the mystery pastry of el riojano

Crossing calle Mayor and wiping away the breadcrumbs still clinging to the corners of my mouth, I find myself yet again intrigued by a window. Only this time it’s pastry, exhibited like fine jewelry in a boutique display at El Riojano.  What could better follow a pair of ham sandwiches than a bite or two of flaky pastry? I don’t get much browsing time in the mahogany and marble decorated shop however: it’s time for siesta, and the elegantly turned out ladies of the shop seem more interested in shuttering up for the afternoon than explaining to me what’s what.  So I quickly opt for something that looks strudel-like and non-threatening before paying at the register and returning to the counter to collect my goods. Ushered into the street, I try and figure out what I’m about to eat.  It looks like a fruit filling of some kind but I can’t distinguish it by sight.  Nor by taste, it turns out.  It’s sweet and flaky and buttery at the same time with a hint of almond and the clean taste of said mystery fruit, but I honestly haven’t a clue what it could be. Beyond delicioso, that is – which is all I ultimately care about.

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mmm, mollejas

Show up in the Huertas neighborhood of Madrid at noon in search of almuerzo and you’ll be severely disappointed.  Lunch may be the main meal of the day in Spain but, like dinner, it begins much later than American appetites are accustomed. Oh, there are loads of tapas bars, snack joints, and fast food – especially in Huertas, the most buzzing, culturally rich (and noisiest) of Madrid’s barrios – but for a proper sit-down meal you’re going to have to wait, as I reluctantly did. Starving and strolling the cobbled streets of Barrio de las Letras, the Barrio of the Letters within Huertas where many a great Spanish writer once lived, I eventually darkened the door of La Vaca Veronica at half-past one to find that I was the only person at the restaurant. An empty restaurant in Madrid, however, is less a barometer of the kitchen’s quality than a sign that you’re just really, really early, I soon discovered.  By two o’clock every table was full and I was halfway through a gorgeous plate of mollejas, or sweetbreads, and onto my second glass of Tempranillo. For dessert I couldn’t pass up a plate of Manchego, which came with local honey and membrillo – the Spanish quince paste that’s practically a national snack.  Suitably sated – and still just a little bit jet-lagged -  I walked back to my hotel intent on taking part in another national custom, the siesta.

 

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