My favorite way to share a meal is with a large table of friends, sharing ever-flowing plates of hot tapas and pitchers of rich, red sangria, stories and laughter flooding the atmosphere.
This was what I experienced while in Madrid, Spain last year, when a friend took me outside of the city to a small, dimly lit tapas bar to join 20+ of her friends in celebration of a birthday. Their tradition, which I hope to steal one day, is for the group to purchase a birthday gift for the guest of honor and he/she takes the entire tab. We ate for at least 4 hours, experiencing sobremesa, the Spanish term for sitting around a table post-meal and relaxing through conversation.
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While I haven’t visited Spain yet this year, I was able to virtually travel there with the fun, adventurous #DCTravelBlogger group this weekend at Jaleo in Crystal City. We indulged in multiple tapas and pitchers of sangria, sharing conversations on travel and personal stories as Head Chef Domenick Torlucci demonstrated how to make a few dishes. I arrived halfway through a demonstration of preparing Aceitunas ‘Ferran Adrià’, or liquid olives, which tasted like an olive soaked in olive oil with a hint of mustard which tasted citrusy once swallowed.
The meal continued with, my all-time guilty pleasure, jamón ibérico – paired, of course, with picos to munch on with the sangria. Following that were Camarones De Cádiz Con Huevo Frito, fried baby shrimp with a sunny-side-up egg on top that we cracked open and mixed. Delicious. My favorite dish was the Pan de cristal con salmon anumado y huevo duro, smoked salmon on top of crusty bread with a hardboiled egg, goat cheese, and capers in-between.
The chef also introduced us to asparagus cooked to perfection, drenched in a nutty sauce; a combination I’ve never thought of before. The Presa ibérico de bellote, or grilled boneless shoulder from an ibérico pig, was perfectly tender and juicy, the pairings exquisite.
The final entrée was, of course, paella, brought out in the usual group-sized pan and served hot. We ended with Torrijas Con Plátano Caramelizado Y Espuma De Ron (try saying that five times fast), which was like a melt-in-your-mouth caramel French toast with a creamy, addicting rum-flavored whipped cream and candied bananas on top. While this wasn’t the same celebration I experienced in Madrid, it definitely tasted and felt authentic. I highly recommend trying out Jaleo to get a taste of the culture in Spain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This post originally appeared on Elaine’s website and blog. Read the post here, titled “A Taste of Spain at Jaleo”. Elaine is a writer for Mezze Weekly as well as a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area. Her own studies, and experiences growing up and living abroad have given her a unique perspective on discovering and interacting with different cultures.