The first time I had churros in Madrid, I went home and told my host mom that they were “demasiado ricos”: too rich was what I meant, or so I thought. She was confused, because, as I quickly learned, “rico”, or “rich” is ONLY used to describe food that is incredibly delicious, and not to describe food that is too sumptuous, too sweet, too fattening, as we do in English.
The second time I had churros, I went to Valor, a popular chocolatería in Madrid, with my Italian friend Sara and my French friend, Noemie. Up till this point, I was used to the euphoric honeymoon period upon first entering a foreign country – as I had experienced in London, this time Madrid – and then the crippling homesickness as the days dragged on. Sara, Noemie and I ordered our sweets: churros con chocolate for me, talking excitedly and digging in. As I exited Valor and walked home, I realized, for the first time, that I can experience joy in a foreign country, even after the honeymoon period. And here I am, again.
So then, what is a churro? A churro is a kind of fritter, made of only flour, water, salt, then fried in oil. As such, churros are savory, not sweet. What makes them sweet is the accompanying chocolate: thick, rich, and deep, “hot chocolate” in Spain is nothing like its American equivalent. Many people sprinkle sugar on top of their churros and then dip them into the chocolate. The combination of the savory, oily churro and the sweet, thick chocolate is winning.
Churros can be eaten at any time, but are most often enjoyed by Spanish people during the cold winter months, or at breakfast, or after a night clubbing, in the wee hours of the morning. It’s an especially popular activity during “La Noche Vieja” – New Year’s Eve.
Three years after biting into my first churro, I’ve come to think of churros con chocolate as well, not too rich. My favorite way to eat them, however, is not with chocolate, but with café con leche. I sprinkle the churros with sugar and then dip them into coffee with milk. The sugar makes them just sweet enough, but not too sweet, and the coffee gives them that nice roasty flavor.
Another common fritter in Spain is the porra, which I like to think of as the churro’s overweight cousin. Like a churro, it is made with flour and salt, but more water, which makes it puff up as it fries. The porra is softer, thicker, and ultimately, delicious.
The best spot to get churros in Madrid? La Chocolatería San Gines in Sol, which has been serving churros for over 100 years, and is open 24 hours a day and always packed – from tourists to late-night clubbers grabbing some of this traditional treat. Another favorite spot is Valor, renowned for its excellent chocolate.