Of brunch, burgers and baos: Madrid’s ten-years-later approach to cosmopolitan dining

elektra-entrance
Guiri o’clock: Any time outside the Spanish lunch and dinner hours, i.e., the best time to get good tables. (Photo: Natalia Diaz)

“To be fashionable nowadays we must ‘brunch’. Truly an excellent portmanteau word…and indicating a combined breakfast and lunch.” – British Punch magazine, August 1896

“Spam, spam, spam, spam…” – Monty Python

*****

After living in Madrid for nine years, I’ve come up with a simple trendspotting formula for the city’s evolving gastronomic landscape: if it was big 10 years ago in New York and London, it will be yuuge in Madrid today.

I only need to gape at the always-packed gourmet burger joints like Goiko Grill and New York Burger, or the food trucks peddling burgers at Madreat with queues so long you’d think the burgers were laced with crack. I remember once stepping into one Goiko Grill branch with a couple of friends and being asked if we had made a reservation. To eat burgers. It was almost endearing.

And then there’s the bao (or baozi, meaning Chinese bun) craze that first hit the Madrid eating scene about three years ago (indeed, a whole decade after David Chang’s Momofuku pork belly buns made it famous, and almost two millennia after it first appeared in China during the Three Kingdoms period.) Michelin-starred and enfant terrible chef David Muñoz’ Streetxo made baos big here with its version called the Sandwich club  al vapor (or steamed bun) elaborated with ricotta and a quail’s egg. Within two years, bao joints have spring up, mushroom like, with Toy Panda, Bao Bar, Buns and Bones, Pink Monkey, Toy Panda and Ninja Ramen, just to name a few.

And speaking of ramen – I predicted this was going to be the next big thing in Madrid four years ago, after visiting Manila in 2013 amidst the ramen craze. (Yep, so in other words, Manila is still much more advanced in the global food scene compared to Madrid – at least with Asian food, for obvious reasons).

Spanish brunch, or “Sprunch

Which now brings me to the ongoing brunch craze.

Or as a well-meaning American friend said, why the fuck is brunch so popular here?

raw

To be completely honest, I have embraced this fashionable Sunday morning tradition among New Yorkers, ironically by way of my Swedish friend who introduced me to the guiri hipster temples of Carmencita’s and Federal Café, which are by far the most popular brunch places in central Madrid.

Though brunch is still buzzing and replicating itself around Madrid restaurants (with various permutations that include jamón), the tradition has a long history, albeit with fuzzy origins. Some food historians submit that it comes from the practice of Catholics fasting before Sunday mass and then hoovering everything on the table at midday.

Smithsonian magazine offers an interesting history lesson on the rise of brunch culture, and I quote:

“The tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas.”

In Madrid, the New York-style brunch craze is still definitely in full swing, though my Swedish brunch ambassador would posit that given their penchant for all day long Sunday feasting and drinking, Spaniards were already brunching (“Sprunching”?) long before it became de moda.

Elektra complex.

If poker night is a loadstone for bros, brunch places are traditional feeding grounds of female “i-skwads”. And so recently, my Whatsapp chat group was vibrating radioactively with plans to check out this new  brunch haunt in Barrio Chamberí called Elektra.

With chic interiors and dainty-with-and edge details like flower and skull print upholstery, me and 5 female friends descended on this new place to catch up on life over huevos benedictos and fruit plates. Elektra prides itself in offering “your healthy lifestyle” with dishes made from fresh ingredients and organic produce. (I don’t know how a tosta full on jamón iberico fits into this vision, but who cares, jamón is happiness.)

As we sampled the well-thought of and carefully crafted traditional brunch dishes, the verdict was  a unanimous ¡nos gustan!

Over the week, I decided to come back and try their regular lunch menu as well, so I tried their Velouté con setas, or velvet soup and mushrooms (creamy and absolutely excellent) and their Ollita de rapé y gambas, or pipkin of monkfish and prawns (also really good, especially if you like seafood).

Coming to Madrid in 2027

As my TL,DR meter is  now flashing a warning sign, I will now close with a bold prediction for the next big thing in Madrid in ten years: SPAM FRIES.

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Spam fries, watch for it in Madrid 2027!

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