It’s the most wonderful time of the year
San Isidro has returned, rosquillas and all
There’s something special about street festivals. Whenever I have to answer one of those icebreaker questions about what my perfect day would be like, I almost always throw a street festival visit (and a picnic) into the mix. Maybe it’s from living in Chicago, where every weekend in the summer you can hop from neighborhood to neighborhood checking out each locale’s unique offering, ranging from Ribfest in North Center to Taste of Greektown in West Loop (#festrestrepeat was my summer motto when I lived there). Or maybe it’s from the yearly Fall Festival at my elementary school, where I would routinely gorge myself on funnel cakes, as one tends to do. Either way, you tell me that there’s a street festival, and I’ll be there.
Madrid has street festivals, but the majority are focused on religious parades, with less focus on food. Except for the festival of San Isidro.
San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid. According to history, he was born in 1082 and performed many miracles over his lifetime, with one source claiming over 400 miracles in total1. San Isidro’s most common (and now most well-known) miracles were all related to water, included finding water in seemingly arid places. For anyone living in Spain, you know that Madrid has the best water2, so it comes as no surprise that the city is dedicated to a saint whose life was devoted to finding it.
San Isidro is celebrated every year on May 15, but the festival itself usually lasts for several days. According to this article, it’s celebrated on the 15th because that’s when the body of San Isidro was moved from its original burial site to Madrid. While the festival has its origins in religion, the actual celebration is only as pious as you want it to be. Sure, there are long lines to drink holy water from the famed Fuente de San Isidro3, but you’ll find just as many people having a caña4 and fried chorizo5 at the food tents.
And speaking of food, we have now come to the shining stars of San Isidro: the rosquillas. Rosquillas are basically mini doughnuts, baked or fried and either rolled in sugar or topped with a glaze or meringue. Or if eating them plain is more your thing, they have those, too. Here’s a breakdown of the main types of rosquillas you’ll find:
Rosquillas tontas- These are rosquillas for the type of people who prefer their cupcakes without icing (i.e., not me). They are the most simple variety (hence the name tonta6), typically only glazed with a thin egg wash.
Rosquillas listas- Now we’re talking. These rosquillas have the same base as the tontas, but are covered in a sugar glaze. They come in various colors/flavors, including lemon, coffee, and chocolate (see the lead photo above). Lista is the opposite of tonta (see footnote #6) so I’m guessing that’s where the name comes from, but I like to think it’s because smart people know that glazed = better.
Rosquillas de Santa Clara- Possibly the rosquilla más típica7 of Madrid. This one again uses the same dough as the two above, but instead is topped with a layer of meringue.
Rosquillas de la abuela8 - These are my favorite. A bit more moist, a bit more cake-y, and a lot more sugary (since they’re rolled in it), they remind me a little of those cinnamon breakfast puffs I mentioned last week (minus the cinnamon). These are the rosquillas I dream about, the ones that keep me coming back to San Isidro year after year.
Confession: technically rosquillas de la abuela are also made during Semana Santa (Easter week) here in Madrid, so they’re not unique to San Isidro. But I channel all of my food energy toward torrijas9 during Easter, so rosquillas are on standby until May. They’re worth the wait.
This year I went in search of the history of rosquillas and San Isidro, since they seem to go hand-in-hand. According to this article, it all started with a woman named Tía Javiera (Aunt Javiera), who started selling her own version of rosquillas at San Isidro back in the 19th century. But when I went straight to the source and asked one of the rosquilla vendors at the festival about the history of the sweet treat, there was no mention of the famed Javiera. Instead, the vendor simply shrugged and said that San Isidro rosquillas were de toda la vida.10 She recalled having sold them at the festival with her father as a child, 50 years ago when the stalls were closer to Madrid Río and sellers also offered different types of melon and other fruits.
Regardless of the history, rosquillas are a must-try if you happen to be in Madrid in the spring. If you can’t make it to the San Isidro festival itself, lots of local bakeries feature them this time of the year. For my readers who are lucky enough to live here already, I’d recommend checking out El Horno de San Onofre, which has several locations in the city and is one of the best traditional bakeries around.
Sadly, this year’s visit to San Isidro is complete. Luckily, I had the forethought to bring some extra rosquillas home with me to have for merienda11 this week. I’ll at least get to experience them for a couple days longer, before moving on to the next traditional treat.
A couple of quick notes before I leave you to look up your local doughnut shop:
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This past Sunday I kicked off our first Sunday Sobremesa, where we discuss a particular food theme in the comments. One of my friends asked me how long the sobremesa would last, and I responded, “Indefinitely, just like in real life!,” which is a good-natured joke about the fact that post-meal discussions can go on for hours here in Spain. In all seriousness, though, feel free to chime in at your leisure!
I hope everyone has a great week, and if you so choose, I’d love to hear your favorite festival food in the comments!
Madrileños are famous for claiming that they have the best tap water in the world. People make fun of them, but after living here, it’s kind of true.
Fountain of San Isidro. It’s connected to the church where San Isidro is buried, and the water that flows from it supposedly has curative properties.
Literally, a particular size and shape of drinking glass. People use it informally to refer to having a beer, but it actually refers to a specific amount of beer. Like asking for a pint, for example.
In Spain, chorizo is a cured sausage made with pork, paprika, and garlic. In the US, we’re usually exposed to Mexican chorizo, which is a whole different (but also delicious) preparation.
The Real Academia Española, considered to be the authority on Spanish language, defines tonto as an adjective used to describe a person who lacks understanding or reason. In this sense it’s often used to mean silly or dumb, but I feel like here the reference is almost a play on words, as tonto can mean literally simple/uncomplicated or a not-so-nice way of saying that someone isn’t very smart (just like the word “simple” in English).
Most typical/what Madrid is known for
Literally meaning “from grandmother.” So basically “just how grandma used to make them”
Similar to French toast in the US, and a traditional dessert of Semana Santa. I could write an entire newsletter dedicated to them, I love them that much.
Something that’s been around forever