Tuesday, May 19, 2009

how about a day trip?

Another good thing about living in Madrid. To see truly magnificent relics of time, and escape the bustle of urban life, all one needs to do is hop on a bus or train for an hour or two, and there you are ... visiting a 16th century monastery , or a 13th century cathedral, or as I did this past weekend, a 1st century Roman aqueduct.

The aqueduct of Segovia, which lies in the capital city of the region by the same name in Castilla y León was used to carry water from the Fuente Fría river to the city for centuries. It continued to carry water to the Alcazar castle until just recently.

This was in fact my third time making the mini-pilgrimage. Needless to say, there were other factors motivating our trip to Segovia. My Catalan traveling companion had never been before. The San Isidro festivities were taking place in Madrid, and we were seeking a little refuge. There is also the Alcazar castle, which to my dismay did not inspire the Cinderella castle, the actual Disney inspiration lying somewhere in Germany, but could pass as a Spanish cousin.

We also stopped by the 16th century gothic cathedral.

But what was the real motivation for this adventure?

Cochinillo. Vegetarians are advised to stop reading here. Roasted suckling baby pig. A gastronomic tradition so treasured by Segovians that it merits a plaque. Tell anyone in Madrid that you're going to Segovia, and they'll ask you whether you've chosen where to have a cochinillo for lunch. The last time I experienced this culinary ritual, I was with my mother. To describe my mother in brief, she's most contented with a delicious salad and a glass of white wine. To her credit, she was surprisingly adventurous during her last visit, and didn't shy away from the plates of jamón, pulpo de gallego, and other such delights that I placed before her. However, the sight of the little baby pig face that was brought to our table side as the waiter sliced into it with a plate (so tender a knife isn't necessary) was too much for her. She held back gags as she watched her youngest darling daughter crack into the crunchy skin and relish in a plate of suckling pig.

This time around, we went to Narizotas, a restaurant in the city center that was recommended by a local Segovian. We barely looked at the menu, and opted for "el menu turística" that included a first course, wine, bread, dessert, and of course, the cochi. When the first course arrived, we were a bit taken aback. What is this red soup? Wow, those are the biggest white beans I've ever seen! But wait, what are those whitish-brownish chunks floating in a pool of red? Don't tell me... tripas! They had to be that poor pig's innards. There we were, sitting on a terrace, basking in the glorious Spanish sun, and I had to choose between manning up and giving it a try, or seeming a completely uncultured American tourist. I chose the low road. The road less traveled, if you will. And it wasn't so bad to begin with. The broth is delicious, beans are a bit unnecessarily large, but also yummy. Then, in the midst of 3 pm lunch chit chat, a silence fell upon our table. It was not a pause of ecstasy. We had both taken a bite of the mysterious other at the same time and were equally appalled by the strange texture, unlike anything I've ever tasted. It took a great deal of will power and slow breathing to continue.

The second course was much less of a surprise, the cochinillo being just as good as I had remembered it, with crunchy skin protecting the juicy tender meat underneath. My lunch date was not thrilled by it, and found his piece too overwhelmingly fatty. I can't say it's something I would ever wake up craving, but as in many foods in Spain, most of the fun is taking part in the traditions, which are ingrained in the culture. Each holiday, or festival, or region boasts a special food or drink. Although consumption is part of the pleasure, the ritual and gathering of family and friends is where the real importance lies. And I am always happy to form new bonds over plates of strange food.

An inventive dessert with a Spanish touch, coconut and saffron icecream, concluded the meal, and after a walk around the quaint streets of Segovia, we were back on the bus to Madrid. Another day well-spent and in good company.

Los Judiones de la Granja con sus Tropezones

Ración de Cochinillo

Helado de Coco y Azafrán

Don't worry ... no excursions this weekend. The salmorejo recipe is still coming... hasta prontito!

1 comment:

johanne said...

Hey Cait!
Needless to say that I'm impatiently waiting for your salmorejo's receipe! Meanwhile, I really enjoy reading your lines about the spanish way of life... As for the cochinillo, I expected the picture of a whole roasted piglet, but I guess that just a trozo is less scary to start with!

And...who didn't finish it's vino tinto?