Is it just me, or do you sometimes feel more connected with your national roots as an expat than you ever did in your homeland? As an American, this sensation manifests itself in weird ways too: celebrating holidays like Flag Day (seriously), coloring Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, and line dancing.

Yes, you read that correctly. Country line dancing. Here in Madrid.

Not too long ago, I discovered a country western festival happening out at a ranch called El Encuentro near San Sebastián de los Reyes (about 20km north of the city of Madrid).

I went, I saw, and I was utterly amazed.

I also found out that the ranch hosts line dancing and dinner on weekends. I filed the experience under the category “I can’t believe this happens in Spain” and vowed to return.

A couple of weekends ago, I made that inevitable trip back to El Encuentro, where every Friday and Saturday night a crowd of dedicated country-lovers gathers. Friday, a little more beginner-friendly, Saturday, slightly more advanced. With my group of American friends, we went on Saturday, certain our cultural connection with country would elevate us to advanced status (haha!).

Decorated with Native American paraphernalia and American flags (some more appropriate than others), the ranch-style house fit the part. Then, the “authentic American” dinner menu almost hit the mark with its long list of hamburgers, Grand Canyon nachos, and ribs. Never mind the random mention of croquetas and jamón (I can hardly go a day without them, how can I expect the Spaniards to either?).

After filling up on hamburgers that tasted more like meatloaf than anything else, the line dancing began. Spaniards – dressed in cowboy hats, belt buckles, flannel t-shirts and of course cowboy boots – took to the dance floor like professionals. We Americans just watched in awe, clearly lacking both the commitment and skills.

A few notes of Achy Breaky Heart, though, and our love of cheesy country tunes overcame us. Mostly, we had no idea what we were doing, and just hoped that our American-ness would compensate. Truthfully, though, looking like fools never felt so good. Still can’t believe what you’re reading? Head over to my blog where I’ve got video proof of all the country line dancing awesomeness (apart from me dancing – please!).

Hitchhike, horseback ride or make friends with someone with a car – do whatever it takes to get your booty out to this joint to experience the American tradition at its finest…in Spain. You won’t regret it.

 

Honky Tonky at El Encuentro

Camino viejo de Barajas s/n.

Ctra. N-I km. 23- salida Algete

28700 San Sebastián de los Reyes

Madrid

Tel.: 91 623 68 82

Mov.: 600 428 945

Brunch Fix in Madrid

November 29th, 2011 | Posted by JLynch in Food and Restaurants | Jamie - (0 Comments)

After several years in Madrid, one of the things I really miss about home is Sunday brunch. There are a few places I have tried out in Madrid that serve this delightful meal, but they are either far too expensive or only serve brunch on Saturdays.  I am happy to report that this past weekend I found my new go-to brunch spot in the Conde Duque neighborhood in the form of Toma, a cute little American-inspired café (the chef is a fellow American).  It is refreshing to see a place with an American touch that is not in the heavy-handed form of a 1950´s hamburger diner (we have much more to offer to international cuisine, Spain).   

The deal is this: for €18 you get a generous plate of assorted pastries (think Danishes, mini doughnuts, etc.), a choice of coffee or tea, a choice of a mimosa, orange juice or bloody mary, and a choice of main dish. Main dish options include (among other things), eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, French toast, an omelet, and something called a “Mountain Breakfast.” I had the breakfast burritos (two corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese topped with guacamole…YUM), and Raúl had the eggs Benedict. The eggs Benedict were good but had a distinctly Spanish flair that my American brunch palette was not expecting (jamón serrano instead of Canadian bacon, and a hunk of regular pan instead of an English muffin); true brunch-purists might want to opt for another plate.  With the exception of the French toast (which comes with a side of fruit), all of the other plates come with these absolutely delicious roasted potatoes which, together with the bloody mary, were the highlight of our meal.

Rounding out the experience was the great overall feel of the restaurant. It definitely had a bit of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn vibe, from the chill music and laid-back retro décor to some of the clientele, which when I was there included several customers sporting the popular Williamsburg accessory of ironic nerd glasses. It felt just like home and I loved it!

Next time you have one of those Sundays that only a bloody mary can cure, I highly advise a trip to Toma.  Sunday brunch is very popular there, so reservations are highly recommended. 

 Toma

Calle Conde Duque, 14

Macedonia Fruit Café

November 26th, 2011 | Posted by Courtney in Food and Restaurants | Guiri Guest - (1 Comments)

Guiri Guest Laura is a recently-arrived English Language and Culture Assistant. She graduated from university in the Spring and is exploring the options that Madrid has to offer for her varying interests in fiction writing, Spanish, teaching, and Journalism. She is from the United States and is still figuring out all the little things that Guiris have to master to become true expatriates in this city.

*****

It’s a corny dream, to be sure, but I’ve always imagined that if I moved from the small-town environment in which I grew up to a big bustling city I would discover a little café, a coffee shop or something, where the waitress would know my order and just nod to me and start making my food and drink.

In Madrid, I found this in the form of Macedonia Fruit Café. Like many other breakfast spots in the city, it offers breakfast specials that include tea, coffee, juice, along with pastries, toast, or sandwiches. However, unlike many of the places I’ve seen, it sells free-trade coffee and products from Intermón Oxfam, a non-profit committed to fair wages for the people who produce the products it sells, as well as educating the public about poverty and fighting to end hunger around the world.

The café has a cute, bright feeling and is done in oranges, yellows, and greens that make the walls look as fresh as the fruit that decorates everything; there is even a bar with a glass top that contains a rack of (hopefully) fake apples. A small cup of fresh juice can be acquired for one euro, and a full range of snacks and smoothies are available.

My favorite food there, hands down, is one of their breakfast specials, el desayuno Macedonia: for €2.30, I get a drink of my choice (my go-to is café con leche, but you can get a tea or a macchiato or what you will) and tostada con tomate, a big piece of artisan bread toasted with olive oil and tomato on top. Perfect at just about any time of day, I have eaten this so many times now that the woman who habitually runs the café just raises her eyebrows when I walk in and asks, “Macedonia con café con leche?” I generally just nod, unless I happen to be in the mood for a juice or a slice of cheesecake.

Macedonia Fruit Café is located near Chamberí on Calle Miguel Angel, and you definitely should check it out when you are in the neighborhood, but this post is more a tribute to good waiters and waitresses and bartenders everywhere than just to this particular spot. Wherever you live or work, it’s worth the trouble to find a place with a good coffee or a cheap beer and get to know the people who run the place, so that you can greet them with a grin rather than just a request. You can make a new friend and turn a random spot for a coffee into a little home.

Macedonia Fruit Café

C/ Miguel Ángel, 24

28010 Madrid

Guiri Guest Stephanie Dosch has lived in Madrid’s bohemian Malasaña district since 2005. Originally here for a one-year Master’s program, she fell in love with the city and never left. Stephanie is an English teacher, tour guide, and writer. Check out her blog theViatrix to read more of her expat adventures, from making tortilla to eating her way through Logroño. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

After six years, it’s strange to look back on my first months in Madrid and try to remember what they were like. For one thing, back then my life revolved around balancing my Master’s program with going out too much, whereas now it’s all about paying the bills and day-to-day living. In addition, the fact that I came here straight out of college means I’ve spent my entire adult life in Madrid. Things that strike newcomers as strange, mystifying, or even absurd, seem totally normal to me now.

But there are a few things that spring to mind when I examine how my attitudes and overall Spanish experience have changed over the years—apart from the fact that I recently married a Spaniard and now have honest-to-God suegros. That’s a big one, but the rest are a bit more subtle. Here are five ways Madrid has changed me.

I eat a lot more

I’m not talking about quantity; in fact, in terms of portions, I eat a lot less. Rather, I’m much more adventurous about trying things than when I first came, and now enjoy things I swore I would never put in my mouth. Morcilla? Get in my belly. Octopus? You better hide, little cephalopod. Pigs’ ears? Bring ‘em on (in small quantities). I’ve even learned to love jamón-flavored potato chips, and the world of marisco gets broader every day.

There are a few things I will probably never get into, like sheeps’ brains, or tuna on pizza. And I’m still not really good with raw tomatoes, but I’m working on that.

Buying things has become and adventure

Here’s how I used to shop for pretty much anything:

  1. Go to Target.
  2. Purchase item.
  3. Purchase a million other unnecessary items because they have everything.

Here’s how I now shop for anything other than clothes and everyday groceries:

  1. Figure out what the thing I need is called in Spanish. Scour the Web to find a few different versions in case the shopkeeper doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Also look up any related descriptive vocabulary.
  2. Try to think of the place where I’m most likely to find the thing I need, and scour the Web for any potential specialty stores.
  3. Get on the metro and go to the first option. If it’s a small shop, make sure to say hello. Tell the clerk what I need. If they don’t know what I’m talking about, describe it. Wait for them to tell me they don’t have it. Ask if they have any ideas where I might be able to find it. Make sure to say goodbye.
  4. Repeat Step 3 ten times or so. Become slightly obsessed.
  5. Either give up and decide I can do with out it, or bask in triumph when I finally find it by tweeting, calling my husband, and perhaps doing a victory dance.

Walking down the street stresses me out

This is a huge pet peeve for me, so I could easily rant about people who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to chat or check email on their phones (really? you can’t move over to the side?); or people who expect you to move so they can ride by on their bikes (hello, empty street where vehicles are supposed to go!); or people who don’t clean up after their dogs (I don’t care if it’s good luck—it’s gross). Heck, I could even go off on the inconvenience of parking posts. But I will restrain myself.

Spaniards love to complain about “las prisas de Madrid”—how everyone’s always rushing around in this city. Why is it, then, that I’m constantly yelling at people in my head while trying to walk down the street? I remind myself that the paseo is part of the culture here, but I can’t help it. I don’t walk to walk. I walk to get somewhere.

I know I’m not alone in this; just the other day my friend Susan was complaining about the same thing. “You would think that after all these years I’d be used to it,” she said, referring to Madrileños’ apparent inability to move to allow for passing fellow pedestrians. “But it bothers me now more than ever.” Me too, Susan, me too.

I’ve learned how to loosen up

For all the stress of shopping and walking in Madrid there’s a leisurely meal or relaxed glass of vino with friends to remind me why I love it here. The easygoing lifestyle is one of my favorite things about living in Spain and it has come to permeate all parts of my life, from running errands—I’m much more patient about waiting in lines and have learned to work around businesses’ weird schedules—to sense of humor—I’m way less concerned about keeping it PC. [Side note: Don’t get me wrong, certain comments and attitudes still appall me. (Seriously? You can’t find any actual black men to play Balthazar at Christmastime??)]

The big one, of course, is free time. I’m practically forced to take it easy on Sundays because there’s nothing else to do that day. Everything’s closed. No errands possible. Okay, that’s changed over the years, but the attitude sank in before the stores started opening on Sundays (yes, I’ve been here that long), and the mindset stuck. Best are the long weekend lunches that turn into carajillos at a café or cañas on a terraza, run into a tapas dinner, and end up in a bar at 2 am. I love those days.

Spain has taught me to prioritize

Related to long lunches and relaxing Sundays, perhaps the attitude I’ve most come to appreciate is Spaniards’ work-life balance. At first, my American upbringing made it hard to come to terms with the fact that I’ve pieced together an income, rather than having a steady job and a set career track. But I make enough to pay the bills, go out with my friends, and travel a couple of times a year. I never feel bad about taking vacations—which is good because my husband, true to Spanish form, would never dream of giving them up. I’ve learned that I really don’t need the newest, fastest, shiniest things that the US always told me I did (not to mention the low-carbiest, fresh-smellingest, double-dutiest…). And you know what? When I walk down the street, look around me, and reflect on my life here, I always think, “I’m so happy.”

 

What about you? Can you relate to any of these? What things have you come to love/hate/learn about Spain—or about your life here? Comment below or head over to theViatrix to drop me a line!

One of the most exciting things about living in Madrid is that there seems to be a new shop, bar or restaurant opening up every single day. In order to support local merchants (and/or because we get lazy sometimes), Raul and I are always keen to check out the latest additions to the neighborhood. Recently we discovered a new Latin restaurant on Calle Barquillo in Chueca called La Candelita.

Our first impressions of the place were extremely positive. We had been there before when it used to house El Diablito, and the change is extreme. I cannot even begin to imagine the investment that was necessary to achieve such a drastic and stunning makeover to the large, long space.  Decorated in lush, tropical colors with soft lighting and vibrant details, the setting could not be more inviting.  The large bar area in the front leads to a sizable dining area in the back with plenty of tables to accommodate both large and small groups.

Upon being seated, we were provided with a drink menu and a food menu, noting that the former was significantly longer than the latter. With its lengthy, creative drink list and its Venezuela-inspired food selection, Raul and I knew we were onto something.  Instead of getting entrees, we ultimately decided to share a few of the appetizers (there was a much larger selection of tapas versus main dishes, and they all sounded good). We particularly loved the degustación de arepitas (an assortment of baked cornmeal “pita-like” pockets with various fillings, including black beans and rice, and shredded beef) and the tequeños (loosely translated from the menu by me as rods of white, Venezuelan cheese covered with crunchy pastry dough, aka a sort of Venezuelan mozzarella stick), accompanied by a nice sweet and salty dipping sauce.

Upon reflecting on our meal, we decided we will undoubtedly return (and soon), but given our affinity for copas and tapas, we will likely opt to sit in the bar instead of the main dining area. Since we were more drawn to the starters (and have been known to enjoy a good cocktail now and again), and the bar has such a great vibe, our whole experience could be enhanced from that end of the spectrum.  I have also requested one of my Venezuelan friends to try it out and give me the always-appreciated native authenticity verdict, so look out for further feedback on this place down the line.

La Candelita

Calle Barquillo, 30