Recently I went on a day trip to the countryside with a bunch of people. The meeting place was across town and I timed my arrival so that I could there walk from my house and grab breakfast en route. I did not know the area where we were meeting particularly well but I was sure there’d be a bar humming with a breakfast crowd in the vicinity. This hypothesis rarely fails, so when I finished eating and met the rest of the group and told them, a bit giddy with caffeine and warm, fried dough, that I’d just had breakfast in the bar on the corner, one, a madrileño said, “Ahhhhh, Espanish breakfast.” Yes, I said, I love it.
The practice goes back to my early days in Madrid. I might have been initiated in the Spanish breakfast by an American friend who’d lived in Spain longer than I and relished the tradition of a café con leche with whatever light, sweet fare was on offer in the midst of noisy locals and rushed barmen. Back then I didn’t even drink coffee, but I knew that when my parents first came to visit, in 2006, I’d have to find a spot to get them their caffeine fix first thing in the morning. Enter Herza. From then on, there was no looking back; it didn’t become a daily routine, but an eagerly awaited treat for out-of-town visitors or early morning meetings.
I should admit that I am a breakfast lover in general, which makes my love for the Spanish breakfast somewhat confounding. I was raised on hearty breakfasts—not bacon and eggs, but hot and cold cereal, weekends of pancakes or waffles, or bagels with cream cheese. The Spanish breakfast is simple and, like many tasty things, without great nutritional value. Kids grow up on Cola Cao and galletas María. In bars, you can get coffee with a bollo (breakfast pastry) or tostada (toast) for anywhere between two and two-and-a-half euros. In Madrid, it’s especially common to have churros or porras with your café. Pastries are so-so, the toast is white bread, and I have a theory that people eat their croissants a la plancha because they’re generally not that good plain. But Spanish breakfast has its gracia. What I’ve grown to like most about it is the functionality: for most, it’s not a special treat, just something that one does every day to get things going.
And now, unlike back in the day, we don’t have to have our breakfast and smoke a pack simultaneously. The Spanish breakfast has only improved with the prohibition of smoking in bars and restaurants. On my bike commute there are three breakfast spots that I picked out while riding by in the first several weeks. Now I’ve tried them all and every couple weeks I stop by one to engage in what’s becoming something of a tradition.
Last Friday at Bar Rubí (corner of Castelló and Diego de León), a tiny elderly woman walked in around 7:30 and the barman immediately set upon preparing her order, but she corrected him, “I’m going to have my tostada for the first course, and the churros as the second.” Now that’s a Spanish breakfast.