After three months in Morocco with no residency visa, it was time to make our first run for the border. We needed a new 90-day tourist visa and had the option of driving about five hours to the north of Morocco to a Spanish territory or flying out of the country on a cheap budget flight. We opted for the latter which is how we ended up having lunch in Madrid. We only had one day to spare for our adventure, so we needed a hotel with a free airport shuttle and a comfy bed, as well as a scrumptious meal to fulfill our vegan longings for the coming months.
Though I felt some guilt about going to Spain for the first time and not trying vegetarian Spanish cuisine, there was no room for churros or paella. We didn’t have time for fluff and had to cut straight through to the vegan meat of the matter. Ethiopian food was another tantalizing option but just the thought of an entirely vegan Asian buffet caused us to salivate. We opted for Shi Shang with no regrets.
Because of our tight flight schedule, we planned to arrive just as the restaurant opened. Their website mentioned opening at 11:30am, but the sign posted to the left of their closed shutters indicated 12 noon. We strolled to the Plaza de España and sat for a while, reflecting on our very first trip to Europe. Some of the brownstone buildings reminded us of Brooklyn but the Gothic architecture, statues, and fountains were what we expected to find in a major European city.
Returning promptly at 12 noon, our hearts sank as the shutters were still down. Would our highly anticipated meal fall flat? We walked around looking for alternatives. Don Jamón? No, gracias. Major fast food chains? Not likely. The Happy Buddha started to look enticing but we decided to give Shi Shang another few minutes to get their act together. Confusingly, when we completed our lap around the block, the shutters were up but the lights were off. One gentleman answered the door and indicated that the empty buffet tables would not be filled for at least another hour. Our schedule couldn’t afford us an hour to spare, so we opted to order à la carte instead.
After receiving our menus, our brains retrieved some dormant Spanish vocabulary and we quickly decided on appetizers and entrees to get our meal going. The staff busily mopped, folded napkins, and set tables around us while we sat content waiting for our order and hoping that we would finish in time to catch the metro rail to the airport for our 3:30pm flight. But as we waited, we watched the buffet table start to fill up and began to wonder if the buffet would be ready before our own dishes. The waiter assured us that the buffet would not be open until 1pm and brought us tofu salad as our appetizer.
At around 12:30pm, Urbdervish’s veggie fried rice reached our table first, followed by Lil’ Z’s veggie rice noodles and her single drumstick. She was impressed by her vegan fried chicken but even moreso by the sugar cane “drumstick” in its center. Last but not least, my sesame soy chicken and Urbndervish’s curried soy chicken came out and our order was complete. Each dish was uniquely flavorful and freshly prepared. We still lamented that we missed the buffet option but resolved that we would’ve been more prone to overeat and/or overindulge in the fried appetizers. Also, the buffet didn’t finally open until 1:15pm and by then, we were out the door and on the way to the airport.
Our brief waltz in and out of Madrid was fun. The cleanliness of the streets, adherence to traffic rules and efficient public transportation options were a welcomed break from Casablanca, but now we are back until travel whisks us away once again.