Menu
Europe / Food

Eating all the tapas in Madrid

Madrid offers sunshine, art, a humongous Royal Palace and, among other things, a throbbing flea market, but what it excels at is Tapas. To really understand Madrid, get under its skin and feels it’s passion you must understand its relationship with food. Whilst the food in Madrid is unbelievably tasty the lasting impression I took away from my visit there spoke more about the tapas experience than the dishes themselves.

The key C's - cheese and chorizo

I can think of no more perfect initiation to the Madrid eating experience than the Mercardo San Miguel. Mercado San Miguel is a thoroughly modern food market. Situated just behind the tourist mecca of Plaza Mayor, San Miguel is like Borough Market in London except it’s classy and Latin!  Inside an eye-catching building of wrought iron and glass windows live mouth-watering stands of the best of Spanish cuisine. Individual stalls dedicated to jamon, croquetta, paella, stuffed olives, oysters, churros with hot chocolate and lots and lots of cakes. Make sure you are starving hungry before entering and eat your way around this deliciously stylish hall – I know I did!

Mercado San Miguel

MEAT

For sweet teeth

Churros con chocolate caliente - just dunk

Another area that requires an empty belly calling out for treats is Calle de la Cava Baja.

Cava Baja is simply the tastiest street in Madrid. Situated in the heart of the Latin Quarter the street is lined with Tapas Bars ranging from the traditional to the experimental, my advice would be to start at one end and attempt to try them all. One which we couldn’t help returning to was Taberna Txakolina – a bustling place (although which tapas bar isn’t on a Sunday night in Cava Baja?) it offered every imaginable concoction on a bruschetta. From bbq beef to salmon, chunks of camembert cheese or squiggly fish they had it all on offer on the higher than average bar (I ate my food at chin level!) For only 1 euro 40 to 1 euro 80 per piece you can afford to try them all.

Another must try is the Spanish summer tipple equivalent to British Pimms – Tinto de Verano. Literally a red wine spritzer – red wine served with either lemonade or tonic and fresh lemons – I found it was tastier than Rosè and less tacky than Sangria – Sangria is for tourists! Tinto de Verano is sold on tap at Txakolina for 3 euros a glass, so we tried quite a few!

Welcome to the Latin Quarter

Genius concoctions on bruschetta at Taberna Txakolina

Another place on Cava Baja I would like to highlight is La Camarilla simply because we were so impressed by the service. Getting served in a crowded Spanish tapas bar can be difficult when your Spanish is limited and you are lacking a bit of confidence. The waitor at La Camarilla (not be called Senor he informed us as he ‘wasn’t that old’) noticed my fumbling attempt to get attention at the bar and alerted the waitress behind it immediately. A little attention goes a long way. We enjoyed the food, made a friend and left him a suitably proportionate tip in return.

Fashion savvy crowd at La Camarilla

This encounter was of note because a slightly less successful experience was had upon our first night in Madrid. We had been drawn into Huertas, a lively area of bars and restaurants near our hotel. It was late and desperate to get involved with the Spanish cuisine we endeavoured to get a table at the place we could hear the most Spanish accents coming from. I say ‘endeavoured’ because getting a table was fairly difficult, an early warning of the confusion that was to come. We had entered the restaurant and signalled we wanted a table for two. The waitress guided us back outside again. Unsure of whether we were supposed to wait or not we hung around just to the side of the door, near enough to be called back if they did have a table but not so close the whole restaurant could see us hanging around looking confused. There was another couple waiting outside who had been there before us. The waitress came out and conversed with them in Spanish and went back inside taking neither of us groups with her. She came back and appeared to beckon us in, the other waiting couple didn’t seem to mind, so in we went, cautiously looking over our shoulders at the couple left behind. There were animated groups speaking Spanish at every low wooden table in the restaurant. They all seemed to be sharing giant dishes of meat and cheese and what I suspected was Octopus. I confidently ordered us ‘dos cerveza’ and then abruptly stumbled when the menu arrived. It looked like this

The menu at Taberna Maceiras. Photo courtesy of madaboutmadrid.com

In bright coloured, felt tip pen swirls were an array of undoubtedly delicious Spanish treats which I had no way of deciphering. I picked up on words like Empanada and Jamon ( a translation relic from my time in South America) and clung to their familiarity. The food, when it causally arrived, did not disappoint but I am sure it would have excelled had I remembered a phrase book and ordered more exotically. Things took a turn for the strange when at approximately 11pm the restaurant lights were turned out, even it seems in the kitchen, which I thought was rather daring. A punch bowl was rolled out to the front of the restaurant and set on fire, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, and mesmerising us 2 Brits who were caught in the middle of it all with no idea what was happening. A voice over a loud speaker seemed to be telling an interesting and dramatic tale – we had no ides what it said. After playing with the fire punch for a while the waitress then proceeded to distribute glasses of it to people’s tables – still in flames. After meeting Madrid resident (and wonderful host) Erin (@TortugaViajera) the next day she explained we had been at a popular Galician restaurant. I’m not sure what Galician ritual they were re-enacting but it sure looked like fun.

Yum Empanada

For a less confusing Tapas experience you can visit one of the achingly hip, modern tapas bars in the Lateral chain. We visited the one in Plaza Santa Ana, the buzzing hub of Huertas. There was a bit of a queue to get seated in the square but we soon passed the time sipping Tinto de Verano at the bar – and the wait was worth it. Beautiful staff swiftly served dishes to our table, it made a pleasant change to eat tapas sitting down and so we ate an awful lot of meat to celebrate. It seemed even the locals were happy to queue for a table at Lateral and (shock/horror) they were drinking Sangria! It seems that when it comes to Lateral, being a tourist is cool.

Jamon, croquetta and shock/horror - Sangria!

A whole jug of sangria and not a single 'Brits on tour' t shirt in sight!

There is so much fine tapas in Madrid and so many charming places to enjoy it. I barely scratched the surface on all this amazing city has to offer a food lover, but I learnt a lot about Madrid through my dining experiences and in doing so I learnt to love Madrid.

Have you fallen for Madrid through it’s tapas scene? Have you fallen in love with another city for it’s food alone?

About Author

Travel blogger and freelancer writer who loves boutique hotels and brunching. I've been blogging for 10 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. Now travelling with a baby and trying to make it as stylish and stress-free as can be!

No Comments

  • Heather
    September 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I’d love some sangria and churros con chocolate! Hardly slept a wink last night and need a pick me up 🙂

    Reply
    • Jayne
      September 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      If only I could package them up and send to you 🙂

      Reply
  • Erin
    September 27, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Yum!!!!! I’m glad you enjoyed all the delicious Spanish food as much as I do! It was so great to have you here. Come back soon!

    Reply
    • Jayne
      September 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      I hope I can and Erin if I lived in Madrid my waistline would have serious issues!!!

      Reply
  • Charlotte
    December 7, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Really enjoyed your Madrid posts, its conjuring up memories of my 2 trips to Seville this summer. We crawled the tapas bars (day and night!) sampling all the tasty food which was cheap as chips. I’ve just booked to go to Madrid for the first time next June and looking forward to it even more now! I discovered Tinto de Verano for the first time this Summer too- lovely!

    Reply
    • Jayne
      January 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Hi Charlotte, sounds like you love all the same things about Spain as I do. Have fun in June 🙂

      Reply
  • Chase Momphard
    December 22, 2011 at 4:21 am

    I really like your writing style, great info , regards for putting up : D.

    Reply
    • Jayne
      January 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      Thank you very much 🙂

      Reply
  • […] 40 before 30 – Eating Tapas in Madrid […]

    Reply
  • Hamatha
    January 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Hey–great article! I’ve been to that Galician restaurant before and I’d love it if it weren’t for all the people! That thing about turning out the lights and settiing liquor on fire is called la queimada. Its a Galician ritual..something about spirits and whatnot- silly, but fun all the same!

    Reply
    • Jayne
      January 10, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Hamatha, thanks for shedding some light on the Galician ritual – it sure was fun, if a bit odd 🙂

      Reply
  • […] delicious goodies. Torvehallerne opened just last year and reminded me very much of Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel in its concept and design, except it had more fish and less tapas. Not to be missed is a cupcake […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.