Archive for stores

Alpargatas, Spain’s rope-soled shoes

 


While August may seem late to think about alpargatas, most of Spain still has a month of nice weather – and the lines at the traditional shops are a lot shorter.

A tickle in your nose says you’ve arrived – it’s the distinctive smell of thousands of rope-soled alpargatas (espadrilles) in one of Madrid’s traditional stores.

What could be simpler? The classic alpargata is just a coiled rope sole and a cotton canvas upper. Nothing more than that – but this simple shoe is Spain’s favorite summer footwear.

Some history: The true origin of the alpargata is unclear. Some souces say Rome, some say Egypt, some say the Middle East – in any case, the most likely origin is somewhere in the Mediterreanean area, a very long time ago. What does seem clear is that here in Iberia, this simple footwear was already known in 14th century Cataluña.

Checking the origin of the word alpargata also shows differing opinions. The Real Academia dictionary (Spain’s equivalent of Oxford) shows the Basque word abarca as origin for alpargata – rather odd as this shoe doesn’t do well in wet climates like northern Spain, but interesting for the name similarity to the Menorcan sandal called abarca or albarca. People who know Spanish will have noticed the “al” that often indicates Arabic word origin; one source suggests alpargatas were adopted by Arabic speakers during the Middle Ages, and the original Spanish word changed through that contact to alpargata. The same source noted that there are dialectal variations of apargata and even pargata, without the “al”.

Originally alpargatas were worn mainly by country people, valued as inexpensive, lightweight, comfortable and for good traction on uneven surfaces. Today most country people wear modern shoes, but now and then you can still see shepherds wearing alpargatas. The rural tradition of using alpargatas survives in regional dance groups – many use this footwear as a colorful and authentic part of their costumes.

Today alpargatas can be found on many different kinds of feet all over the world. The styles have evolved as well – though the ever-popular classic style is still a solid-color cotton upper and a coiled rope sole. That sole is now made of jute instead of hemp, though Maxi in Casa Crespo remembers alpargata manufacturs with plantations of hemp to make the rope for the soles. For traditional alpargatas, the rope sole is hand-sewn to the two parts of the cotton upper but industrial models are creeping in. Laces can be decorative or functional depending on the style – some traditional styles are open at the sides and the laces keep the alpargatas in place.

Classic alpargatas can go just about anywhere – from the beach to most low-key social occasions, but if something dressier is needed, newer “fashion” styles take over where the classics leave off. Casa Crespo and Hernanz coincide that the classics sell well most of the year, with a boom between May and September, and the fashion models sell mainly in spring and summer. Both stores get new models every spring (usually in April) – different heel heights, different laces, different materials like leather or silk, patterned cloth, decorated with sequins or embroidery – the variations are endless.

Once you’ve tried these shoes yourself you’ll probably become an alpargata fan as well – and at the amazingly low price for the flat classic model, you can get a whole rainbow of colors to match all your summer clothes.

Tips on alpargatas

If you go to a traditional store in alpargata season, try to go off-hours (weekday mornings usually best) and be patient. It may take a while to get what you want. Be flexible, the shopkeepers might have suggestions.

Try on both shoes, and if the first pair doesn’t fit, try another pair in the same size. Since they’re made by hand, there may be size difference between pairs.

If you’re between sizes, get one that’s a little snug as they stretch, some styles more than others – the shopkeepers can tell you how much stretch you can expect in the model you want.

First wearing: For cotton canvas styles, to help your alpargatas mold to your feet, lightly spray the cloth uppers with a plant spritzer after putting them on – especially if they’re a little snug. If you got a classic style with no initial difference between right and left, you can use a marking pen inside one shoe to indicate right or left – after a few wearings they’ll take the shape of your feet.

Try not to get the rope bottoms wet as they may swell and disintegrate. If you get caught in rain, stuff them with newspaper, turn them soles up to dry and hope for the best.

To clean the cloth uppers, hand wash using nail brush, keeping the rope bottoms as dry as possible (this is easier than it sounds). Stuff with newspaper and let dry.

Where to buy: Getting alpargatas is almost a ritual, best done at one of the traditional stores. Both of Madrid’s traditional stores talk about multi-generational families who come together to get their summer shoes, or about people who first came to the store with grampa or gramma – and say that the place has barely changed in all those years. These stores are also a great place to people-watch – and of course to have an authentic Madrid experience.

Antigua Casa Crespo, calle Divino Pastor 29, Metro Bilbao. Classic alpargata store, founded 1863, family business in the fourth generation. Very crowded in season. Open Saturdays only May – September.

Casa Hernanz, calle Toledo 18, Metro Sol y La Latina. Classic alpargata store, founded 1845, family business. Also sells rope, baskets and many kinds of string for macrame. Very crowded in season.

Lobo, calle Toledo 30, Metro Sol y La Latina. Not a specialist in alpargatas, though that kind of shoe is one of their biggest lines (this is my own favorite). Also has Menorcan abarcas, flamenco shoes and desert boots. Very crowded in season, get your number and wait your turn.

Looking for something fancy or cannot manage the traditional stores? Go Fashion at Castañer (Claudio Coello, 51), or check out two stores just east of the Plaza Mayor (one on calle Zaragoza, another on calle Sal/Postas).

Thanks to the friends who suggested the idea for this post. You know who you are. 

Vegetarian in Madrid

High on the list of priorities when new to a city is finding food – where to get best staples at the best price and where to find specialty items or treats. This can be a challenge in the best of circumstances, but for people with special needs, it can be downright daunting.

This article is a quick guide to vegetarian and ecological grocery stores and restaurants in Madrid. Most of these places can satisfy a wide range of needs – for vegetarian, vegan, celiac or lactose-intolerant cooking – or supply cooks with that specific kind of tofu, oil or grain not available at standard grocery stores.

In addition to the grocery stores shown here, look for smaller herbolarios in your neighborhood – most will have at least the basics and some a complete array of products. Ethnic grocery stores are another good source: oriental, Indian, Latino and Moroccan shops are scattered around the center of Madrid, with odd vegetables, different oils, noodles, rice, breads and tofu, sometimes in a fascinating cross-cultural mix.

Some of the bigger classic supermarkets have health food and ethnic sections. You may have to roam the aisles to find what you want, but once you do, you can read labels to be sure you’re getting what you want, and avoiding what you need to avoid.

 

Vegetarian grocery store (see restaurants, some have attached stores)

Salud Mediterranea Locations near Atocha and Manuel Becerra. One of Madrid’s biggest vegetarian grocery stores, has cosmetics and vitamins as well – they have an additional location near Cibeles that doesn’t have any food, only health and beauty products. Helpful staff. Website: http://saludmediterranea.com/

Ecocentro, Near Cuatro Caminos. Two grocery stores, one for perishables, other for staples; the grocery stores are among the best in the city, very large selection of products including cosmetics and vitamins. IMPORTANT NOTE: Esquilache street is split in two separate parts, Ecocentro is on the southern half just off Islas Filipinas.  Website: www.ecocentro.es

Biotika, Salamanca neighborhood store on Ayala street.  Website: www.labiotika.es

Planeta Vegano, Lavapies neighborhood.  Smallish but nice selection. Website: http://www.planetavegano.com/

Kiki Market, metro Tribunal.  The Tribunal location has a small deli, too.  La Latina (my ‘hood) store is smallish but has excellent selection including fruits, veges, cheese and some tofu products as well as all the non-perishables you would expect to find at a good health food store.  More info at   http://kiki-market.com/wordpress/

Be Organic, metro La Latina.  This store used to be a Kiki Market, but appears to have changed owners.  Selection not quite as good as it was as Kiki, but it’s one of the only health food stores in the area.  More info at  https://www.facebook.com/beorganicmadrid

Veggie Room:  Vegan store on San Vicente Ferrer, near metro Tribunal,  not far from location of Madrid’s first real health food store (now extinct, alas).  Noticed when walking by, haven’t been inside but did notice they have energy bars for hikers including Cliff Bars.  More info at http://www.veggieroom.es/

 

Restaurants: Most of these places have lunch deals, and some may offer similar deals for dinner. Most have options for vegans as well as vegetarian, and can handle celiac or lactose intolerance, though it’s wise to check ahead if last two are super important for you. Some of the smaller places might not take credit cards. * indicates the restaurant has an attached store.

*Biotika, Near Santa Ana. A classic. Small restaurant with vegan as well as vegetarian food, grocery store next door. Good food and not expensive. Website: www.labiotika.es

*Ecocentro, Near Cuatro Caminos. Same as above, separated as their store is one of the largest in Madridso merits its own note. Restaurant/coffee shop between the two stores, they do converences around the corner on a wide variety of personal development and food topics. Also has a bookstore. IMPORTANT NOTE: Esquilache street is split in two separate parts, Ecocentro is on the southern half just off Islas Filipinas.  Website: www.ecocentro.es

*El Vergel, Near Metro Principe Pio, across from Casa Mingo chicken restaurant.   UPDATE:  closed as of summer 2019.  Trip Advisor post indicates some less than friendly action on the part of the owner.  Sign on the door says closed permanently, I’m hoping someone will take up this business because they were really, really good.    Closed for now, alas, but I’m keeping my eye on them.  Anyone looking for a business opportunity?       Good food, nice décor. Large store upstairs has a good selection of everything including fresh organic vegetables. This is my personal favorite and where I do most of my shopping for special products. Their client card is a good deal and they’re open long hours. Website: www.el-vergel.com

VivaBurger:  used to be a semi-classic vegetarian called Viva la Vida but has evolved to have salads, vegetarian burgers, wraps, and some lighter dishes.  On Plaza de la Paja, one of the prettiest squares in central Madrid. Website:  http://www.vivaburger.es/

Al Natural Between Sol and Cibeles. Vegetarian and vegan, in the past this restaurant has also had a few non-vegetarian dishes but I don’t see them on their menu now. Good food and fun décor, more interesting than most other vegetarian places in Madrid. Al Natural is right behind Congress so you will notice more police presence and maybe more “suits”, probably politicians. Website: www.alnatural.biz/

Artemisa Locations just off Gran Via and near Plaza Santa Ana. One of Madrid’s first vegetarian restaurants, pared-down décor but good food and not expensive. Usually packed, they understandably don’t like you to linger after the meal. Menu in English is on their website. Website: www.restauranteartemisa.com.

El Estragon Vegetariano Plaza de la Paja. They call themselves the vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians. Nice décor, outdoor section in season. Website shows their menu, has (slightly fractured) English translation. Website: www.elestragonvegetariano.com/index.html

Fresc Co Calle Fuentes 12 (near Opera). Alas, this small chain used to have many more locations but they’ve all closed, a real shame because it’s a good salad bar with a few hot dishes at the back, usually soup, pasta or pizza. Good all-you-can-eat lunch deal. Website: www.frescco.com/

Yerbabuena  Two smallish places near Plaza Mayor, great for fast, heathy meal when you’re downtown. Website: www.yerbabuena.ws (note: the ws is not a typo!)

Vegaviana calle Pelayo 35, telf 91 308 0381. Metro Chueca. Good food and inexpensive. No website; Trip Advisor rates this place highly

Rayen Lope de Vega street near Santa Ana. Vegan and ecological. Smallish, pretty décor. They make their own bread and have a nice selection of craft beer. Website: http://rayenvegan.com/

Loving Hut Vegan food next to Plaza de España. Website doesn’t have a lot of information, does show their vegan restaurants in other cities. Website  www.lovinghut.es/

Distrito Vegano, Vegan food & art. Near Lavapies, allows non-human animals (dogs and cats and others?). Website www.distritovegano.com