If moderation is your mission, then Madrid can be a very punishing city. Expect there to be a slight variance of the waistline once you go back home because here in Madrid, your stomach will quickly be expanding with the remarkable amount of food and drinks served up.
Stepping into Mercado de San Miguel is a downright tease to the senses. Established in 1916, this recently renovated grand market hall is a place where you can gleefully food-hop from one place to the next. Start off with traditional tapas bar snack of mini antipasto skewers of sundried tomatoes, olives, cheese, and anchovies. Induct your taste buds to regional delicacies one slice at a time with local cured meats like jamon iberico de bellota from Salamanca. Thirsty? Move over gin and tonic, head to the bar as it is now all about sipping on vermouth. At first this bitter fortified wine is difficult to stomach but the botanical flavours make each sip go down easier than the last (naturally). If alcohol isn’t your thing, there is always a bar devoted to cheese serving up the continent’s best, including cheeses you may never have heard of — mahon, valdeleon, granadilla anyone?
You would sometimes think that places in close proximity to a major attraction are a tourist trap. But I learned my lesson not to be fooled, as sometimes those places are actually revered establishments worth fishing for — literally. With its classical décor remaining relatively untouched since it opened in 1860, Casa Labra is one of the few remaining traditional Spanish taverns left in Madrid. Just footsteps from Plaza Puetra del Sol, this historical tavern’s menu is simplistic for the most part and only features a handful of items, with the famous cod fish croquettes being its prized tapas. The Spanish Socialist Party was born of this historic establishment, but today it is bustling with people mingling around the bar or small cocktail tables with paper plates piled high with cod croquettes or lightly battered fish. This place truly succeeds at reeling you in and leaving you begging for more!
Keep your eyes peeled for those long-established haunts. Despite being within footsteps of Plaza Mayor, one of Spain’s most beautiful public spaces, La Campana is a place where you happily endure the the noise and crowds. You can put almost everything between bread; however, the old saying of ‘less is more’ couldn’t be more appropriate. Consisting of only two ingredients, La Campana’s fried calamari sandwiched in a baguette is ever so flavoursome and the only thing needed to compliment it is a local beer in-hand.
Once you have had your fill of traditional flavours, it’s time to head to another authentic quarter of Madrid, La Latina. This district is synonymous with enjoying life’s simple pleasures to the full with its lively terraces, ancient churches, bars, narrow streets to wander and taverns full of character. It is also the perfect place to discover and indulge in a new wave of fusion tapas bars. Head down the popular Cava Baja street to try new-fangled tapas made with the finest seasonal ingredients.
Come Sunday, La Latina is sizzling with flavour and buzzing with activity. Madrid’s most popular flea market, El Rastro, is in full swing with live jazz playing at almost every turn among the vendors selling the usual trinkets. Located between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo, the market spills out to its neighbouring laneways, where it paths the way for you discover its many street art murals brightening the walls of one of Madrid’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Once the market closed at 3pm, I found it hard to maintain self-control. With every turn, there was one tapas menu after another, the smells of freshly baked Argentinian-style empanadas oozing out, and a vicious line of local bars slowly drawing me in as though tugging at my arm. You just have to look at the locals sitting by the bar, sipping on icy cold beers and snacking on tapas to give into temptation.
Once night falls is easy to see why life’s simple pleasures are most enjoyed in Spain. Maybe it’s time to reward yourself.
As a city that’s as timeless as it is modern, and as vibrant and energetic as it is quietly charming, Madrid is a city you absolutely must see if you’re travelling to Spain. From food to flamenco, discover all the different sides to the incredible Spanish capital on a unique, local tour with Urban Adventures.