bob’s many years in Baja finally added up. He was brutally murdered at his rental in downtown Ensenada last week, where he had just moved after years at the house on the north side. He sent me birthday greetings at the end of August, full of news about his new house downtown, planning to rent out the old one. The tenants, a young couple in their early 20s, have been detained in his murder. They have destroyed his life and probably their own.

But that won’t prevent those of us who cared for him (especially you, E. and A.) from guarding the memory of Bob, the altruist who tirelessly helped to bring the Ensenada bike path to fruition and continued to nudge the city on the path to sustainability, but at the same time, the hard-living man who should have by all rights partied himself into an early grave, as we all expected. He believed in Mexico when so many have given it up for lost. He was a gentle, kind soul on this earth which can so little afford the loss of such men. Que descances en paz, mi muy querido amigo Bob.

Oct
20

The Winner/El Ganador: Ruedatape y Algo Más (ceviche ecuatoriano)

The city of Madrid is billing it as the Primera Ruta Multicultural de la Tapa. There are 31 venues, each with a special tapa on offer. Tonight (the first) was a good start; already I’ve won a coupon for a free tapa. However, by 10 PM some of the places had run out, so tomorrow it’s probably best to start a bit earlier, especially as it’s the weekend. I’ll keep a running summary of the places I visited here in this post along with my rankings (1 lowest to 5 highest).

Day I:
Museum Café y Más, Calle Argumosa (sushi): 2 stars
Alma Café, Calle Santa Isabel (tabouli): 3 stars
Automático, Calle Argumosa (salmorejo con bacalao): 4 stars

Day II:
La Chulapa, Calle Dr. Fourquet (pelota sorpresa): 2 stars
La Casa de las Tostas, Calle Argumosa (payés de jamón): 3 stars
Il Morto Che Parla, Calle Salitre (macha a la parmiggiana): 3 stars

Day III:
Ruedatape, Calle Miguel Servet (ceviche de camarón): 5 stars
Achurri, Calle Argumosa (kepe con tapenade): 4 stars
La Taberna Encantada, Calle Salitre (pisto encantado): 4 stars

Day IV:
La Inquilina, Calle Ave María (papas con mojo): 3 stars
Maisha, Calle Argumosa (pantaras de pollo y verdura): 2 stars
Lamiak, Calle la Rosa (bakalao ajorriero): 3 stars

Day V:
Alabanda, Calle Miguel Servet (volcán alabanda): 3 stars

Oct
18

Something special is happening at the end of this month in Lavapiés. It’s a one-euro tapas crawl which they’re calling Tapapiés. I’ve got my eye, as usual, on the immigrant food. This photo is of a tabouli that Alma Café is offering. Then Chez Farida will have a lamb couscous and Maisha will do Indian fare. It looks like there are several offerings from the Canarias, which has a very nice cuisine about which I still need to learn more. And Lamiak is Basque. I’ll report back in a few days on what not to miss.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention another cuisine that I should have sampled long ago, which is Senegalese. This summer I tried the dish thiebou diene at Touba Lamp Fall (Calle Amparo 61). This savory rice dish with generous portions of vegetables and fish is a nice alternative to my usual cravings for Moroccan couscous. Lavapiés has a second Senegalese restaurant that I’ve yet to try, Baobab (officially at Cabestreros 1, which is on the far side of the plaza on Mesón de Paredes). It’s closed on Tuesdays and seems to keep typical (restrictive) Spanish restaurant hours. So whereas Touab Lamp Fall and my favorite Moroccan restaurant are almost always open when I might want to eat (be it at 2 or 5 or 8 PM), Boabab just often isn’t. Even with the tantalizing smell of food wafting through the air, I’ve been turned away, most recently at 5 PM. Takes the wind out of one’s sails, doesn’t it?

Oct
16

The Democracia Real Ya movement (which has come to be known as the 15-M for its May 15th start) cited the Arab Spring as its inspiration. With the Wall Street movement about to enter a second month [who ever would have thought?], during last night’s massive rally in Madrid, the Spanish were happily recounting how their movement had inspired Occupy Wall Street. El Pais, the national paper, reported it as “Sol ilumina medio mundo” (Sol lights up half the world). There were no untoward incidents reported in Spain and the mood last night among the hundreds of thousands who marched in Madrid was one of solidarity and determination. Many, many things are going wrong in Spain but a substantial part of the Spanish people is determined not to let their fledgling democracy fall victim to neo-liberalism.

Aug
07

Eating out for me in Madrid, as in Berlin, is mainly about immigrant cuisine. Prepared food can be quite a bit more expensive in Madrid than Berlin, I’d say by a factor of as much as two. Berlin’s a strange case, there’s no doubt; even though Spain is in such terrible economic shape, Berlin restaurants still manage to be cheaper. But in Madrid, certain immigrant cuisines provide the best value: Moroccan, as I’ve already blogged, and Senegalese, which I really need to further explore.

I can safely say my quality of life here in the last couple of months has gone up a good 25%; my friend R. finally shared the secret of the best Mexican restaurant in Madrid: Mi Ciudad at Calle Hileras 7. As soon as I step inside, I feel as if I’ve been magically transported to the California-Baja California border. The years of over-saturation and my vow back in 2005 or so, that I’d be happy if I never had to eat Mexican again in my life, are completely forgotten. I gobble down the taquitos de mole and tinga, happily sniffling as I’ve lost some of my tolerance for FUEGO in the meantime, and buy take-out for a couple more nights of left-overs. They cost only an euro and a half and two or three put me in a blissful chile-induced endorphin daze.

In stark contrast, Chinese restaurants are a horror in any place I’ve ever been in Europe, and Madrid is no exception. So it’s best to prepare Chinese food at home. The best Chinese grocery I’ve found to-date is Tian Ping Universal in Plaza de los Mostenses quite near to Plaza de España. It has a wide selection of East Asian spices and sauces as well as the usual canned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Its sign is only in Chinese, though, so just look in the doors on the plaza until you see a large grocery. Finally, in Spain, leeks (puerros here) are much more in evidence than green onions, which are hard to find. But if you’re persistent, eventually you’ll find a fruit/vegetable stand that carries them.

I’ll finish with a plug for preparing one’s own food here. Spain really excels with fresh fruits and vegetables throughout much of the year. The Almería region is full of greenhouses that provide fresh produce for Spain and much of Europe year-round. These, along with the fresh seafood (fish and shellfish), are absurdly cheap compared with my main point of comparison, Berlin. Basmati and other aromatic rices are relatively easy to find here (cheapest at the German supermarket chain Lidl which is ubiquitous here). When cooking Indian food, which I can’t recommend in Madrid, one can, however, pick up naan in Lavapiés, as the Indian restaurants do have tandoori ovens, in stark contrast to Berlin.

Jul
25

That’s why they call it Kilómetro Cero. On Saturday night hundreds of marchers celebrated the end of their journeys as they poured into the Puerta del Sol from all points of the compass, having marched some 600, 700, even 800 km over the last month or more in the burning Spanish summer.The press has taken to calling them the indignados, which I think is quite an appropriate moniker. The source of their indignation? A political system that has been reduced to the same two-party paralytic charade that the U.S. has suffered for over a century. And a European Union that seems more concerned with the status of its exports than with protecting the people in countries where the euro has been anything but a blessing.