Postcard from Madrid, Spain: ‘To market, to market….’

An earlier post makes it obvious we ate out in Madrid… a lot. But we atoned, somewhat, for that activity with light meals at our apartment. Learning where to find specific foods in a different country is an entertaining part of the overall adventure.

Searching for an ideal loaf of grainy artisan bread took us on numerous explorations of nearby neighborhoods. Accidental encounters resulting in totally different purchases sometimes happened along the way, including a gleaming “extreme chocolate” pastry and a dinner-plate size meringue that made their way back to the apartment.

The route to my favorite mercado for buying both bread and cheese passed through the narrow, tree-lined streets of Salamanca. Residences fill the top floors along the way, while ground-floor storefronts display the wares of designer boutiques. The tonier the boutique, the more shelf space allotted each individual item. Dresses hanging on racks are separated from one another by about a foot; each purse is distanced from its neighbor by the same; shoes stand individually on pedestals, as though fine sculptures perched in museums. Prices in the windows have a startling extra zero on the end. Well beyond my budget, but people in the fashionable neighborhood could be spotted actually wearing the designer outfits as they walked to join friends for afternoon pastry breaks or cocktails. Why, oh why, didn’t we snap a photo of the man in the red suit?

After finally ambling our way to Mercado de la Paz, we were rewarded with fresh, healthy and surprisingly inexpensive breads (if you avoid their seductive pastries) at La Tahona de Ayala and a tantalizing cheese selection at La Boulette.

Many a guidebook steers you straight to Mercado de San Miguel adjacent to the Plaza Mayor. The mercado is stocked with an amazing selection of expensive gourmet items, with most individual vendors selling tapas and wine that you could possibly manage to balance enough to eat and drink by aggressively elbowing your way to a shared sliver of a stand-up table. Almost every tourist heads there. It’s crazy crowded, so bustling busy I didn’t even pause to take photos of the appetizing displays.

Chased out of the too-successful Mercado de San Miguel, locals find refuge in the 70-year-old Mercado de San Anton in the trendy yet still rough-around-the-edges Chueca neighborhood. The new San Ildefonso Mercado nearby completely abandons any pretense of selling foods to prepare at home in favor of gourmet food stalls with enough elbow-room and tabletops to enjoy them.

Back in San Antonio, just returned from a 20-minute car drive to restock our larder at home. Convenient? Maybe. Fun and exciting? No. Sigh.

P.S. Okay, life here is not all that bad. In addition to snagging seasonally cheap fresh Gulf shrimp at my H-E-B, I bumped into a new item in the produce section – bags of padron peppers. Blistered in a little olive oil in a skillet and finished with some flaky pink Hawaiian salt (a gift), they transported me back to a stool in Taberna Maceiras….

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