Munching Your Way Through Madrid’s Vibrant Food Scene

Any trip to Madrid could quickly become food-centric, as one visits Madrid’s vibrant food scene at the markets, taverns, restaurants, and bars; sampling the best that Spain’s capital city has to offer.

One might as well begin with the Mercado de San Miguel , the city’s main market, located near the Plaza Mayor.  Declared a Spanish Property of Cultural Interest, the market is frequented by tourists and madrileños alike. The market first opened in 1916, but by the late twentieth century, it fell into disrepair and was nearly demolished. Restoration began in 2003, after private investors purchased it.

The market is open daily – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday from 10:00 AM to midnight; and Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 AM. Arrive when it opens and enjoy coffee, light pastries, fresh fruit and juices, and artisanal yogurts. Or grab a beer and begin gorging on tapas in the market’s early hours. Permanent food stalls sell produce, high quality seafood, an infinite number of regional hams and other cured meats, various cheeses, offal, and other market delights. Nearly every stall offers tapas – small portions of local cheeses, freshly shucked raw oysters, toothpicks piled with olives and pickled vegetables, tuna in mayonnaise, slices of the best hams Spain has to offer, even tiny Bavarian bratwursts, and many more epicurean treats.

The best way to enjoy the market is to spend several hours meandering among the vendors and throngs of patrons, sampling the various food offerings. Once you have selected your food, as well as acquired a glass or two of wine or cava, stake a claim on one of the tall communal tables in the center of the market and enjoy your market purchases, while people watching.

Beyond the market, the city has great restaurants. Try Taberna Segun Emma, Calle Conde Miranda 4, located just beside the market. Often packed with locals, this tavern is well worth a visit. Push your way to the bar and order a glass of beer, wine or sherry – each round of drinks comes with free snacks. These rotate, so you may first sample local salami, before moving on to slices of manchego cheese, then olives. While it is tempting to continue to drink and snack all evening, you’re encouraged to try some fine menu items as well. The tavern offers large plates worth sharing – from open-faced sandwiches to salads, to pastas; all utilizing high quality ingredients.

For a more historic eating establishment, visit La Casa del Abuelo , a century-old institution in the city center. The standing room only tiny bar and restaurant is open daily from 8:30 AM to midnight. The bartender is also the cook, so watching him orchestrate drink orders while preparing the food is a show onto itself. The menu is displayed on the tiled walls – and seafood dishes are what the restaurant is most famous for. Try the gambas a la plancha – grilled whole prawns that you peel and eat while standing at the bar or one of the marbled top tables. Gambas al ajillo is another popular dish – sizzling garlic shrimp served with crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce. And, don’t miss the house wine.

Spend an evening, or two, hopping from one tavern to another on Calle Cava Baja, one of the best food streets in the city. Located in the La Latina neighborhood, just a few minutes walk from the city center, Cava Baja is lined with restaurants and bars, all worth trying. For fish bowl sized gin and tonics and various regional foodstuffs, try Posada del Dragon, Cava Baja 14. Txakoli, Cava Baja 26, offers Basque tapas. Casa Lucio, Cava Baja 35, serves more traditional madrileña cuisine. For modern interpretations of tapas, visit Orixe, Cava Baja 17.

End your evening, or begin your day, with a stop at Chocolatería San Ginés, Pasadizo de San Ginés 5. Open since 1894, this well-known restaurant tucked away in the city center has served churros and hot chocolate to throngs of visitors. Open twenty-four hours, there is an ever present line of patrons. Join the queue and order chocolate con churros (or café con leche con chorros). If your order is less than 12€, you will need to pay with cash. The cashier will then present you with a numbered receipt, which you can give to the nearest waiter. Indicate where you will be sitting – main floor, downstairs, outside – and he will bring your order to you.

Whether you’re searching for traditional tapas or modern fare, Madrid is the perfect city to sample some of the best food in Spain.

Written by Morgen Young for EuropeUpClose.com

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