Pizza week has been and gone. I had not eaten that much pizza since the days of working at Dominos Pizza, way back when. I was surprised to find out that Madrid has a vibrant pizza scene.
To be honest, pizza, pasta and gelato are those things I had assigned to the “only in Italy” box. Happily, as revealed during MuchBites’ pizza week, Madrid has come very close, not only to the real Italian experience, but also to the other pizza hubs in the world such as New York. Sadly, I could not go to every pizza place on the list, but thankfully, those I did go to did not disappoint.
The idea of Pizza Week came about when one of my Instagram followers asked me about pizza joints in Madrid that I would highly recommend. To my surprise, I had exactly zero to recommend and this was an epic fail. So, I immediately got to work and started devising pizza week. First stop was PICSA Madrid, which I had first encountered at their food truck during a MadrEat weekend. This place was such a breath of fresh air to the usual humdrum of Spanish bars and restaurants. If you have lived in Madrid for a while, I am sure this conclusion in understandable. PICSA has a light and airy interior with high ceilings and neutral colours. Upon entering, the whiff of fresh pizza immediately hits you and thus, your hunger is activated, even though it might have been previously absent.
The concept of PICSA is to revisit the authenticity of traditional Argentinean pizza, while taking into account that we are in Madrid. Argentinean pizza is known for its thicker and spongier base, contrary to its Italian cousin, and is jam packed with more cheese than the typical pizza from Napoli. Argentinean pizza tradition is derived from the Genoese and Piedmont population that emigrated to Argentina
The menu at PICSA is varied, offering ‘mezzes’ as your appetizers and then large pizzas that can be easily shared between 2 or 3 people. The appetizers on offer are not to be missed. I particularly enjoyed the caprese salad with organic tomatoes and the ham and bread board. Pizza-wise, you can choose from old school favourites with the likes of ham, aubergine, and Scamorza cheese, plus of course, a good tomato base.
The new school, innovative offerings, as they so-call them, include the likes of spicy chorizo, grilled peppers, sardines and mixtures of grilled vegetables. If having problems choosing, they do the half-and-half pizzas. The desserts too, are not to be toyed with. On that particular day, the wine soaked pears were delightful. In addition to the red wine used to soak the pears, anis and cloves had been added for that extra flavourful burst. Having dined an essentially 3-course meal, with a glass of Moscato, the bill was 21euros. A very accessible menu indeed, depending, of course, on your choices.
Not to be forgotten is that for those with gluten allergies and intolerances, they have a gluten free pizza base made with chickpea flour. This option is available per slice, so you can pick and choose as many flavours as you want until you have your dream pizza.
PICSA Madrid was a great start to pizza week indeed. However, little did I know that what was ahead was even more enthralling. On day two, the destination was Pasta Mito, after having received a heads up from another savvy Madrid blogger. In normal circumstances, you just would not find this place. Located on the ground floor and smack bang in the middle of all the stalls of Mercado de Chamartin, you find Pasta Mito. The market closes at 14:00hrs for the usual Spanish noon break. So, there was heartache when I first thought it was impossible to get in. But as it turns out, you have to enter by the grey metal service door if you arrive after hours. Crisis was averted there. Upon arriving at Pasta Mito, the question posed was “do you have a reservation?”
Another heart sinking moment and feelings of “we’ve lost this one.” But, the waiter kindly picked up a foldable table and three foldable chairs and set us in between a fruit stall and an accessories stall. The market was completely quiet and the lights were dimmed. All this added to the “how random and yet totally amazing is this” feeling. As things developed, we could not have pizza because it has to be ordered in advance due to the small kitchen they have. That was a huge disappointment.
Instead, we settled for the menu del dia, which in a word, was sublime. The starter was spinach gratin with a creamy béchamel sauce, topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Just sublime. This was followed by a rich meat and tomato packed lasagne with an intense yet delicately balanced mix of sauces and cheese. Again, just sublime. At this point, it would have been impossible for the meal to get any better. But it did. The dessert was a tiramisu topped with cocoa power and with coffee soaked through its heart and soul. You guessed it, sublime. Although, I did not have pizza at Pasta Mito, judging solely based on this menu del dia, the pizza would also be sublime. The price was 12.50euros – bargain.
Pasta Mito is the product of two chefs from the Basque Country and one from Italy. The service was second to none. The two waiters, who turned out to be the partners, waited on us hand and foot. They went so far as bringing us stools for our bags and kindly accommodated my friend with her gluten allergy. Her treat was gluten free penne with Bolognese and a dessert of panna cotta.
Since I had missed pizza on day two. I had to get back on track immediately. Thanks to another tip off, day three was Neapolitan pizza from Pizza Napoli in the Prosperidad district of Madrid. Pizza Napoli is mainly a pizza delivery service but with a few tables and high stools to seat back and enjoy your thin crust pizza. They have three sizes on offer; small, medium and large. The largest one feeds two easily, but would be stretched for three people. But, then again, this depends on the appetites of the diners. They have many pizzas on offer.
The choice for this day was gorgonzola, rocket and Italian sausage. As Pizza Napoli is mainly a pizza delivery service, the verdict is, provided you live in the catchment area (which is quite wide), do exactly that, order at home and enjoy. If this is not possible, pay them a visit as and when your pizza cravings appear.
On the penultimate day on Pizza Week, boy oh boy, was I in for a treat! On a very unassuming street, in fact one you would not even dare glance at, you find Mercado de Anton Martin. As you enter this market, it suddenly hits you that you are on to a winner. This market is the location of foodie heaven. On the first floor of this market, we have Fiaschetteria La Saletta.
The person who had been insisting I go to this place for the last two months or so, had told me that this was the best Italian pizza in town. She was not lying. I feel somehow dishonest, or as though I were revealing things that are best left alone and undiscovered. In a few words, I had not eaten pizza this good since Rome, 2012. In fact, to do this place justice, I have reserved an entire blog post dedicated to it after I have had the MuchBites’ interview with the owner. I will inform you as soon as this has been accomplished. Needless to say, I was left speechless.
The experience on day three made it somehow difficult to find a deserving pizzeria to conclude the pizza adventures. I would have gladly stopped at Fiaschetteria La Saletta and concluded that pizza was alive and well in Madrid. But, the person who has instigated Pizza Week had told me about New York style pizza in Madrid. She mentioned that as a New Yorker, this place so much reminded her of the pizza she was used to back home. In these things, “always trust a local,” I always say. I headed out to the Chamberi district of Madrid to the cleverly named En Guay Si Pizza (NYC Pizza in a Spanish accent).
The set up of the place was that of your typical New York pizzeria. An huge oven behind the counter and piles upon piles of boxes for delivering. They also had a couple of high tables and stools to eat the pizza inside. But, in essence, En Guay Si Pizza is perfect for takeaway and delivery. I had the perfect New York style thin crust pizza packed with meat and cheese. To add to your pizza, they give you oregano, chilli flakes and chilli infused oil to use as and when you please. Budwiser is the beer of choice. Again, if ever in need of pizza, En Guay Si is not to be missed.
At the end of all these adventures, I feel as though I have been on holiday for an entire week. I have eaten great pizzas and food from Argentina, Italy and New York and have been left with the feeling that Madrid actually has everything, so much more than I had previously imagined. The genius of these places just goes to show that Madrid is shaping up to be a culturally varied cosmopolitan society, soon to be on par with the other greats.
Stay tuned for vegetarian week coming up.