The cookbook author and artist behind “Salad for President” shares her ultimate food and art guide to Madrid.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS all over Madrid hand-paint the year of their opening on their facades: “Desde 1890.” “Desde 1920.” It is a point of pride for those custodians of tradition — whatever era they represent.
My first encounters with Madrid were colored by a similarly romantic, sepia tone. As a young artist, I made a pilgrimage to the Museo del Prado (desde 1819) to view the masterpieces of European painting. The museum is home to Dutch still lifes as well as the “Garden of Earthly Delights,” a Where’s Waldo of sixteenth-century perversions. I stood slack-jawed in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” at the Museo Reina Sofia (desde 1992), and I was a fly on the wall in chapels where people prayed in the presence of real-life Goyas. I stumbled into tapas bars where the menus hadn’t changed for upwards of 100 years.
Despite its rich history, the people, fashion, and contemporary culture and art keep Madrid in a state of laid-back evolution. Design studios lie hidden behind towering, regal wooden doors in prewar buildings with glass elevators and idyllic courtyards, and contemporary galleries summon crowds to their openings, exhibiting never-before-seen work among the crown molding of another era. The more I return, the more I realize that unlike Rome or Paris, Madrid holds the past firmly with one hand while keeping the other hand free to dream up something new. Madrileños don’t kill their idols, they toast them. The same can be said about their approach to food.