I’m not sure what it is about the end of the school year that has me explaining Franco-based phenomena right and left. But here we are, with the second post in less than two weeks telling you about an aspect of Spanish culture stemming from the dictator’s years in power. While my feelings toward the man himself are all negative, I feel pretty neutral about the topic of the previous Franco-related post (eh, so it’s not dark at 10pm, no biggie); however, in this one you’re going to see a lot more positive emotion.
The object of my affection? Drum roll please…the menú del día! This relic of the Franco era is one of Spain’s true gems: an always-changing three-course meal (usually with bread and wine/beer/soda included) for around 10 euros. And all because the dictator required restaurants to offer such an option to provide affordable and nutritious meals to workers.
To this day, almost every restaurant offers this fixed-price lunchtime option during the week; typically, options for the first course, main course and dessert are written on a chalkboard outside of the restaurant to attract customers (and on their website and/or Facebook if the establishment is trendy and tech-savvy!) and then rattled off by waiters tableside (or sometimes printed if they have any mercy). Prices can vary, from 6 or 7 euros (usually outside of the major cities) to up to 20 or 30 euros at fancier restaurants, but your standard menú usually hovers around 10. These fixed-prices options are in no way a downgrade from the rest of the fare offered by any particular establishment, and are a great way to sample new restaurants without breaking the bank while filling up enough to barely even need dinner. Not only do traditional Spanish restaurants partake in the custom, but ethnic restaurants and funky new-age spots also join in on the fun.
You might be wondering why it has taken me until my ninth month in Madrid to tell you about this delicious culinary tradition. It’s not because I just learned about them. Oh, no. It’s because I’ve had few opportunities to enjoy them, as my one day off during the week seldom coincides with dining partners’ free time. Back in December I enjoyed an excellent menú featuring paella in Valencia, and just a few weeks ago I had a pretty tasty one at a Cuban restaurant here in Madrid. However, I’ve recently had the chance to enjoy two well above average takes on this fixed-price gem of a cultural tradition, and I thought they were worthy of their very own post.
Last Friday, I sat down to a delicious lunch at Maricastaña, a beautifully decorated restaurant located in the Triball neighborhood, lovingly nicknamed “the SoHo of Madrid.” There, for the low price of 11.50, I enjoyed the following, the highlight being the violet ice cream — fresh and floral, and as much of a treat for the eyes as for the taste buds.
Yesterday, as an end-of-the-year celebration with the English Department, I had the pleasure of eating at La Sidrería in Majadahonda, a restaurant with an Asturian name but a menu that serves fresh takes on dishes from all corners of Spain. For a slightly higher price (20 euros) than your average menú, you get more than a few bangs for your buck. My first course was hands-down one of the best salads I’ve ever had, with refreshing balsamic vinegar ice cream perfectly complementing sweet and acidic strawberries. Toasted almonds or hazelnuts may have made this excellent dish even more perfect.
Good food, good company, and a good price. As my grandmother says, “What could be bad?”