Aug 5, 2013

Soul food, or the lack thereof

Because of getting stranded in London (see the post London cabby), my trip to Madrid last month was not off to the best start. It consisted of rushing up and down 8 escalators, through 2 airport terminals, 2 shuttle stops, immigration, customs, a 15-minute taxi ride, conference registration, and another 10-minute walk through the expo center in 90 degrees weather to get to the conference room where I was scheduled to present, exactly 74 minutes after my flight touched down on Spanish soil. I had about 10 minutes left to catch my breath, as well as attempt to fight back the outbreak of sweat from the previous 64 minutes.

Although not my best presentation on record, given the circumstances it went reasonably well, and with this out of the way I could start off fresh. I had been in Madrid once before, in 1992 while on Interrail through Spain and Portugal with two cousins. At the time it was a blistering 110 degrees, and our college budget allowed for a one night campsite stay only. This time around, I had two nights in a comfortable hotel with air-conditioning, and decided to try to experience some of the city's soul, rather than continue rushing as I had done through the airport. And what better way than to wander around and taste the local soul food, tapas.

I spent the first evening with a philosophically inclined Canadian radiologist, whom I met at a similar conference two years ago. His inclination makes for an entertaining evening, with soulful discussions about cultural differences between Canada, Europe and the U.S., the art of living and working, and the meaning of life (as Douglas Adams readers know, the meaning of life is "42", and I happen to be 42 years old). The restaurant, Ten Con Ten, served delicious dishes, but more Italian with a twist than Spanish tapas.

The second night was spent with a co-worker at a tapas bar on famous Playa Mayor. Its fame has turned the square into a tourist trap, and its tapas into something deep-fried and unrecognizable. 

With one morning left in the Spanish capital, I had one more opportunity to savor some of its soul food. Someone in Illinois had recommended the tapas bar Vi Cool, by heavily laureated two-michelin star Sergi Arola of El Bulli fame. GABROEN had recently seen the documentary about that culinary liquid nitrogen lab north of Barcelona, dubbed the best restaurant in the world. It showed the six months process that the El Bulli crew followed to create the menus for the other six months of the year. Although genius, the technical precision and military discipline seemed to come at a double hefty price: first, the sum of money one had to cough up to dine there, and second, the crazy culinary creations were devoid of soul. So when considering a soulful final lunch spot, I did not have high hopes of finding a memorable one in Vi Cool. I ended up there nevertheless, and am happy to report there was no liquid nitrogen or dry ice involved with its tapas menu. It was a modern twist on classical dishes, it was fun, and it was actually pretty good.

Spain is drowning in a deep recession, its touristy tapas are drowning in deep-fried grease, but Vi Cool and Ten Con Ten are symbols of Madrilean resilience and creativity, of modern twists to a classical city, perhaps of a new soul emerging. I sincerely hope they find their way out of the mess they're in.

1 comment:

  1. I've always wanted to go to Madrid. :)