24 Aug Madrid food and drink guide
Madrid food and drink guide.
All you need to know about eating and drinking in Madrid.
The where, when, what and how to eat and drink like a local in Madrid.
This Madrid food and drink guide will help you to eat and drink like a local in Madrid. But first, a little story about my first-time visiting Madrid.
My first taste of mainland Spain was in July 1997. My auntie Linda lives in Madrid and I went to stay with her. Visiting relatives is a great way to experience a place as you have a local guide with you always. So, start calling up all your family and friends that live in other countries!
Five things stick out in my mind about my week-long vacation; the heat, the people, the late nights, the food and the alcohol.
I visited Madrid in July, which is the hottest month with an average maximum temperature of 90°F/32°C. It was stifling and the sun was intense. If you love the heat and hours of sunshine then head to Madrid in July or August. When I go again, I will make sure it is in the winter or early Spring.
As much as I packed on the SPF 50 this pale, pasty, Irish girl got sunburnt to a crisp. It was the first time I ever experienced real pain and mortification. I was so red and looked ridiculous. But I did learn a very cool tip from this very sore experience; put slices of tomato or tomato juice on your sunburn. Not only is it very cooling and soothing but tomatoes alleviate redness and inflammation.
Top Tanning Tip: Tomatoes are full of an antioxidant called lycopene and research shows that eating tomatoes and tomato paste can help protect your skin from sun damage. So, start filling up on tomatoes a few weeks before you hit the sun, but use sunscreen too!
When I was first in Madrid in July 1997, Miguel Ángel Blanco, a 29-year-old local politician, was kidnapped and executed by the Basque separatist group ETA. Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s I was no stranger to terror attacks, but this was the first time I experienced people protesting terrorists.
On 14 July 1997 over two million people took to the streets to condemn the attack. It was Spain’s biggest ever protest. The people of Spain had had enough. They were finally standing up to ETA and showing their grief and anger at this senseless killing. It was a turning point in the public’s attitude towards ETA, as people overcame their fears to express their horror and disgust at this latest killing.
I went to one of these protests. I remember exiting the metro station and climbing up onto a rubbish bin so I could get a better look. A sea of people marching, chanting and crying washed through the city streets. The people were overcome with emotion and demanded justice. The police officers, who wore balaclavas to protect their identity from ETA, ripped off their masks and said they were no longer afraid. They were going to come and get ETA and protect their city and country. I stood on the bin in awe. I had never seen so many people before. Their chanting sounded glorious. I had goosebumps all over my body and such hope in my heart. Even now remembering this moment I am getting goosebumps.
It is this strength and fearlessness that I associate with people from Madrid. Madrilenians / Madrileños are some of the most passionate people I have ever encountered. This passion comes through in almost every aspect of their lives and culture. You can see it in the obsessive football rivalry between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and you can see it in the way they cook and eat. When you go to Madrid be prepared for the passion.
The late nights:
Have you ever looked at Spain on the map and noticed that it has the same longitude as the UK? Technically, it should be in the GMT zone but it isn’t. It keeps the same time as Germany. In 1940, Spain’s ruler, General Francisco Franco, changed the country’s time zone to that of Nazi Germany to show solidarity with Hitler. This meant that locals were still going about their working lives and meal times as usual but they were now an hour ahead. So, when people in Madrid were having breakfast at 7 a.m. the clock was now reading 8 a.m. This meant that Madrilenians were finishing work at 8 p.m. and not getting around to eating dinner until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. This is the reason why meals are eaten so late in Madrid and why restaurants stay open so late.
When I was in Madrid I experienced many edible delights for the first time; prawns, chickpeas, olives, churros and homemade breaded chicken. These things just didn’t feature in my life back in Ireland. I feel that Madrid is the city that really matured by taste buds. I associate deep rich flavours with the food of Madrid with lots of garlic, salt, and oil.
What should I eat and drink in Madrid?
Tapas: Tapas are small snacks served with drinks. The Spanish rarely drink without having something to eat at the same time. Sometimes the food accompanying the alcohol might be a simple dish of olives or almonds or Iberico ham and picotos. More substantial bites to eat are known as pinchos. ‘Un pincho de tortilla’ is a portion of tortilla that is slightly larger than a tapa of tortilla.
In Madrid, a tapa is usually one small snack for one person. A pinch is a slightly bigger snack and a ración is a large portion that can be shared with others, what we think of as sharing tapas. For example, a large portion of, patatas bravas, will be called a ración and can be shared with four or more people. If there are only three to four people then you can order a half-size portion called a ‘media ración.
Eating out in Madrid showed me how to eat like an adult and with gusto. You cannot be reserved when it comes to tapas and raciones. Fast hands and an unapologetic greediness is needed. You cannot be shy or sorry when it comes to eating in Madrid, especially in local tapas bars when sharing food with locals.
When eating out in Madrid, my advice is to order one or two ‘media racións in one bar or restaurant and then move on to another bar and order another few dishes. That way you really get to sample loads of different places to eat in Madrid.
Where are the best tapas bars and restaurants in Madrid?
The best places to eat tapas and drink Spanish beers and wines and spirits in Madrid are dotted all along Calle Augusto Figueroa (great area to mix with locals), Plaza Santa Ana (wonderful for al fresco dining and people watching), the streets around Plaza Mayor and the area around the Centro Belles Artes.
When should I eat in Madrid?
Timing: Knowing when to eat, as well as what to eat, is key to eating like a local in Madrid. There are well kept eating sessions and most kitchens, especially in local, non-touristy places, adhere to these times.
Breakfast: between 8:00a.m. and 11:30a.m.
Lunch: between 1:30p.m. and 4:00p.m.
Dinner: between 8:00 p.m. and midnight
After dinner drinks: until around 3 a.m.
Breakfast: Desayuno / El desayuno
For me, the best way to enjoy breakfast in Madrid is to find a local Fabrica de Churros y Patatas Fritas and take a seat or stand at the counter and order a coffee and either tostada con tomate (crunchy white toasted bread with fresh chopped tomatoes) or porras (Madrid’s version of churros). Porras are thicker than churros, taste a bit like Yorkshire pudding, but a lot nicer, and are delicious dipped into coffee. As a treat, you could eat porras in San Gines where they have been served for over 100 years.
Elevenses: Almuerzo (also media mañana)
Come 11 a.m., keep your energy levels up and have a protein-rich Pincho de Tortilla (Spanish omelette / tortilla de patatas). Tortilla de patatas is a potato omelette and a little square is usually served in bars as a tapa but you really should order a pincho (big slice) and enjoy it as a snack. It is delicious served on top of crusty white bread.
Fancy an early tipple? Why not order a shot of brandy or Chinchon anisette, or just order both together to create a sol y sombre, fuck it, you’re on holiday, right?
Appetizer: Hora del aperitivo
An aperitivo is an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. If you didn’t neck a shot with your tortilla, around 1 p.m. is the perfect time to seek out a traditional bodega or tasca where you should make like a local and order a vermut con sel, which consists of locally-produced draught red vermouth with a splash of soda. This will be served with a tapa – usually boquerones en vinagre, jamón ibérico or manzanilla olives. These salty snacks will start opening the palate for lunch. Yes, it’s not even lunchtime yet!
Lunch: Comida / La comida
There’s no better way to understand a culture than through its food and one of the best ways to get to know a country’s food is to head to a local food market and there are loads in Madrid – Mercado San Miguel and Mercado de la Paz are both great. Whilst at the food market, do as the locals do and sit down and have a long lingering lunch with a glass of wine. Locals usually start eating lunch around 2 p.m. Most markets have bars or restaurants serving food made with ingredients that can be bought in the market. Order the three-course menu del dia, which is a great way of trying more than one dish and you usually get a glass of wine with the meal too, all for a very reasonable price – usually between €10 and €15.
Typical dishes in Madrid
Try to find a menu that offers some seafood as Madrid has some wonderful seafood dishes like Bacalao rebozado (battered and fried salt cod), carabineiros (large red prawns), pulpo (octopus) and bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich).
Also look out for the deliciously simple vegetarian dish huevos rotos, which literally means “broken eggs.” For this dish, potatoes are fried in Spanish olive oil and tossed with sea salt then topped with perfect over-easy eggs. You then take a slice of crusty bread and dip into the yokes or sometimes, your server will break the yokes at the table. It’s basically Madrid’s answer to egg and chips.
If you visit in winter, seek out cocido Madrileño which is a traditional stew made with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizo sausage and pork in a flavoursome broth. The broth is served a soup and then the chickpeas and veggies are served as the next course and then the stewed meat is severed as the final course.
Also in winter, you can find callos a la Madrileña which dates from the 16th century. Again, it is another stew and it is typically served in a clay dish. It is a smoky, paprika flavoured medley of beef tripe, chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage).
To finish your everlasting lunch, order an espresso and a copita (little cup) of local brandy or pacharan, a punchy potion made from blackthorn or sloe berries and anise and is said to have medicinal properties that help with digestion – that clearly means it is good for you, so you might as well order another.
After lunch, you will probably need to have a siesta but just a quick nap, there is more eating to be done.
Afternoon snack: Merienda / La merienda
At around 5p.m. to 6p.m. it’s time for la merienda, the afternoon snack, which is intended to keep you going until dinner time, which is eaten rather late at night. One of the best afternoon snacks is churros which are deep-fried strips of batter covered in sugar and dipped into melted chocolate or into a cup of hot chocolate. However, if you already had churros or porras for breakfast you may want to recharge with a café con leche or espresso and a Napolitana de chocolate (Spanish pain au chocolat) – the best place in Madrid to try these is Pastelería La Mallorquina. If you fancy something savoury have a bocadillo de jamón serrano (dry-cured Spanish ham served in crusty white bread) or rollitos de berenjenas (aubergine roll ups).
Dinner: Cena / La cena
In Madrid, the final meal is la cena. Dinner in Spain is lighter than la comida but consists of multiple courses. To eat like a local in Madrid, try to have dinner around 10 p.m. as this is when most restaurants will be at their liveliest and there will be a great buzz about the place. Remember I mentioned the passion for food that the people of Madrid have? Now is a great time to experience and be part of that. So, find somewhere busy and informal for a truly authentic experience.
For dinner in Madrid, there is no end of options. You can go from bar to bar sampling tapas and pinchos in each one. You can share racións with friends or eat a more formal meal with individual dishes and courses.
When it comes to reading menus, the food is organised into categories and the first you will encounter are entrantes /entremeses (appetizers), primeros / primer plato (first courses), ensaladas (salads) and sopas (soups).
Then there will be platos principals (main dishes), segundo plato /segundos (second course), carnes (meat dishes) and pescados (fish dishes).
Sometimes when you order from the carne section of the menu the meat is served by itself with not much else but perhaps a garnish of salad. If you want to order a side or accompaniment look for the guarniciones section of the menu. When you read guarniciónes a elegir beside one of the platos principlas this means it comes with a side. If you are unsure just ask “viene con guarnición o viene solo?”
The last part of the food menu will be the postre (dessert). A typical dessert of Madrid to look out for is leche frita (fried milk) – which is a firm, cold milk-pudding or custard that is coated in flour and egg and fried and then dipped in sugar and cinnamon and delicious served hot with ice-cream. Another typical dessert on menus in Madrid is a sponge cake called bizcocho. You could also try torrijas, which is like French toast, and Spanish flan de leche which is a caramel pudding and natillas de Leche, which is a rich vanilla-flavoured egg custard. If you are in Madrid in early January look out for Roscón de Reyes, which is a traditional holiday dessert, served the night before or the morning of “Reyes” or Epiphany, January 6th.
When all the food has been devoured and you can no longer physically move and you have discretely undone the button on your trousers you can then relax and enjoy the sobremesa, the talking after the meal around the table usually with a coffee or sherry in hand.
One of the nice things about eating out in Madrid is that there is no rush for you to clear the table once you are finished eating. The chatting and relaxing after the meal is part of the experience and you can usually stay until your food has digested and you no longer feel full to the brim with delicious food.
From here you can move on to a bar for some late-night sherry or local wine, Spain has some of the best wine in the world and you can learn more about Albarino wine in my Albariño Food and Wine Trail article. If you’ve still got energy to burn after all of that, you can head off to a late-night club and dance until 6 a.m. If you choose this option you can always stop for some more churros and chocolate on the way back to your bed to get some shuteye to be ready to do it all again in a few more hours.
Madrid truly is one of the most exciting European cities for food and drink lovers. I hope this Madrid food and drink guide helps you enjoy this city with gusto.
Fancy bringing a taste of Madrid into your kitchen? I have a very quick and easy gambas al aioli tapas recipe that takes just minutes to make. Serve with a cold Spanish beer or glass of wine and you can imagine that you are soaking up the sun of the Spanish capital without having to deal with the sunburn!
Click here for my Spanish style Gambas al Aioli tapas recipe.
Click here for my blog post on the Best Tapas in Dublin – where to eat gambas al aioli and gambas pil pil.
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