A Foreigner Among Us—Talking to Strangers in Spain

Being a guiri means people in Spain find you curious at times, especially when you show up in unexpected places, like a bus stop in Vallecas. Here are some of my recent encounters with Spaniards who find me just a tiny bit interesting:


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Anniversary Dinner at Madrid’s Teatro Real

Madrid’s Teatro Real Restaurant was the perfect place for Mario and me to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Elegant, glamorous, and ethereally silent, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the royal theater and is itself decidedly royal.

The Teatro Real, or Royal Theater, was originally built in 1850 in front of the royal palace. It served as the city’s opera house and housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925. There were several periods of reconstruction, but the theater opened for good again 1997. It hosts opera, concerts, and ballet and is home to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Its many halls are decorated with works of art from the Prado and Reina Sofia museums.

Teatro Real Salón Naranja

The Salón Naranja is decorated with the portraits of Juan Carlos and Sofía

To enter the restaurant, you must walk through a few different salones, or rooms, all of which hhae a color theme.

Teatro Real Salón Verde

The restaurant itself is also magnificent. The starry ceiling replicates Madrid’s much-advertised cielo.

Teatro Real Restaurant Madrid

Source: Atrapalo

And although the restaurant has a capacity of 200, we were the only diners for a good hour! We ate early for Spain, at the elderly hour of 9 p.m.

We ordered the menú de degustación, which wasn’t really a tasting menu, but we got a good idea of what the restaurant does well. (Hint: most everything.)

To start we had a taco de salmón, with a bit of mustard and tarragon. I forgot to get a picture!

Teatro Real Restaurant Salmorejo

Next was perhaps my favorite plate of the night, salmorejo cordobés con virutas de jamón ibérico y huevo, salmorejo with shaved ham and egg . Salmorejo is a purée consisting of tomato, bread, oil, garlic, and vinegar, originating from Córdoba, Andalucía. This was breathtakingly good: creamy, tangy, and rich. The ham was obviously Iberian. I couldn’t stop telling Mario that I never wanted this dish to end!

Teatro Real Restaurant Esparragos

Next: espárragos blancos con huevo escalfado y aceite de piñones, white asparagus with poached egg and pine nut oil. There were also salmon eggs, perched atop. The egg itself was not salted, but once you bit into the salmon egg, it let out a perfectly juicy pop! of saltiness. The asparagus itself was perfectly cooked, and didn’t have the sometimes unpleasant texture of canned asparagus, which is a common dish in Spain.

Teatro Real Restaurant Fish

Now for the fish: corvina al horno con mejillones en salsa de coco y lima, oven-baked corvina with mussels in a coconut-lime sauce. The coconut and lime worked perfectly to complement the delicate taste of the corvina, and the onions were caramelized to perfection.

Teatro Real Restaurant Presa Ibérica

This dish was presa ibérica con mojo canario y patatitas confitadas, Iberian pork with Canarian mojo sauce and a caramelized potato.The meat was delicate, tender, and full of flavor, including thyme and sea salt. The mojo sauce went perfectly with the potato and the meat, giving it just a slight kick. After this dish, we were more than full. But there was still dessert …

Teatro Real Restaurant Dessert

Our dessert was light and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer’s day: piña colada en texturas, different textures of piña colada. There were dehydrated bits of sweet pineapple atop coconut cream with a pineapple sorbet underneath. Delicious!

Teatro Real Restaurant Chocolate Truffles

And lastly, just in case weren’t stuffed enough, they served us two decadent dark-chocolate truffles and candied orange peel. The chocolate was to’-die-for good, and the candied orange peel lent it just a hit of tartness and acidity.

All of this came with white wine to start and red to finish. The white was Fray Germán, a Verdejo, and the red was Ribera del Duero, Valdubón. The red was really quite full-bodied and rich, but as red-wine enthusiasts, we found it enjoyable.

Teatro Real Restaunt Couples

Here’s to one great year and many more! It was a meal worth repeating. (Next year, perhaps?)

¡Qué Calor!

Spanish word of the moment: calor, meaning heat. In Madrid, we’ve been experiencing an ola de calor, or heat wave. Temperatures have reached 38 C, 100 F, with no relief in sight. I know you sevillanos have us beat, but my mother used to say if there was one thing I hated, it was being hot. And sweating. Nowadays I don’t mind sweating that much—except at night. Is there anything less conducive to a good night’s rest than beads of sweat rolling down your back?

How to beat the heat (without central air)?

Fans, fans, fans.

Dog Fan

We have a large, industrial-size fan here. It was here when we moved in. Now I’m finding out why!

Buy yourself a pingüino.

Pingüino Aire Acondicionado

No, I’m not talking about the animal, although they are cute. I don’t really know why, but the nickname here in Spain for a portable air conditioner is pingüino.

Spray yourself.

Spray Bottle

I headed down to the nearest chino (your go-to-for-everything store, usually run by people from China) and bought myself a €0.90 spray bottle. I fill it up with cold water and spray myself every so often.

Head to a pool.

If you are not one of the lucky ones who has a pool in their apartment complex, there are public pools in Madrid.

Do not cook. Ever.

Since the school year is over, I have more free time. And since I’m abandoning Mario for a while in order to see my family, I decided to fulfill all stereotypes and cook him so food to freeze. (Mario often works from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and thus cannot go to grocery stores in Spain, since they are not open at those times). But this makes you hotter and hotter, and cooking while sweating is not relaxing.

Eat well.

Gazpacho Andaluz

Source: Spanish Sabores

Spain is known for its gazpacho, and gazpacho is a great way to use delicious summer tomatoes. Check out my fellow blogger’s gazpacho recipe. Some other great Spanish dishes include salmorejo, ajoblanco, escabeches, and mojete, among many more.

Cold showers.

Self explanatory.

I’m headed home on July 11, but not before Mario and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary this weekend! Can you believe it’s already been a year?

My Madrid Neighborhood: Arganzuela

Since we moved to Madrid, I’ve come to realize that mi barrio, my neighborhood, isn’t one of Madrid’s coolest or most coveted places to live. I don’t live in Malasaña, where hipsters ride bicycles and drink cañas in old men bars; nor do I reside in La Latina, with its bares de tapas along Cava Baja street; I don’t call Chamberí or Chueca my home; Salamanca is out of the question. My neighborhood isn’t even included on this map made for you to choose the best one to live in.

Where do I live, then? Arganzuela. (Metro: Arganzuela Planetario or Legazpi.)

What I love about mi barrio:

The green spaces. We live right next to two great spots for being active. Mario and I are runners, so the fact that just 100 meters from our front door lies Parque Tierno Galván is a huge plus. This park is home to the planetarium as well as the IMAX. The planetarium offers free activities throughout the summer, indoors as well as outdoors.

Madrid Rio

We also love running alongside the Madrid Río, a project that began when a section of the M-30 road running parallel to the Manzanares river was moved into an underground tunnel. The park actually is in several districts of Madrid, including Moncloa, Carabanchel, and Usera. Here you’ll find runners, cyclists, skaters, and tons of families. There are places to stop and have a beer or eat some churros as well! You can also run under the picturesque Puente de Toledo.

Puente de Toledo Madrid

The quiet. Perhaps I’m outing myself as a 26-year-old grandma, but I don’t care! I love sleep, and I love going to bed at 11:30 on a weekday and not hearing people partying, not hearing cars drive by, and not getting my sleep interrupted by anything other than the occasional sound of the trash collectors (who drive by every night around midnight). Sure, it’s not quite the same as living in Indiana where you hear the crickets chirp outside your window in summer, but it’s perfect for me.

El Matadero. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t quite get this place—or at least its art. El Matadero was once Madrid’s slaughterhouse (in fact, matadero is literally “slaughterhouse) and was used as a livestock market. It closed in 1996. In the last few years it’s been made into a cultural space dedicated to the arts. El Matadero houses numerous exhibitions throughout the year in its many buildings. In each of the buildings there are programs and services related to a certain cultural area: theater, design, visual arts, and literature.

Matadero Madrid

The prices. If you want to eat cheaply in Spain, Madrid is not your best bet—most of the time! But Mario and I have our secret little bar in our neighborhood where we can eat dinner on Friday nights for €11–€12—for the both of us! Sure, we’re not eating anything groundbreaking. But you won’t find a better empanada. And I refuse to pay €4 for one pintxo de tortilla (especially if served cold, ahem ahem).

Moreover, we have a two-bedroom apartment here for the price of a one-bedroom in central Madrid. Since I expect to have family and friends visiting from the States sometime, it’ll come in handy to have a cheap (free) place for them to stay.


The people. Ours is a family neighborhood. Apparently quite a few people from Zamora choose to live in this area, which obviously helps. But our neighborhood panadera (baker) is the friendliest around and always refer to me as reina or cariño. Nothing beats Midwest-style kindness!

Would I change anything?

Well, yes. I’d like to live a bit closer to a metro stop, and I’d like to have a frutería right outside my door. But we can’t have everything, now can we?

Where do you live? What do you love about your  barrio?