Zimmern Does Madrid

August 19, 2008 at 12:49 am

Originally posted at Edible TV on November 21, 2007.

Bizarre FoodOn a recent episode of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Food, host Andrew Zimmern showed us something truly amazing.  It wasn’t some fetal monstrosity from Southeast Asia nor was it the pickled eye of anything you would ride through an Arabian desert.  No, the remarkable gift from Zimmern was a tour of Spain’s capital city, Madrid which included a visit to what is believed to be the world’s oldest continuous restaurant, Casa Botίn.  Guinness Book of Records says that Casa Botίn first opened its doors in 1725.  1725 is just a number, to help illustrate how old Botίn is consider that they started dolling out vittles over half a century before the signing of the US Constitution.

Zimmern takes the viewer on a site seeing tour through culinary history as he parades 21st century cameras around the 18th century restaurante in the city on the banks of the Manzanares River.  The kitchen is the same as it was three centuries save for modern conviences like electricity and lights.  However, many of the kitchen practices have remained unchanged since Senor Botίn first opened his little eatery.

Zimmern is there to taste the house specialty, roast suckling pig, that is prepared using a 300 year old recipe.  Before sampling the piglet, the host tries another of the ancient menu’s offerings, Angulas – baby eels which run about $150 per portion.  After three hours of roasting, Zimmer is presented with a whole sucking pig.  He starts at the snout (literally) and eats his way to the curly little tail.  He completes his visit to Botίn with baby squid stuffed with tentacles and ham that is braised in its own ink.

Before the episode ends, Zimmer visits several different tapas bars (tascas) on what is called locally a “tapas crawl.”  The evening’s offerings include crunchy pig ears, stewed snails, pulpo gallego (grilled octopus), and finally bull’s tails all at La Zapateria.  From there they head to another tasca, Taverna de Antonio Sanchez (which first opened in 1830) where they gorge themselves on Callos (tripe with blood sausage).

No visit to Spain would be complete without criadillas (bovine testicles).  Zimmern purchases two pair of very fresh cajones at Mercado del las Pas.  While they are being prepared he treats himself to a snack of hueva de maruca (fish egg jerky) before engulfing the criadillas which are prepared by frying them in pork fat.  He then visits Museo del Jamone (museum of ham), a ham bar, which are to Spaniards what Starbucks is to Americans, gives a true tour of great Serrano hams including Jamón ibérico, the world’s finest ham and head cheese.

A visit to La Trianeia, one of the great seafood restaurants in Europe, provides Zimmern a glimpse at the amazing seafood of Madrid.  He starts with percevas (gooseneck barnacles), prawns, spiny lobster, giant Mediterranean snow crab, Madagascar shrimp and turbot soon follow.  The show moves onto Barcelona and Catalunya including a tour of the world’s best restaurant El Bulli, but the tour of Madrid was for me an eye opening experience that has changed my thinking on Spanish food.

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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