Whilst 48 hrs in the capital is barely long enough to skim the gastronomic surface, I'll pick out a few of the food experiences that left an impression on me...
Something of an institution in the city, stumbling into one of these (which isn`t hard, they are everywhere), it would be easy to assume they were something of a tourist trap - akin the to the `all greasy batter and 18 pounds` BRITISH FISH AND CHIP restaurants that haunt Covent Garden. You would be mistaken. Hospital-bright strip lighting illuminates a floor littered with napkins and glossy with jamon fat. Locals bark orders of meat and cheese over the bar and plates of bellota are shaved off pig legs in the hands of seasoned ham pros. The bellota is as rich in flavour as it is triglycerides and washed down with 1.50 euro canas, the bubbling vibe is hard to beat.
...but Jamon is very much a castillian-wide phenomenon. For something specific to Madrid it's worth tucking into a bocadillo de calamares. For me, it doesn't work for the same reasons that North-English food legend 'the chip butty' doesn't work. Beige on beige. Soft bread and soft squid. It's all bite with no flavour and fart with no smell.
At a heaving bar in malasaña, peak dinner service at 11pm, we order a plate of pimientos. They arrive, a steaming heap - all burnt and twisted and puckered and ugly; coated with 18 carot rocks of salt. At first they scream of the unpallatable - a mild bitter flavour with a bone-chilling saltiness. To follow is that green pepper zing which always pushes you to the more friendly looking red and orange ones in Sainsburys. But somehow it all comes together in perfect savoury harmony and you find your self reaching for another, then another, then another...before you know it your inhaling them stalk and all and fallating the inside like Anthony Bourdain getting to work on a prawn skull.
Much like an episode of Andrew Zimmerns bizzarre foods...it can't all be good. What appears to be small fish stacked high on a tostado is actually Spain's answer to crab-sticks. Heavily processed Alaskan pollock cooked with garlic in large vats and then shredded to resemble the much sought after (and prohibitively expensive) Elver's (baby eels), Gulas is a nationwide favourite and a tapas and pintxo staple. Rubbery in texture with an unpleasant garlic hit, they don't get my vote. If the fish is too expensive, eat a cheaper one???
Looking ahead to wine country proper in the Castillian plateaus, I wanted to take this opportunity to sing the praises of the caña. With a quick flick of the wrist at the pression, the Spanish barman passes over to you what is, in my opinion, the perfect measure of beer. It delivers it's thirst quenching, brain calming objective without taking either too excess. I speculate that the British pint was a measure designed in a time when water was dirty and weak beer offered a cholera free alternative. In its current form, rather than being a hangover of the past it is a hangover in itself. Delivering a mind bending hit of 5 percent continental lager directly to the central nervous system and providing fighting and fucking fuel to the nation. Perhaps we should all take a leaf from the Spanish book. Somehow I don't think it will catch on.