Bocata de calamares
Today is Madrid´s regional holiday. We conmemorate the popular uprising in Madrid against Napoleon´s troops, back in 1808. It seems odd to celebrate giving the French a bloody nose, now that we´re in the European Community an´ all, and hardly politically correct. But politicians like it. The right, because it´s a glorious moment in History. The left, because it was the populace that rose. The actual contemporary populace, because it comes right after the 1st of May, a national holiday, which makes it a nice little very long weekend.
It´s not a traditional holiday, being only in its twenties. So there are no traditions, other than driving back from wherever it was that you went to, and being stuck in traffic for hours. But that´s a pity, and should be remedied.
I think we should institute a pilgrimage to the Prado, to see Goya´s famous pictures about the event. You don´t have to see the whole museum, just amble in, see the mamelukes being dragged from their horses, see the moustachioed guy who´s about to be shot. Wag your head a little, reflect on history, argue wether it´s cyclical or progressive. Mention Manet, maybe, but only a little. This is a holiday, after all, so take it easy.
Now, the food. If it was a properly traditional holiday, with roots in the distant past, I´d tell you to have cocido. But since we´re making this up as we go along, I´ll tell you instead to walk down the Paseo del Prado to Atocha and have a bocata de calamares at el Brillante.
El Brillante is one of those bars lit with harsh neon, wallpapered with blueing photos of their specials. The air there is thick with fumes from the deep-fat fryers and the cigarette smoke, the floor full of toothpicks, sawdust, and crumpled paper napkins.
The bocata is a roll full of fried calamari rings, doused with mayo from a squirt bottle. The whole experience is more about, well, experience, than actual cuisine. Don´t judge the bocata on its merits alone, but on its place in the collective unconscious. Think of bites grabbed after a movie, or in themiddle of a bar crawl, or in the middle of a crazy Christmas shopping spree around the Plaza Mayor.
Even with that in mind, though, don´t forget to squirt it with lemon. And don´t eat it on a first date. It´s apt to splash fat everywhere, and some of the calamares will prove too chewy and strech crazily. Plus, you probably will come out of the bar smelling like you´d spent the last half hour inside the fryer.
None of which will matter if you´re washing it down with several cañas, the hand pulled beer as we like it here, with a lot of pressure, and ice cold.
After all that, you can wander around Malasaña, where it all happened two hundred years ago. Instead of hussars and lancers, you´ll find the bohemian bourgeoisie out for a stroll and some coffee. Much more comfortable.