Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cocido Madrileño in Old Madrid

Behind its gloss of 21st-century chic, Madrid reveals itself as an imperial capital of dazzling Baroque monuments and atmospheric warrens of narrow streets. No dish is more emblematic of this old Madrid than cocido madrileño – a comfort meal of delicate soup, earthy vegetables, chickpeas, smoky meats, and sausages, perfectly suited to the measured pace of a family lunch.

Few dishes stir such primal nostalgia in the hearts of Madrileños as cocido. This is the soul food of the Madrid de las Asturias – the old city that sprawled out from the Puerta del Sol under Habsburg rule between 1561 and 1665. The dish can be sampled at its traditional best in the ancient taverns below Plaza Mayor, so little changed that it is easy to imagine Velázquez tipping a lunchtime glass during a break from painting royal portraits.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s principal square, abounds in historic buildings and sidewalk restaurants
Tradition and ritual not only define Spanish dining but infuse every interaction that Spaniards at leisure have with their capital city. To fully understand Madrid, follow suit, perhaps by capping a morning in the Velázquez and Goya galleries in the Museo del Prado with people-watching from a café table in Plaza Mayor. In a similar vein, no visit to the lavish rooms of the Palacio Real is complete without pausing to admire the statues and fountains in the Jardines de Sabatini surrounding the royal residence. On Sunday, Parque del Buen Retiro is full of families watching puppet shows or rowing on the lake, and Madrid’s restaurants come alive with diners enjoying the social and gastronomic pleasures of cocido – the dish that everyone’s grandmother used to make. This hearty stew is a winter favorite, though it can be sampled in many of the city’s restaurants throughout the year.
Some of Madrid’s cocido restaurants are oldfashioned folksy establishments where the stew simmers in earthenware jugs. Others are fine-dining icons where this working-man’s hotpot – itself derived from a stew devised by Spain’s Sephardic Jews that could be cooked slowly and without human intervention on the Sabbath – achieves an elegance and formality that belies its origins.
Cocido is served in three courses of increasingly intense flavor: first the savory broth with slender noodles, then a plate of toothsome chickpeas and boiled vegetables, and a final plate of hearty meats – heaps of sausages, pork, roast beef, chicken, slabs of bacon, and chunks of ham. The result is a taste of old Madrid and one of the most bounteous and filling dishes in Iberian cuisine.

Cocido madrileño traditionally includes a mixture of salt meat, fresh meat, and smoked sausages, made tender by slow cooking

Best Places to Eat Cocido Madrileño
La Bola Taberna
Cocido has been a menu centerpiece since this beloved tavern opened in 1870. In the early days, the Verdasco family (who still operate La Bola) served three versions: a noon stew for laborers, a 1:00 PM version with stewed chicken popular with students, and the full-fledged cocido with mixed meats and pork fat at 2:00 PM – a favorite of politicians and journalists, according to newspaper reports of the era. The restaurant still prepares cocido by letting it bubble slowly in colorful ceramic casseroles over oak charcoal in ancient stoves.
As a nod to modernity, service for small tables is in two courses – soup followed by vegetables and meat together. However, it is common for at least half of the taberna to be occupied by groups of a dozen or more, enjoying the complete three-course presentation on white tablecloths in the wood-paneled rooms. La Bola also serves a celebrated version of callos, Madrid’s signature tripe dish.
Calle Bola 5, Madrid; open for lunch daily, dinner Mon–Sat;
Also in Madrid
For a refined cocido experience, try the glittering upstairs dining room at Lhardy (www.lhardy.
com; expensive), which first opened its doors to diners in 1839. A less daunting meal can be had at Taberna de Antonio Sanchez at Calle Méson de Paredes 13 (+34 915 397 826; moderate), which offers miniature cocido servings as a tapa.
Also in Spain
A regional variety of cocido found throughout Andalusia, cocido andaluz uses Arabic spices (mostly cumin and saffron), fresh beans, soft squash, and spicy sausages. One of the best is served in the city of Jaén at the Parador de Jaén (; moderate). In Galicia, cocido gallego pairs the region’s famous pork and veal with turnips, potatoes, and white beans.
Around the World
In Portugal, a variant of the stew, cozido à portuguesa, can be found in most restaurants in the city of Coimbra, such as Zé Manel Dos Ossos (+351 239 823 790; inexpensive).
It differs from Spanish cocido by including Braganza cabbage and several varieties of smoked sausages, and using rice and beans instead of chickpeas. In Brazil, the national dish, feijoada (see pp320–1), is a South American adaptation of Portuguese cozido, with black beans, pork ribs, and dried beef.
A Celebratory Dish
Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to grow sugar cane, and there is no denying the Spanish penchant for devouring a special sweet themed to each holiday. The biggest celebration in the city honors Madrid’s patron saint San Isidro with a nine-day fiesta centered on his feast day, May 15. Pastry shops fill their windows with the special buñuelos de San Isidro, an intensely sweet pastry deep-fried until crisp and injected with a creamy custard that spurts out on first bite. Celebrations include parades, concerts, and traditional dance performances, as well as the corridas (bullfights) at Madrid’s Moorishinfluenced Las Ventas bullring – a huge red-brick edifice decorated with ceramic tiles. Impromptu bars spring up along the main streets at night to sell what the Spanish call “minis” – big plastic cups of beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
A Day in Madrid
When Madrid became the capital in 1561, Spain’s monarchs went to work transforming the sleepy regional city into the gleaming seat of the crown. From monumental plazas to broad boulevards, and masterpieces of Spanish art to elegant garden parks, their legacies remain some of the most engaging sights of the city.
MORNING : View wondrous renditions of the royal family by Diego Velázquez in the Museo del Prado – created when the crown transferred much of its collection to this public museum. Then stroll the gardens of the Parque del Buen Retiro, once a royal retreat.
AFTERNOON : Ringed with cafés and restaurants, Plaza Mayor has been Madrid’s central gathering spot since it was completed in 1619.
Leave this bustling realm of the people to spend hours getting a glimpse of the royal lifestyle in the Palacio Real.
EVENING : Dress for the red carpet to attend a concert, recital, opera, or ballet in the Teatro Real, the 19th-century jewel-box concert hall ordered by Queen Isabel II.
Getting to Madrid
Most international airlines fly into Madrid- Barajas Airport, 7 miles (12 km) from downtown.
There are buses, metro trains, and shared and standard taxis to the central city. Use the fantastic metro to get around the city.
Where to stay in Madrid
Hostal Macarena (inexpensive) has spacious but simple rooms near Plaza
Hotel Moderno (moderate) is a gracious family-run property.
Husa Hotel Paseo del Arte (expensive) is a sleek, stylish hotel near the Reina Sofía art museum.
Plaza Mayor 27; +34 915 881 636;

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