Our food at Ojalá

If you want amazing Spanish food, you need look no further than your neighborhood bar or restaurant: while there’s a chance of a dud here or there, you can usually count on a sparsely furnished bar with plenty of tortilla, croquetas, fish, sausage, and beer to wash it all down. You’ll probably even be treated to the ambiance of pig haunches hung up on the walls and maybe a mural depicting a famous piece of art or scene in Spanish history. However, if you are looking for something entirely different in Madrid, you might want to try Ojalá Awareness Club in Malasaña.

 

You’ll notice the difference immediately when you arrive; the upstairs is entirely lit with neon green lights and full of vintage, funky decor. In a neighborhood already somewhat set apart for bars and cafes, this one still stands out. People will often be getting drinks or something light to eat upstairs, but if you have the option, definitely opt to take your meal downstairs.

 

After you are led down the windy staircase, you will arrive in a cave-like basement full of… sand. It is the closest thing to a beach that Malasaña has to offer. What’s more, you should leave the high heels at home because you will be seated on the floor on the wide array of fluffy cushions that surround the low tables. The room is lit with undulating red and yellow neon and old cartoons are silently projected on the wall while music of many varieties plays.

 

The menu contained both Spanish and more American style food, with many items in the 6-10 euros range. I went with a friend and we were both not too hungry so we split two dishes: the first was a salad with aged cheese and thinly sliced apples and a hazelnut vinaigrette on top, which was delicious and, while not large, hearty. The second was their tasting tray of appetizers: it had both pita and tortilla chips along with surprisingly good hummus and guacamole, as well as a fish/shrimp wrap. Together, they were delicious, light, and a nice departure from the basic Spanish tapas and raciones; I’ve missed thick guacamole in a country where it is often served more like a sauce than in the chunky style I’m accustomed to.

 

We arrived early (around 8:30 in the evening) so we got a great spot, but the place was packed by the time we left, so consider getting there early if you want a spot in the downstairs beach. Later evening drinks and breakfast are also served; check it out any time of day.

Ojalá Awareness Club

San Andrés 1

Malasaña neighborhood

Semana Santa – the Holy Week – is the week directly before Easter and is a big deal in Spain. Most businesses give their employees the religious holidays off, while some businesses (like mine) enjoy an entire week of vacation in which many people leave the city, often to travel or to spend it in their pueblo with family. However, if you find yourself staying in Madrid next week, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that about seventy percent of madrileños do not plan to leave during the Easter holidays, due to both personal reasons and because of the economic crisis still crippling many Spanish residents.

So, now you must be wondering, what’s there to do in a place that doesn’t celebrate hunting down candy-filled plastic eggs on the president’s front lawn? Head over to your neighbor’s house and tell them not to fret – together, the two of you can enjoy this year’s Semana Santa in Madrid (1-8 April).

Churches
The majority of the week (Monday-Thursday) will be relatively normal. But in the evenings, stop in nearly any church in town to see beautiful displays made with candles and flowers. Many of these churches will also have these displays brought out in processions to be held during the weekend.

Processions
The first important processions, Cristo de la Fe y el Perdón and Nuestro Padre Jesús de la Salud, will be held on Wednesday, April 4. You can find the latter on the Paseo del Prado and surrounding streets.

The most popular processions will be held on Thursday, April 5. The Nuestro Padre Jesús del Gran Poder y María Santísima de la Esperanza and the Jesús Nazareno y la Virgen de la Soledad will have huge crowds gathering to watch.

On Friday, April 6, you can expect to see three more parades, and on Saturday, April 7, you will see one last parade.

While Madrid doesn’t boast the same level of fame as our Andalusian neighbor Sevilla, you can see a parade very similar to that of Sevilla’s famous (or infamous?) Easter procession. It is called the Procesión del Silencio and it takes place in the early morning hours on Good Friday (April 6). During this procession you will see worshippers dressed in traditional robes and pointed hoods silently walking the streets of Madrid.

Food
Like any other festival in Spain, Easter comes with delicious treats that you must try. First up are torrijas – a sweet bread made with milk and cinnamon, perfect with coffee or for an afternoon snack. You can also enjoy various fish-filled croquetas, as Lent is still upon us. Or try out potaje de garbanzos a la madrileña, a chickpea stew similar to cocido madrileño.

Finally, on Easter Sunday (April 8), the drum band from the Brotherhood of Jesus from Zaragoza’s Villamayor de Gallego will be joined by the instrumental section of Madrid’s Congregación de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y Desamparo at 12pm in Plaza Mayor.

What are your Semana Santa plans? Will you be staying in the city or traveling?

Finding Fresh Air

March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Laura in What's Happening Madrid - (0 Comments)

An unwanted layer between city and sky

When looking at the picture I have of myself on top of the mirador of the Palacio de Comunciaciones  in downtown Madrid (visit! It’s pretty!), most people say things like “wow, you are so lucky to live in such a pretty place!” My friend who studies environmental issues, however, pointed to the skyline and said, “look, a little photochemical smog.”

Air pollution is, like almost every other city in the world, a part of life in Madrid. Yes, we have those beautiful blue skies, but sometimes our atmosphere (and our streets) need the cleaning that a good downpour can bring. But reports from local government state that air quality is better than a decade ago and, unlike many other cities, it is constantly improving with new environmental regulations.

If you’re particularly sensitive to urban air pollution, however slight it may be, here are a few easy ways to find the feeling of fresh air right here in the city center:

1. Spend time in Parque del Buen Retiro, which is large enough and far enough from streets to have significantly better air quality than the surrounding streets. This has the added benefit of being a beautiful place to spend time and exercise!.

2. Speaking of running, if you can’t make it to Retiro, try doing your running in a gym; runners take in much more air than a person at rest, which means you may prefer an indoor solution.

3. Choose your outdoor paths to avoid highly-trafficked roads. The worst air pollution is, predictably, near high-traffic roads, and so you can use your commute to find a less-travelled path to wherever you need to go.

4. If you must be out and about, shoot for early morning. An early morning run is slightly less problematic for your lungs because of the ways pollutants circulate during the day.

For more information about air quality, including a map that shows up-to-date air quality around the city, visit http://www.mambiente.munimadrid.es/svca/index.php

Want to save some of these?

Living in Madrid can be pricey, despite it being a relatively inexpensive capital city. Groupon, LetsBonus, Planeo. Do these words mean anything to you? If not, they should. These three websites are incredible ways to experience a city for a very low price, and now they are all flourishing in Spain. They all have the same premise – bringing you great deals on everything from meals to classes and new experiences.

Groupon – Through this website, I’ve purchased a watch that I wear almost daily (6€) and a set of ten yoga classes at a center in northern Madrid (19€).

LetsBonus – This site, a partner of LivingSocial, has brought me together with 100 of my favorite photos, printed on paper and shipped to my door, for less than 10€.

Planeo – I just bought a Mexican dinner for two for just 19€, which includes a starter, two courses, dessert, and four drinks. Toma!

At each of their respective websites (in Spanish), you can sign up for daily emails that outline the day’s details. Just specify your preferred city – Madrid, of course – and get ready to start enjoying! Thanks to companies like these, a lot of up-and-coming bars, restaurants, and even some of the well-known theaters are jumping on the discount bandwagon as a way to advertise and keep business coming in. Has a money-saving experience led you to a new favorite spot? Let us know!

My life in Madrid is nothing if not a quest for new experiences, specifically of the culinary variety. Thus, when a friend invited me to try an Indian menú del día in Lavapiés, I was excited despite having only eaten Indian food once in my life.

For one thing, Menú del día is a brilliant invention when you are very hungry. They exist all over Spain, so you’ve probably already seen them, but for one price, you get to choose a first course (primer plato), main course (Segundo plato – how unintuitive),  and then bread, a drink, and sometimes dessert. All this, for somewhere between 8 and 12 euros in the majority of places, and you are stuffed with food but also still have a few coins to rub together.

Lavapiés was a special treat though. The restaurants practically come to you, because many of them have a promoter out front to talk to you, and talk you into eating at their restaurant. My friend and I entered Anarkoli, a restaurant that typified the 5 or 6 restaurants on the street Calle Lavapiés right next to the metro stop Lavapiés (means ‘footwash,’ literally). The first thing we got when we sat down was an appetizer of round wafer-like crackers (think a crispy version of a flour tortilla) with a bright green, surprisingly sweet sauce.

Then we surveyed the menu options; be prepared for the menu to have stipulations, such as only being valid on weekdays for the midday meal; since my first Lavapiés Indian-food experience, I have bent these rules in some of the restaurants. When someone approaches you and tries to get you to choose a particular restaurant, ask if they have the menu del dia at that time; if it gets you in the door, they may say yes.

At Anarkoli, with the vegetarian (8E) or the regular (10E) meal, you can have a soft drink, a bottle of water, beer, or wine. Then you generally get to pick from entrantes, or first courses: many of the restaurants have delicious vegetarian or chicken samosas, fried pockets made of thin, wonton-like crispy dough. I tried an onion bhajee at Anarkoli, which is a crab-cake shaped patty of fried onion and spices.

Next comes the main course, which can be anything from Chicken Tikka Masala to Sag Paneer to curry. Many people order rice instead of the menu-del-dia staple, bread; I personally often order garlic naan, a soft and savory round of pillowy bread, and pile my main course on top. It doesn’t get any points for classiness, but it is quite delicious.

Finally, you can have coffee or dessert, which can vary but the menu often includes a sugar-syrup soaked pastry that tastes like coconut.  Another frequent choice is mango lassi, a yogurt smoothie that is my personal favorite despite being somewhat overwhelming for people who don’t like sweets as much as I do.

If you can’t get enough of the Indian cuisine, you can also go across the street after dinner to pick up Indian cooking supplies, like jars of masala or various kinds of rice, at the grocery stores that line that side of calle Lavapiés.

 

Anarkoli

Lavapies 46