In the last in our current Guest Blogging series, Justin Perlman shares the kind of Madrid secret that money just can’t buy…
Shortly after moving to Madrid two years ago, a local friend of mine offered up some sound advice that I had never heard before, but my wife had pointed out is quite common. He told me when seeking out a good restaurant to look for the three B’s.
I thought to myself, I didn’t realize the Better Business Bureau (BBB) existed here in Spain. He proceeded to tell me that these three B’s are the characteristics one looks for in a first-rate restaurant that won’t break the bank; Bueno, Bonito, and Barato. It’s with these three qualifiers I wanted to share a diamond in the rough, a true gem of a restaurant, and speaking of treasures, this too is hidden below the surface. That’s right; you have to go subterranean to arrive at this Chinese Restaurant.
For two years, my wife and I had walked through Plaza de España and always detected a strong scent of what appeared to be some type of Comida Asiatica. We just couldn’t put our finger on exactly where it was coming from. I had suspected that perhaps the aroma was escaping from a nearby vent that had been re-routed to the Plaza. I could not have predicted that the restaurant actually resided below our feet.
Very recently, my wife commented on this to a friend of hers who’s a Madrileña (proud of her fine city, and is actually fourth generation, which as anyone can tell you is a rare find in this city – Most Madrileños are first or second generation at best.)
Right as this friend heard “Plaza de España” and “Comida China” she replied, “it’s called Jia Xiang Xiao Chi” (pronunciation may vary, but keep in mind this friend has been taking Chinese for two years and will be venturing off for a year abroad in China, so she was definitely a good choice of those to ask about the hidden restaurant!)
Without further ado, we went to Jia Xiang Xiao Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España the next day. It was a colder than average evening here in Madrid and perhaps some hot and spicy soup, fried noodles, etc. could do the trick. If you’re walking from Gran Vía downhill towards Plaza de España you would walk as if you’re heading to the main fountain, only to march down one flight of stairs towards the parking garage.
As you approach the restaurant you’ll notice a travel agency catering towards Chinese residents living in Madrid, a thriving community in the city of over 50,000, so I should mention one has the option to find a wide range of Chinese restaurants in town.
We were lucky enough to get seated right away. I should point out there are only a handful of tables so it’s first come, first served if you want to eat in, while many people do order takeout. We found the staff friendly and attentive, greeting you almost immediately after hitting the seat. They came by our table and took our order, while extending their hand out to offer you the choice of using a fork or chopsticks. After we made our utensil selection, it was time for the main event.
The menu for the non-Chinese speaker consists of 20 items, broken down into two columns and found on one side of a laminated white page. For those who speak Chinese, there are more options. The menu was clear and concise so it’s easy to make your selections. You know a place has appeal when you see others at nearby tables commenting on their neighbors’ selections.
We noticed many people had the dumplings so we ordered those without hesitation as well as hot & sour soup, a chicken dish, fried noodles, and ribs, finishing up with a fried sesame roll. The dumplings were bursting with flavor and mixed well with their soy sauce/vinegar side for dipping. The chicken was tender and cooked just right. The noodles were flavorful and veggies remained crispy, a perfect combo.
Soup provided spice while not overdoing the zip. Hot sauces are on each table so for the bold, a touch of added picante is not a problem. The ribs melted in our mouths, and effortlessly pulled away from the bone, were juicy and downright delicious. Sesame roll was satisfactory, but 5 out of 6 isn’t too bad, plus there were a few other dessert options we’ll try next time.
Most of the dishes fall under 5 Euros so you can order a range of food, fill your bellies, and enjoy a meal for around 20 Euros total for two people, not too bad in this city considering an average Menu del Dia can range from 9 to a whopping 25 Euros.
We ate our meal and took in the sights and sounds of our surrounding environment, from the hustle and bustle of people getting up and sitting down, to the 24” TV mounted up high with a DVD of flashy music videos.
The clientele that night consisted of 50% locals, a small percentage of tourists, and the remaining 45% or so of other Chinese clients – this poll includes the long line which began to form outside. People patiently waited outside the restaurant as one table at a time opened up to let in new customers. All in all it was an adventure worth repeating time and time again.
So, as you can imagine, this is undoubtedly our new favorite Chinese food hotspot. For those passing through Madrid looking for a lunch or dinner that’s Bueno, Bonito, and Barato, I highly suggest Jia Xiang Xiao Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España… you won’t regret it. I know we’ll be back soon enough!
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