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By Alba Gonzalez, a food loving Madrileña
Edited by Matthew Wears
Looking for places to eat in Madrid can be an overwhelming task. In a city so rich in traditional food culture, there is as many unique dishes to try as there are places to try them. The city square Puerta del Sol contains a marker known as Kilometre Zero, where all six of Spain’s national roads lead to, so it’s no surprise that Madrid’s food scene has became a combination of styles and flavours from across the country. Add to this all of the different neighbourhoods such as La Latina or Malasaña and their unique styles of dining and you have a complex food culture. Some dishes in the city are known all over the world, whereas others remain a secret only known to locals who know where to look. This Madrid food guide will try to cover all bases and give you a selection of what food to try whilst you are in the city, as well as where to eat in Madrid.th
Let’s start with the city’s most famous sandwich and one of Madrid’s most popular street foods; bocadillo de calamares. This incredibly simple meal consists only of deep-fried squid packed inside crusty, fresh bread and nothing else. Some locals add homemade garlic mayonnaise, but it’s most commonly eaten in its simplest form. You can get this from one of the many calamares bars that are scattered across Madrid, many of which are around the city centre’s Plaza Major. Some of these can be slightly ‘tourist-heavy’, so if you’re asking yourself “where do the locals eat in Madrid?”, try El Brillante. It is located further east, next to the Reina Sofía Art Museum and Atocha Train Station and is my personal favourite. A fun and boisterous little bar that’s always packed with Madrileños, it’s in close proximity to so many sights which make it a great place for a midday snack.
If you’re wondering what food to eat in Madrid during winter, a great place to start is with a hearty local dish; cocido Madrileño. This is a regional chickpea and potato based stew that usually contains vegetables such as carrots and cabbage alongside cuts of meat. Traditionally it contains pork belly, but it can be made with other cuts. This is a special dish eaten on Sundays in Spain, but it can be eaten at any time, and many restaurants will serve it all week and year round. One of the best places to try this dish would be in the traditional Sobrino de Botín. Dating back to 1725, this is the oldest remaining restaurant in the entire world and is decorated with an interior that is both lavish and traditional. This title makes it a popular place for tourists, but what better way to enjoy a local classic than in one of the best restaurants in Madrid.
Originally from France, Croquetas were introduced to Spain in the 1900’s and have become a staple Mediterranean dish. They are very simple, and traditionally contain the leftovers of any food you can find. Popular fillings include ham, shrimp or mushroom which is then coated in béchamel sauce and then breadcrumbed, but although they don’t contain many ingredients, they’re deceptively difficult to perfect. You can find this food all over Madrid, but there are a few places that claim to have the best in the city. Casa Julio in Malasaña is one of these restaurants and many people go just for their famous Croquetas. They offer classic fillings alongside more current options such as spinach, raisins and gorgonzola. The neighbourhood of Malasaña has quickly became one of the best areas to eat in Madrid due to its creative and experimental residents.
Gazpacho is a dish that originates in the Southern region of Andalusia but is eaten all over Spain throughout the summer months. It is a cold soup made from blended vegetables, usually with a base of tomatoes and was originally eaten by the poor, although now it is a favourite all over the country with Spaniards from all walks of life. A refreshing meal, you can usually spot people enjoying it as they sit outside, drinking it from a glass rather than a bowl. My favourite place to enjoy this dish is at El Asturiano, a tapas bar that is quite far out of the centre of town. It can be reached by taking the number one Metro line from Atocha station to Alto del Arenal and then walking from there. This area is quite urban compared to the centre, but the restaurant offers a totally non-touristy experience for anyone willing to give it a try and get off the beaten path in Madrid.
Even if you only visit Madrid for a short while, you will definitely have churros at one point or another. This is what we call a merienda, or a light snack that fits between meal times such as a coffee or ice-cream. A churro is simply fried dough most commonly served with a light dusting of sugar or with thick melted chocolate. There are so many places to eat in Madrid city centre when it comes to churros, and many of the best ones are in Plaza Major area. Chocolatería San Ginés is the most famous place to get them and perhaps even the best. The shop has been open since 1894 and has gathered such a reputation that it can become crowded with tourists. Another great place is Los Artesanos 1902, a family run churrerías that is smaller and quieter than San Ginés. It also has a glass window where you can watch the churros being made.
If you don’t know what to eat in Madrid, sometimes the best option is to go for a drink! Tapas is a very popular way to eat in Spain, and is an experience made up of many small unique dishes that go alongside drinks. They are sometimes free in other regions of Spain, but in Madrid you will usually have to pay a small fee. There are some bars such as Índigo that still offer free tapas with drinks, but with price comes quality, so don’t set your expectations too high! Vibrant and fun places to eat in Madrid are easy to find, and one of the very best is Mercado de San Miguel, a historic iron and glass building that has been renovated into a vibrant market where stalls selling fresh produce sit alongside bars and restaurants. Everything from vegetable skewers all the way to great quality seafood can be found here, making it a great place to come and enjoy a caña and try out some local favourites.
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