Madrid: Don Quixote, Plaza de Espana and Royal Palace of Madrid

Day three in Madrid.

This was going to be a much well planned day for sure. I got the day’s plan all well mapped out the evening before. This time I know where to go, for how long and most importantly what to eat!

In Barcelona, we attempted to get a table at el Bulli. That ALMOST materialized but ended up having a very interesting meal in Alkimia. In Seville, the big dinner was in La Alqueria which is a restaurant owned by el Bulli serving past year’s favourite. In Madrid, we had also planned for a big dinner and day three is the day for that.

We were very well rested too. That was so important because we were gonna explore more of Madrid by foot this time rather than going into the subways.

So with a second wind, we woke up bright and early.

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I guess it was way too early. Not many restaurants were opened and if they were, the choices were simple. I am guessing that this is the time for the Spanish FIRST breakfast.

Yeah, these smart people sure knows how to eat. The Spaniards have up to SIX meal times (see my post here).

We choose this restaurant solely on one criteria … there was no one smoking in here.

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So we just had churros and cafe con leche for the FIRST breakfast. It was cafe con leche almost every morning we were in Spain and we never got tired of it.

It was a really quick breakfast eaten by the narrow counter against the wall. We were dying to get out of there because … well, people starting coming in and started to smoke.

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This time we explored west ward on Gran Via and headed to the Plaza de Espana. This part of Gran Via seems different from the part we were in where there were a lot of shops, mostly fashion. This part seems more “corporatey”.

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We wanted to see the monument on this large square. Right in the middle of the square is the monument to … (more…)

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Madrid: El Rastro, Plaza Mayor and Chinese Food, Finally!

We were totally exhausted from the day before. We had just taken a train from Seville to Madrid, visited two museums and then went to bed late because we wanted to soak in the air of festivities on a Saturday night in feisty Madrid. There are so many things happening that we just did not want to retire to the hotel early.

Compared to Madrid, Vancouver does seems like a ghost town. So we have our Granville Entertainment District but it is nothing like what we see here.

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With another exciting day ahead, we woke up early. The traffic was really light on Gran Via. I think it was because it’s Sunday morning and most people would have still been sleeping after partying on the Saturday night before.

It was a good respite too from the heat. The morning air was surprisingly chilly. Most restaurants are closed but there were a few that remained opened.

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We decided to just go to the restaurant that was just around the corner of our hotel. The name of that place is Zahara and it is quite spacious. It does seems like a tourist restaurant because most of the customers we see are tourists. And a lot of them are American tourists too, or so it seems to us from the way they are dressed and their English.

The waiter spoke very good English and so we had no problems here. We were asked if we wanted to be seated by the bar or at the table. It appears that it is cheaper if you eat at … (more…)

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Madrid: Art Museum and “Ham Museum”

It was slightly after 2 PM when we finished the meal at McDonalds. We could have taken it easy for the day but that is not like us.

We are typical kiasu Asian tourists who would rather run ourselves to the ground going to as many places as we can rather than just laze around. Yeah … vacations to beach resorts is such a waste of time to us.

So, 2PM is a long way to 10PM when we will go back to the hotel to sleep. Until then there are lots of things to do.

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We hoped onto the Madrid Metro again. The Madrid Metro is very extensive and is one of the largest in the world. They run underground for the most part and is pretty clean and well maintained. We felt safe using the Metro and that is the important thing.

The Madrid Metro fares are simple. It is 1 euro for a one-zone fare. Most of our travelling was within the inner core city zone and so it was pretty much 1 euro each trip.

We headed back to the Atocha station which was where we arrive at the train station just a couple of hours earlier.

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It was a Saturday afternoon and on Saturday afternoons entrance to the museums are free. So we got to do the museums on that day.

We first headed to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. It is a long name but we just call it the … (more…)

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Seville to Madrid on RENFE’s AVE High Speed Train

Last day in Seville.

We woke up very early. We had to catch a train to Madrid later on in the morning, and we wanted to go have breakfast in one of the neighborhood restaurants.

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There are many such sidewalk restaurants all over Seville that finding one is very easy. The problem is getting back to where we came from. You see Seville is a very old city. It is at least 2000 years old … yes, it is founded at about the time of the birth of Christ.

So it is a very unplanned city. Maps are useless here. We get around by walking in circles and trying to spot landmarks to know the general direction. Yes, we got lost quite a few times and asking for directions is quite hopeless too because not many people speaks English here.

We decided to take a short walk to the Alameda de Hercules which is a delightful tree lined plaza. It is quiet in the morning but at night it is busy. At each end of the long plaza was two tall columns bearing the statues of Hercules and of Julius Caesar.

Not knowing which is best, we went to the oldest looking restaurant we could find. It is called the Badulaque. In the cold crisp morning we wanted to sit outside but did not.

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You see, people smoke a lot in Spain. It was bothering us and so we decided to move indoors. This place does not speak much English too but it was not much of a problem. After 10 days already in Spain, we know enough words to get breakfast. Words like cafe con leche, jamon, tosta …

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Cafe con Leche everywhere in Spain … (more…)

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Continuing The “Cultural and Gastronomic” Vacation Series of Spain

Better late than never. LOL!

Suanne is so tired of asking me to finish off writing the our “cultural and gastronomic” vacation to Spain last summer that she doesn’t say it anymore. She just bump the drafts of these posts right up to the top of the queue just to remind me, it’s there.

Last summer we had a great time in Spain. “Last summer” as in 2009, not 2010. We toured three cities. Barcelona, Seville and Madrid. That trip opened our eyes to the Spanish culture and how the world could have been different today if the English Armada did not destroy the mighty Spanish Armada … o de otra manera estaría escribiendo esto en español.

La Boqueria on La Rambla
La Boqueria on La Rambla

We started off in Barcelona the Barcelona series here. There was not a lot of planning on our part for the trip. I was so busy at work that I only got to think about this a couple of days before leaving Vancouver. Yeah, that created a bit of anxiety on Suanne part.

We made the trip using the company’s travel passes which is one of the best perks I had. The trip costs less than $500 per person and it included flights and hotels too. Can’t beat that, can you?

Christopher Columbus Monument
Christopher Columbus Monument

Without a lot of planning, the first leg of the vacation was more than we bargained for. We went up the Christopher Columbus Monument that marks the very spot where Columbus made his triumphant return from the New World and was officially greeted by Isabel and Ferdinand.

Stage 6 of Tour de France in Barcelona
Stage 6 of Tour de France in Barcelona

It was a total unexpected bonus to learn that the Tour de France had a stage ended in Barcelona on the second day we were there. Many years ago I was an avid cyclist and ride to work almost everyday. I also followed the Tour de France every July on TV. So it was a dream come true to catch not one but TWO stages of the Tour.

Yeah … I got a fleeting glimpse of Lance Armstrong!

The Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia

Our jaws dropped at the magnificence of The Sagrada Familia. I had been to many many churches and cathedral throughout the world but this one is just simply the best. Gaudi started building this in the year … (more…)

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Apple Crumble

Marian prepared a simple Apple Crumble for dessert at the South Arm Cooking Club for Seniors. This is just perfect as fall is the season for apple harvest.

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This Apple Crumble is easy to make and the topping is flaky. A scoop of vanilla ice-cream will make this Apple Crumble a perfect dessert any time.

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 medium size apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup water

For the Crumble:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

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Source: Marian

Serves 4 to 6

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Zucchini and Cheddar Muffins

This is another recipe shared by Marian in the South Arm Cooking Club for Seniors. This is Marian’s way to incorporate vegetables into her daughters’ diet. Marian also has fussy eaters in her household like mine.

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These Zucchini and Cheddar Muffins are moist and cheesy. They are savoury and not sweet. You can replace the zucchinis with carrots. These savoury muffins are perfect for lunch boxes.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium size zucchinis, trim ends and grate coarsely
  • 125 gram cheddar, grated
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Please note that the baking soda should not be in the photo above.

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Source: Marian

Yield 12 muffins.

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Marian’s Pineapple Fried Rice

Once again, Marian led in the South Arm Cooking Club for Seniors. For this kitchen, Marian shared her family recipes with us.

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The first recipe is Marian’s Pineapple Fried Rice. This is Marian’s mom’s recipe and was handed down to her when she was thirteen years old.

In this kitchen, we also learn about the benefits of pineapple. Here is the excerpt shared in the kitchen.

Pineapple is a member of the bromeliad family and the only edible bromeliad. It is extremely rare that bromeliads produce edible fruit. It is a multiple fruit, i.e. one pineapple is made up of dozens of individual flowerettes that grow together to form the entire fruit. Each scale on a pineapple is evidence of an individual flower.

Pineapples stop ripening the minute they are picked. There is no special way of storing them that will help ripen them further. Color is relatively unimportant in determining the ripeness.

Choose your pineapple by smell. If it smells fresh, tropical and sweet, it will be a good fruit. The more scales on the pineapple and the bigger the scales, the sweeter and juicier the taste.

Pineapple is a remarkable fruit. It is lush, sweet and has an exotic flavour. It’s health benefits includes easing indigestion, arthritis and sinusitis. Pineapple juice has an anthelmintic effect which helps to get rid of intestinal worms.

Pineapple is high in manganese, a mineral that is critical to the development of strong bones and connective tissue. A cup of fresh pineapple juice will give you nearly 75% of the recommended daily amount of manganese. It is particularly helpful to older adults, whose bones tend to become brittle with age.

Pineapple contains bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme which helps to break down protein; which is why pineapple is known to be a digestive aid. It helps the body to digest proteins more efficiently. Bromelain is also considered and effective anti-inflammatory agent. Regular ingestion of at least one half cup of fresh pineapple daily is purported to relieve painful joints common to osteoarthritis. It produces a mild pain relief. In Germany, bromelain is approved as a post-injury medication because it is thought to reduce inflammation and swelling.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped or grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 250g chicken breast or 2 pieces breast fillet, cut into cubes
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 1 can crushed pineapple
  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • garlic powder
  • ginger powder
  • salt and pepper
  • sesame oil (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 whole pineapple for presentation (optional)

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Source: Marian

Serves 4 to 6

(more…)

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Vivacity Restaurant on Alexandra Road, Richmond

OK, fine.

I will use the words “duc beet” and not “tak peed” to describe something that is unusual or special. At least this rhymes with the Vietnamese word “Dac Biet” which means the same thing.

We were out looking for some “duc beet” dim sum last weekend. Of late, we had been searching for “duc beet” type of dim sums. As you know we don’t particularly like the run of the mill dim sums like siu mai, BBQ Pork buns and har gow … stuff like that. They are boring. It is the same as salmon sushi and tuna sushi if you know what I mean.

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So we went to Vivacity. This is a popular Chinese restaurant located smack in the middle of Richmond’s glutton street of Alexandra.

Vivacity used to be on No 3 Road and Cambie until 3 years ago. They were forced to move to this new location to make way for the Canada Line Construction.

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Vivacity is big. It is busy. And it is noisy.

The customers here are mostly well heeled as this is a slightly upscale restaurant. The prices were not too bad but this is not the kind of place you would expect $2 dim sum plates for sure.

Yeah, they have chandeliers. The captains are in suits and very professional. I like their service and no snobbishness in them. Remember I told you about the “tai yan” service at Jade where they gives you extra attention if you have an expensive car fob on the table? Well, the service here is not anywhere like that. We were well taken care off and the captains do go around chatting with their customers.

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I just love this place. OK I know. I fall for things like gold colored seat covers and double table cloth. I just enjoy the ambiance here … particularly the noise and the bustle. Felt like Hong Kong.

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Click on the menu above to show it in full width where you can read them easier.

The sections called Chef’s Suggestion and Chef’s Special was the two sections we focused on. To us this is where the “duc beet” dishes are found.

Normal dim sums are $4.00 to $4.50. Their special dishes are $7 to $8 but then they are bigger servings so it is not that expensive. I would say that their prices are comparable to most other places of similar class.

Actually, come to think of it they do not have a lot of “duc beet” dishes.

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Several friends told me that their signature dish is not a dish. It is a sauce. They make great XO sauce.

We almost forgot about it until we noticed that on the table next to ours. As they were just seated, the captain brought over a saucer of the XO sauce to their table even before the tea came. The captain personally delivered that because the customers apparently is their regular customers.

We had to ask for it too. That was even before we ordered our food and we did not know of any dishes this would go with. We just wanted to taste it.

Their XO sauce is not spicy but particularly shrimpy. We all like it.

Remember to ask for it when you are here if they don’t give it to you.

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The Deep Fried Crispy Milk Custard ($5.35) was duc beet to us. It came in a dish of ten pieces and served with granulated sugar on the side.

Actually the sugar is … (more…)

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Specialty Chicken and Wonton House on No 3 Road and Ackroyd, Richmond

I would be very interested to know what the average age of a restaurant is in Metro Vancouver, particularly in Richmond. It doesn’t seems to me that there are many restaurants that are older than 10 years. I don’t know … it seems to me there are a lot of new restaurants and there are also quite a number of unexpected closures too.

And since we are on this topic, I am wondering what is the oldest restaurant in Richmond. Anyone knows? I am guessing it has to be one of the HK Style Cafes or Cantonese restaurants. Even if we don’t know the oldest restaurant, I am thinking that if everyone let me know the oldest you can think of, we might just narrow down to that oldest restaurant in Richmond.

Anyone?

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The Specialty Chicken and Wonton House is one of the more hardy restaurants in Richmond. They had been operating in the Ackroyd area for the past 12 years. They used to be in the corner of the strip mall nearest Save on Food.

Just last week, Suanne and I were surprised to find that the familiar name is now a few doors away. It is now occupying a bigger shop lot and it has a fresh new look to it. It was later on we found out they moved to this new location just 3 months ago.

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The dining area is big. It can fit about 20 tables which each seating at least 4 people and quite a number of them are much larger tables. So I guess you can imagine how many people this place fits.

While we did not have to wait for a table, the place was bustling with customers. We had not been to this restaurant for … oh … 8 years now and so we were quite pleasantly surprised to see them still going strong.

Service was cheerful. I would even say exceptionally cheerful. It’s a welcome change to see every worker eager to chat with the customers. They even chatted with us like we are old customers.

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The entire restaurant is filled with the aroma of herbal chicken soup from the hot pot dish. So many customers got this especially because it is a good dish to have in the cold weather.

Yeah, it’s no wonder why too. The Chinese Herbal Chicken Hot Pot is on top of the single page Chef’s Special menu. All the items looked so good that Suanne and I had a hard time deciding what to get.

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This restaurant’s specialty is chicken. Just take a look at the range of chicken they have above. Pictures of menu on this post are clickable to enlarge.

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Empress, Hainan, Ching Ping, Salt Baked and soya sauce … I just can’t tell between all of them. Can an expert out there help me differentiate them?

I can only tell apart the soy sauce chicken — it is dark. See I know at least one type. 🙂

All the chicken are served cold except for soy sauce chicken.

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And then there are the specials on the plastic holders at the table. I was particularly interested in the home style steamed rice which is $7. Since we were there for dinner, we can’t order this. Makes it easier for us to decide what to get since we can’t get this. 🙂

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Since it was cold, we know we want to have a hot pot. This type of hot pot is not the same kind of all you can eat hot pots where you get to cook your own food. This type of hot pot serves pre-cooked ones.

Our table has a built in recessed compartment for the burner for hotpot. I like that because it lowers the hot pot and makes it easier to eat from.

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It was a toss up between the herbal chicken (which most tables got) or the goat meat hot pot. What tipped the decision was that goat hot pot is less common than herbal chicken which we had a lot of times already. Actually we prefer chicken herbal hot pot a lot. Our favourite place is in Jubilant and Neptune Wonton.

So this is it … (more…)

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