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VIPS: Breakfast in Madrid

Posted by Slavito in Madrid + Places on 20/Mar/2006
Don't get me wrong - I love Spanish food. In fact, I adore it. I can't get enough of all that cocido, jamón serrano, chorizo and tortilla española, so whenever I am in Madrid I basically eat in advance. Madrid is a city where I can go to a sketchy diner, sit on a bar stool at the counter pretending to be a visiting American, take out a French novel from my pocket... and still get friendly service, along with a hearty, delicious meal - all for less than 10 euros!

But that doesn't help me solve the problem I encounter almost every morning. My problem is breakfast.

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Breakfast at VIPS in Madrid
How did it develop into a problem? Well, to give you some perspective, I have to back up a little bit. I distinctly remember growing up and eating porridge every single morning, unable to imagine any other food as being suitable for breakfast. And when I say 'porridge' I don't mean the questionable thing which I hear the British consume by the bucket. I mean the Russian version, which is also known as kasha. For generations, we Russians have been creatively using rice, buckwheat, millet, semolina, quinoa, oatmeal and several other kinds of grains which I suspect don't even have names in the English language, to cook up some of the most delicious and nutritious breakfast meals ever. Kasha (in this broader definition, not limited to the buckwheat variety) is so popular in Russia that it entered all sorts of idiomatic expressions and basically came to symbolize food in general and the strength that comes from eating it.

The point me telling you of all this is not to confirm your worst suspicions about my country. The point is to stress that for the first twenty years of my life I ate one and only thing in the morning (which would be kasha, for those not paying attention).

Although for me personally kasha became a non-option as soon as I crossed the Atlantic (the downside of independent living is that one can't afford to waste half an hour every morning standing around stirring a simmering substance in a pot), I did assimilate one important doctrine from my childhood experience, namely that one must eat the same thing each and every morning, and preferably a whole lot of it.

After a couple of years of culinary experiments (let's call them that), I landed a (non-culinary) job in New York City, where I discovered my second type of staple breakfast food. It's not one dish in particular, but rather a whole set of dangerously unhealthy items - pancakes, waffles, toast, sausages and above all, eggs. Apart from hard-boiled, I'll eat all kinds of eggs: over easy, scrambled, sunny side up, poached, in a cup, 'trois minutes', on a muffin, on a bagel, over pancakes. In New York, whenever I'd go to have breakfast (often accompanied by my considerably more health-conscious American-born friends), I would order a couple of breakfast plates at once, surprising the waitstaff and leaving my native companions almost no table space for tinkering with the contents of their fruit cup.

Fast forward to Madrid. As much as I love the food here (I think I've already mentioned that), nothing can fill me up with proteins and fats that I so urgently need following the difficult awakening process. Spaniards, on the other hand, eat almost nothing in the morning - that is to say, a pastry and a coffee, sometimes with a glass of juice. Where is the proverbial beef (or protein), I am asking you? How can one napolitana help a hungry (and quite likely, hung-over) Russian national get his thoughts together?

I know, I know - at this point you're probably murmuring to yourself: "just go eat your breakfast at some American-owned hotel and shut the fuck up, Slavito!". And, technically, you are right. For some reason, however, I've always avoided hotel restaurants. This aversion is hard to explain and I am convinced, illogical. It's not that I don't enjoy charging the occasional breaksfast meal to my room - or somebody else's. But only when I am actually on the road. When I stay in a city - even for just a few weeks or months as the case might be - I like to feel like I belong there.

In other words, I refuse to change, I am loath to hide - I am just asking the city in question to change in order to accomodate me. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently not. Globalism and cultural imperialism continue to help me out with all my basic needs, wherever I go. Thanks to the recent expansion of the VIPS chain, I can now order something resembling a New York breakfast at several dozen locations in Madrid. We're talking eggs, bacon, potatoes and coffee, available for just a few euros, provided that you manage to wake up at a decent hour.

Let's be clear - VIPS is not a place for fine dining, not even for fine breakfasting, so if you're getting anything like Balthazar in your head for a frame of reference, forget it immediately. VIPS serves normal, somewhat generic "internationalized" diner-type food, but isn't it nice to be able to fall back on something as reliable as that?

You bet it is! And not only for permanent exiles. The chain's restaurants (ok, let me define the scope of my experience here - I've only been visiting two of them: the main branch at Gran Vía, 43 and the one at Calle Alcalá, 23) are super-popular with the locals. Clean and efficient, they are not particularly cheap - perhaps, the only cheap thing there is breakfast, and to a lesser degree, lunch (9€ specials available daily). Come at dinner time and you will be greeted by an hour-long line of hungry Madrileños who for some reason chose not to eat at any of the city's hundreds of excellent tapas restaurants, who furthermore knew there'd be a wait and that they'd pay more than usual, and yet still came here - all in the name of tasting a cleaned-up version of American diner food. Go figure! So, while I am immune to the charms of VIPS' dinner menu, I will happily hand over my 5 euros in the morning.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the wørd. VIPS (!

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