Holiday foodsteps: Madrid

Spain, where I had the complete tourist experience - food, flamenco dancing, sights, gorgeous beaches, fantastic music and a trip to the police station. I left Spain 3 days later than scheduled with the usual Hard Rock Cafe pin as well as a nice tan for souvenirs but without my passports, my camera and a few other things. So while I'm still mourning the loss of my camera and my 600-odd photos, I shall revisit my trip to Spain (because despite the drama with which it ended, it was still one fantastic holiday) with the help of Hanad's photos.

With Spain, we really didn't know what to expect as it was pretty much book and go for us. Our first stop was Madrid where we quickly grew accustomed to the Spanish lifestyle - siestas between 2 and 4 pm, rows of tiny tapas bars, dinner at 10pm and the feeling that the city just keeps going way into the night.

Say Madrid and I think:

Tapas bars are quite the thing in Madrid with tapas being smaller portions of food to be shared over drinks. Toast is also a popular feature on these menus, often with a whole list of different toppings.

Galician-style octopus - octopus with boiled potatoes, olive oil and Spanish paprika. We enjoyed a good amount of tapas throughout our stay - fried calamari, empanadillas (which looked like little curry puffs), shrimp and of course, the classic patatas bravas which was surprisingly quite different from the version we had gotten used to in London. Seafood is fresh and the cooking simple and honest, the best kind.

Hanad digging into his delicious baby eel and shrimp toast whose physical attributes belied its taste.

Cava Baja is a good place to start if you're on a hunt for tapas bars - a whole street of tapas bars that come alive after 8pm.

Those delightful fried doughnut sticks dipped in thick, warm chocolate - what's not to love? With a bit of help from Google, we paid San Gines Chocolateria a visit for some chocolate con churros.

The chocolateria had received rave reviews on a host of websites and we weren't disappointed - the chocolate bittersweet, smooth and thick, it was good enough for us to slurp up spoonfuls of it. There's an addictive quality to churros as they're so easy to nibble on as you relax into a conversation over coffee. We sampled some other versions of chocolate con churros as the trip went on but the one served at this little chocolateria tucked away on the corner of a street wins hands down.


Yes, that's a wall of ham you're looking at.
Madrid is big on ham, and by big I mean an almost-obsession. No bar or restaurant seems to be without a leg of ham on display on the counter from which they carve thin slices to be served in anything from bar nibbles to main courses. I have to admit though, that they do know what they're doing when it comes to ham as every variety that I had the chance to sample was delicious - none of the overpowering flavour that certain Italian varieties have. I had absolutely no idea what a big part of the cuisine ham was until I was presented with a platter of different types of ham and sausage at our very first meal in Madrid.

The complimentary ham-chorizo-crisps combo at every tapas bar.

We discovered torrijas at the end of our stint in Madrid and I think it's really something that we would very much have preferred to have discovered earlier so that we could squeeze every bit of torrija out of our trip! Very much like a doughnut, the sweet bread has a crisp, almost shell-like texture on the outside and is extremely soft on the inside. Traditionally only served during Easter, Casa da las Torrijas is one of the rare few places that serve it all year round. In my opinion, all doughnuts should be made this way!

What's a trip to Spain without paella? One of our favourites was the squid ink paella which came very highly recommended. In general, paella in Spain is flavourful and never dry - something that really sets it apart from paella that we've had anywhere else. The rice is given enough time to soak up the wonderful flavours of the ingredients but with the moisture still locked in.

To market, to market

I have to admit, having the sun rise at 4.30am makes leaving the house "at the crack of dawn" a lot easier - it's the illusion that you're out at an acceptable time. After having failed the day before, we made sure we stayed up all night this time through some strategic cooking and movie-watching slots so by 4.45am, we were raring to go, even if it was only so that we could come home for some much needed shut-eye.

Billingsgate Market
Trafalgar Way
E14 5ST

Opening times:
Tuesday to Saturday, 5am - 8.30am

"We have to compete with the restauranteurs from Chinatown"

The streets were still quiet and the buses seem to only be filled with people who were heading in the same direction. As we drew closer, there was the unmistakable smell of the sea but I was promised that the market would be nothing like the wet markets we're accustomed to back home. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness and order amidst the morning hustle and bustle - boxes of seafood, fishmongers in huge white aprons and the sound of chatter. What struck me as most surprising was how accomodating and nice the fishmongers were despite the busyness of the market.

"Should be just take a whole box?"

One cannot help but be drawn into the scene and before we knew it, we were wide awake trying to decide on what we wanted to bring home with us. Choices are tough when aside from the usual fish, you've got mountains of different types of crabs, oddly coloured fish, enormous eels and shellfish of all shapes and sizes on display.

4 kilos of fish, 2 kilos of squid, 2 kilos of prawns and a bucket of oysters later, we hopped onto the bus home - content. Who would have thought, us, feeling completely at ease in a fish market at that hour.

Of anchovies and stinkbeans

The Malaysian abroad dreams of waking up to a nasi lemak breakfast - whether its brown paper pyramids of it or plates of it at the hawker centre, complete with piping hot fried chicken on the side. I take that back. Let's face it, the Malaysian abroad dreams of nasi lemak be it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea or supper. It's one of those things you grow up with and never grow out of.

That probably explains how Sapna and I found ourselves in the kitchen after midnight, roasting peanuts, frying anchovies and filling the air with the smell of sambal - the Malaysian dream. That, and the fact that we wanted to make sure that we stayed up all night so that we could make it to the fish market at the crack of dawn (yes, the things we do for food). Having gotten hold of some petai (stinkbeans) in Chinatown, we were most excited about the sambal petai, regardless of the aftermath of petai-eating.

I've always believed that it's the sambal that defines the nasi lemak and like with so many other local favourites, sambal is a matter of personal preference and that's the best part of making your own sambal - you get to call the shots. We went for a mix of sweet and savoury, with a tinge of lemongrass. The fusion of aromas was enough to transport me back home - the rice cooking slowly in coconut milk and the sambal gently bubbling over the fire.

A couple of friends, a large wok of squid sambal, some sambal petai, a healthy dose of roasted prawns and grilled squid, and those addictive condiments - it's not a roadside stall in the sticky Malaysian climate but it's close enough for now.

Pear crumble cake

As much as a love shopping for groceries at the supermarket, shopping for them online has taken dominance of late - the ease of clicking with none of the difficulties of trying to lug everything home, the only trade-off is the fun of stumbling across something new on the shelves. Another plus point for online shopping is that you can decide on recipes while you shop and this time around, the conference pears were simply calling out to me and since we couldn't decide on whether we wanted a cake or a crumble, we went for the best of both worlds.


For the cake:
100g sugar
115g butter
2 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
120ml milk
2 pears. sliced

For the crumble:
40g caster sugar
100g butter
120g flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
30g mixed nuts
30g oats

For the crumble:
Rub butter into flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the rest of the crumble ingredients and mix well.

For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
Cream sugar and butter, beat in the eggs one by one and stir in the vanilla.
Combine the flour and baking powder and fold into the butter mixture, mixing well.
Stir in the milk until the mixture is smooth.
Pour into a 20cm tin and layer the top of the cake mixture with the sliced pears before pouring the crumble topping onto everything.
Bake for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

I have to admit, I was quite delighted with how it turned out, particularly the cake portion of the thing. The recipe couldn't get any simpler, I thought, yet it turned out wonderfully soft and moist.

Because really, why pick when you can have it all?

Lemon-nut cake with lemon curd

With summer really starting to kick in, we wanted to go for something on the fruity side, something light and with a little zest. As we couldn't find poppyseeds on our trip to the supermarket, we decided to use mixed nuts instead.

Adapted from the Times' lemon poppyseed cake and ANELA's lemon filling recipes.

For the cake:
100ml milk

150g butter
150g caster sugar
½tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs (60g), separated
150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
Small pinch salt
1tsp mixed spice
1tbsp finely grated lemon zest
4 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup cornflakes
1/2 cup mixed nuts

For the lemon curd:
1 tsbp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsbp cornstarch
6 tsbp butter
1/2 cup white sugar
3 egg yolks, beaten

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
Bring milk to boil and set aside to cool.
Blend nuts and cornflakes.
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well.
Fold in the sifted flour, baking powder, salt and mixed spice, then fold in the lemon zest, milk, nuts and cornflakes.
Beat the egg whites until peaky, and fold through the mixture.
Pour into a buttered and floured 20cm diameter high-sided cake tin and bake for 40 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Lemon curd
In a medium saucepan, mix lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, butter and sugar, bringing the mixture to boil over medium heat. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly.
Beat egg yolks until smooth and whisk in a small amount of the hot lemon mixture.
Pour the egg mixture into the sauce pan, reduce heat to low, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens but do not bring to boil.

Pour mixture into medium bowl. Press plastic wrap onto surface to keep skin from forming as it cools.
Cool to room temperature and refridgerate for 3 hours.

As with most things in this house, the oven is slightly finicky - the temperature markers have almost been entirely rubbed off and the oven tray is sandwiched precariously (and tilted) between two metal grills. Little quirks which we never paid attention too (if it works, it works, right?) until 10 minutes into baking time when a little peek revealed that the cake, aside from having turned a lovely golden brown, had also become extremely lopsided.

Project Symmetry. With the analytic enthusiasm of an actuary, and the surgical precision of well, a surgeon, we tackled the problem of the lopsided dome.

Oh, how we tried, only to finally resign to the fact that as would-be-actuaries, we're not exactly the most creative when it comes to sprucing up a cake. Then again, pretty or not, the cake was quickly snapped up - delicious warm and with a generous helping of lemon curd.

Coconut-Cornflake Cookies

The gigantic box of cornflakes had become something of a permanent fixture for almost 5 months before we finally got around to opening it. It's somewhat bewildering, having 2kgs of cornflakes delivered to your doorstep - we'd always knew that it would never get opened unless it was for something other than your run-of-the-mill breakfast cereal purposes. Let's just say that when you've got a whole array of breakfast cereals peering down at you from the top of the fridge, plain cornflakes don't stand a chance.

The thing about studying for exams is, it just makes the longing to do everything else so much stronger - I had been dying to give some recipes a go so as soon as exams ended, we were at the supermarket, lists in hand, stocking up for all the experimenting that had been waiting to be done.

Recipe adapted from LG Burnett's Coconut-Cornflake Cookies
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups cornflakes

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celcius
Beat egg whites until stiff
Stir in sugar, salt and vanilla and almond extracts
Blend coconut and corn flakes before adding to the egg white mixture
Drop mixture onto ungreased baking paper
Bake for about 15 minutes

"Cookies, without flour?"
I have to admit, we were pretty apprehensive about this one, what with the sheer simplicity of the recipe as well as the lack of butter or flour. We decided that it would be best to pop in a small first batch, just to see how they turn out and boy, were we surprised at how good they turned out. Crunchy on the outside but chewy on the inside, the cookies (if one could even call them that) had character. Needless to say, we were convinced.

They reminded us a bit of macarons, with their almost spongy middles and should really come with a warning:

Highly addictive