Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world. There are so many things that attract me to the city. The casual vibe, friendly, genuine people, vibrant nightlife, great weather, beautiful parks and brilliant public transport all combine to make Madrid a wonderful destination. One of the most appealing things about Madrid though, is its amazing food and drink scene.
Spain has a wealth of fresh food available, and in recent decades, spurred on by chefs like Ferran and Albert Adrià, Jose Andres and the late Santi Santimaria, the world has become a lot more interested in what Spain, and the Spanish cooking culture has to offer. In Australia, chefs like Frank Camorra of Movida fame have piqued people’s interest in Spanish food on the other side of the world.
The modern food scene in Spain exciting, but so is the traditional food scene. Spain’s modern chefs all have their roots in traditional Spanish cooking, techniques, regional styles and, above all, the upmost respect for the ingredients.
One thing that you’ll notice when you arrive in Madrid, it’s that the locals are obsessed with Jamón. Its the lifeblood of Madrid. Jamón is a dry cured meat specific to Spain and is served in very thin slices, with an amazing texture to it. It should be somewhat glistening, but not oily or greasy. There are 2 types of Jamón – Jamón serrano (ham from the sierra or mountains) and Jamón ibérico (ham from the Black Iberian Pig). It is considerably cheaper in Spain than elsewhere in the world, and the Jamón ibérico is particularly luxurious (although more expensive).
One of the best snacks that can be found all over Madrid is the Jamón bocadillo, which is a small crusty bread roll cut lengthways, filled with a few slices of Jamón. One of these will set you back between €1-€2. Find a little deli, shop or tapas bar, order and enjoy.
Museo del Jamon is a chain of restaurants that specialise in Jamon. You won’t find the best Jamon in Spain here, but it’s a fun place, and the food is decent for the price.
Sangria can be found everywhere, but one of the best places to get it in Madrid is a place called Las Cuevas de Sesamo. It is a very small, literally underground venue, there is an old guy playing piano and covers of classic movie themes, and waiters providing table service. It has a very homely vibe and the sangria is a cut above that of any other I’ve had.
Tapas come in two distinct varieties in Madrid. First, you have the free option – the catch is that you need to buy drinks before you can benefit from the free tapas. Luckily, drinks in Madrid are cheap.
El Tigre is a favourite amongst local students and tourists. It’s a small venue, and is shoulder to shoulder hectic, but is an experience that’s not to be missed. Shout over the crowd to order some drinks at the bar and you’ll get an assorted plate of whatever is cooking on the grill/fryer at the time. The more drinks that you order at any given time, the more food you’ll get. Potatoes, bread, ham, omelettes etc are generally what’s on offer, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value combination of food and drinks in the city.
At the other end of the scale, are venues that elevate tapas and take it to the next level.
One of the best examples of this kind of tapas is Vinoteca Barbechera. The style here is more an example of chefs and restaurateurs wanting to get creative with their food rather than an attempt at pretension, and you’ll find that at their heart, the ingredients are local and fresh, and the prices still very affordable. There is some really amazing food to be had here, which is commendable given it’s primary function as a wine bar, and the fact that there are a few of them about now. I visited the branch in the Chueca district.
Almost everybody knows what churros are, but in case you don’t, they are essentially doughnut sticks, that are served with a hot dipping chocolate. The combination of the two is called “chocolate con churros”.
If you’ve ever eaten churros outside of the Spanish world, then forget what you think you know. Real churros should not be greasy at all, and are much lighter than normal doughnuts. The dipping chocolate should not be overly sweet, the sweetness coming from the sugar on the churros instead.
Chocolateria San Gines is a Madrid institution. Open since 1894, San Gines is a cafe serving a variety of drinks and sweets, but their speciality is chocolate con churros. Located down a narrow alleyway, the setting is very charming and being open 24 hours a day, San Gines is a great option to end any night. Their dipping chocolate is especially dark and rich.
Another option for churros is Chocolateria Valor. Valor is a high end chocolateria that has been making chocolate since 1881 and, although more expensive than some other options, is still a relatively affordable snack and well worth visiting. Beyond all of the amazing chocolates (what they are actually famous for) and cakes on offer, are the churros con chocolate. Valor’s uniqueness stems from the 4 dipping chocolates on offer, ranging from white through to very dark chocolate.
The dipping chocolates are sweeter than usual, which is what relegates them to our second tip – don’t be mistaken though, the churros con chocolate at Valor are loads better than any you’ve ever tasted before. There are branches throughout Madrid, and in fact throughout Spain.
A trend in Madrid lately has been to revamp old market sites as new, fashionable eateries. The food on offer at these places is of high quality, there’s lots of variety, and it’s surprisingly affordable.
One of the best is Mercado San Anton, which contains several levels of food outlets and a rooftop bar. It’s one of the oldest markets in Madrid, but you wouldn’t be able to tell given how new it looks inside. As well as selling food that is cooked fresh and ready to eat, it’s still an operating market selling a variety of local produce and foodstuffs.
Completed in 1916, with the original Iron Structure still standing, Mercado de San Miguel contains 33 stalls selling both a variety of fresh and local produce, as well as dishes to be eaten at the market itself. There are also a variety of courses and exhibits that take place in the market. It’s one of those places where you can spend as little or as much as you want to, but either way you’ll be guaranteed to have eaten some of the best food that Spain has to offer. Fish, meat, Jamón, cheese, fruit, vegetables, bread, coffee, cakes etc – it’s all here.
In typical Spanish fashion the market is upon until 2:00am on weekends, so there’s always an opportunity to check it out.
There are loads of little shops throughout Madrid that sell amazing fresh food and local produce. The quality is superb.
When visiting Spain, many tourists go to Barcelona and a smaller city or two, and completely bypass Madrid. I love Barcelona, but Madrid has a vibe all of its own and personally, I prefer it to its Catalan cousin. I’ve been there 3 times so far, and would happily go back to visit any time. I highly recommend that you add it to your bucket list and can assure you that you won’t regret it.