In addition to the museums and galleries that Madrid is famed for, the city also offers a flourishing food scene of regional Spanish cuisine, endless tapas plates and, of course, chocolate con churros.
We explored Madrid’s food scene over a long-weekend stay in February and here’s what we discovered.
Chocolate con churros
You don’t need to look very far to find chocolate con churros in Madrid. The crispy fingers of churros are served with a cup of thick gloopy molten chocolate for dipping and are the perfect fuel for a day of sightseeing.
The most famous establishment in the city for churros is San Gines, which has been serving up the sweet Spanish treat since 1894. Tucked away in a back street close to the main square (Plaza Mayor), San Gines is decorated with mirrors, green wood panels, and plastered with pictures of celebrities who’ve visited the venue. We found the service quick here (although at peak times the queues can be huge so arriving early in the day is wise) and the churros delicious. A hot chocolate with six churros cost four euros, which is quite reasonable considering the notoriety of the place. The hot chocolate and also individual chocolates and other merchandise can be purchased from the next-door shop.San Gines, Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
We also enjoyed the churros at family-run establishment Chocolatería Los Artesanos. We found the churros here to be as enjoyable as those in San Gines and it was less busy so it provides a better chance of getting a table. There’s also more choice here with the availability of either milk or dark dipping chocolate and the option to add a shot of Baileys to the chocolate. Chocolatería Los Artesanos also allows you to enjoy some food theatre by watching the churros maker at work through a large glass window, making churros and the much thicker porras.
Chocolatería Los Artesanos, Calle de San Martín, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain
The oldest restaurant in the world
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Sobrino de Botín, which was founded in 1725, is the oldest restaurant in the world, that has been continuously operating.
Founded by Frenchman Jean Botin and his wife, the restaurant was originally called Casa Botín. Later it was inherited by Botin’s nephew and the restaurant name changed to Sobrino (nephew) de Botín.
The restaurant has appeared in many novels about Madrid, most notably Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’, in addition to Frederick Forsyth’s ‘Icon’ and ‘The Cobra’.
The secret to the restaurant’s success is its speciality dish cochinillo asado (fire-roasted suckling pig), which is mentioned in the closing pages of Hemingway’s novel. We tried this and also its other signature dish – sopa de ajo (an egg, poached in a garlic and chicken broth, and laced with sherry) on a Monday lunchtime and were seated without a reservation. Both dishes were deliciously memorable and are offered in their set menu (around 50 Euros for three courses including a half bottle of wine per person). The garlic and chicken broth was satisfying enough to be a main dish, and was the most memorable soup I’ve ever tried (for all the right reasons).
The tender pork came with a crispy skin and meaty flavour, whilst the accompanying potatoes were very flavoursome (assumedlycooked in the fat from the meat). There were no vegetables so you may want to order a side if you opt for this dish, although there is ample food in the set menu.
The venue itself is charming, the downstairs (which used to be a cellar) makes you feel like you’re dining in a cave. Upstairs, you can see into the kitchen to row upon row of plates of suckling pig. The smartly suited waiters offered us excellent service, and, despite the heavy presence of tourists, the whole meal was a wonderful experience that I’d definitely recommend.
(You can read about another of the world’s oldest restaurants – Zur Letzten Instanz, in our Foodie’s Guide to Eating and Drinking in Berlin).
Sobrino de Botín, Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Mercado de San Miguel
We love a European food market for a chance to share lots of small local dishes, and the iron-structured Mercado de San Miguel didn’t disappoint. The lively market is home to 33 stalls of local fare and reasonably priced wine kiosks selling fresh produce and small ready-to-eat plates.
Here we enjoyed some of the best oysters we’ve ever eaten, washed down with a glass of cold albariño wine, from the Daniel Sorlut oyster bar. The origins of the famed oysters began in 1930 when George Sorlut began oyster farming from a small fishing hut. Today the oysters are farmed on the French coast of the Charente-Maritime region and are a favourite among chefs.
Next, we visited el Casa del bacalao stall for various fishy things (anchovies, mussels, bacalao and fish liver) on toast for one euro each. The crunchy toast was a perfect texture contrast to the soft fish and each was flavoured in their own unique way (sweet peppers with the mussels, a honey and mustard drizzle over the bacalao).
Next up we tried a stuffed cheesy sea urchin (for a review of sea urchin in its raw form you can read our article here), which was unusual, yet delicious and comforting.
At the Sherry Corner we selected a glass from the sherry menu and enjoyed a pot of olives alongside it. We stretched out the sherry to the ham stall where we had a cone of jamón with the last of our dry sherry.
The meal was topped off with a custard tart (more on those in our Foodie’s Guide to Lisbon) and glass of port. Other tempting bites that we were too full to try included banderillas — toothpicks of olives, jamón, cheese, and sardines – for one euro each, fresh buratta from the mozzarella tapas bar and the rare delicacy percebes (goose neck barnacles).
To sum up this was the perfect venue for a slow, drawn out meal of lots of inexpensive plates of Spanish gastronomy, and the chance to try some unusual dishes we hadn’t tried before.
Plaza de San Miguel, mercadodesanmiguel.es. Open Sun-Wed 10am-midnight, Thurs-Sat 10am-2am
Calamari de bocadillo (squid sandwich)
A trip to Madrid isn’t complete without sampling its most famous dish so as soon as we arrived in the city we headed for the Plaza Mayor square to sample the calamari de bocadillo.
The simple dish consists of a fresh bread roll filled with flour-coated, deep-fried tender squid rings, fried in olive oil. The crisp bread and crunchy squid are best washed down with a large beer and it’s a definite must-try for a stay in Madrid.
Tapas in La latina, Madrid
The maze of narrow medieval lanes that is the bustling La Latina neighborhood is well known for its abundance of tapas bars and restaurants. We ventured to the authentic neighbourhood for some bar hopping and a tapas crawl.
On our tapas trail we sampled dishes such as a duck pasty, a small pot of smokey bean stew and a morcilla wrap topped with a quail’s egg.
This is definitely the area to get lost and to try a new authentic dish with each glass of Spanish wine in an area where the locals hang out.
Have you been to Madrid? What food did you enjoy – we want to hear in the comment box below.
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