Churros were not something that I could talk about with my friends here in the States when I was growing up. Nobody had ever heard of them, at least not that I knew. Churros was a reality reserved for the summertime. I did not eat them frequently. As a little kid we had them on Sundays, once the local churrería opened in Hoyo de Manzanares, or on special days when we´d venture into Madrid and my mother might suddenly crave them. As I grew older, my pandilla would visit the churrería a handful of times each summer, sharing a large “ración¨ and some “chocolate caliente” or “churros con chocolate” as we call them.
I hated being the one to have to go buy the churros to bring home. Spaniards do not line up in order at a counter of any kind, and certainly not for churros. I´d have to make my voice heard over those of other kids, or worse, stout little old ladies who were shorter than I was, sporting black sweaters and pinchy mustaches, and whose voices boomed over the crowd at the counter. Eventually I learned how to make myself heard, but there was a learning curve of missed turns for sure. I´m quite sure I was passed over for one of these women many, many times. It´s the Lord of the Flies when ordering something at a counter in Spain.
Walking home with churros was both fun and challenging. Spanish churros have the shape of the beginning of a simple knot before it is tied; it is just one end of a rope crossed over the other. Most of the time they would be strung on to a switch or bendable branch, which would then be tied into a loop. I’d hold the knot and have to be careful not to bang into anything so I wouldn’t lose one by cracking it in half. Alternately, they would be placed in a “cucurucho” or paper cone. This presented the greater challenge of being so close to your face that you would want to eat them on the way back. My sister and I would rush home, or to my uncle’s home, so that they might still be a little warm by the time we ate them.
My mother never really tried to make churros here. First, she was not so inclined to deep fry anything, but more importantly she never believed she would be able to make them taste the same here as in Madrid. That was basically true of any Spanish food cooked here. Without authentic ingredients, all the efforts resulted in a “quiero y no puedo” or a futile effort. She did make “chocolate” but the brands imported into this country from Spain back in the 70s and 80s were not the best quality, and the other caribbean brands – though delicious – just didn’t taste the same. Taste is an extremely powerful sense, and when your brain expects something to taste one way and doesn’t, it is devastating. So, every year we waited for the big trip back to eat those things we loved and treasured most of all, churros among them.
This is why last week I was overjoyed to learn (from the folks at Despaña) that the owner of Socarrat restaurant here in NYC were about to open a real Spanish churrería called, you guessed it, La Churrería. On Monday, Jan 2, I packed the kids into the car and gave my husband the coordinates – Mulberry and Houston. And there, two doors down from Socarrat and a few doors north of St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church, was the fulfillment of one of my childhood dreams – churros in NY. The churros were authentic to Spain, and almost as good as those you would traditionally eat at the Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid on New Year’s morning. (This, by the way, is a huge compliment.) They were thin, crunchy and as light as anything fried could be, and the chocolate was thick and warm and delicious. I sat my three girls down at the long bar and their past experience and genetic wiring went into overdrive – dunk, eat and dunk again. Double dipping? Ha! I dare you not to.
As we sat there Spaniard after Spaniard arrived all with the same introduction ¨Er, we read that this place just opened and wanted to see if it was for real.¨ A well dressed couple who told me they were from ¨el barrio de Salamanca¨ one of the finest in Madrid, left saying ¨son de verdad¨. These are for real. That is high praise from a Spaniard commenting on something claiming to be from Spain. After we were all done we bought some more to take home for my parents, and my mother LOVED them. She is the toughest critic of all.
So this weekend I am going to see if I can meet my sister down in NOLITA with her boys. Who knows? Perhaps an old tradition can be resparked here in NYC.
La Churreria. 284 Mulberry St (between Houston and Prince Streets)
I was not paid for or asked to write this post. I wrote it because I am happy that it opened, proud to be the daughter of a Madrileña and hoping to visit it time and time again.