I’m nominating Spain as the SNACK CAPITAL of the WORLD. So with Madrid being Spain’s capital it has a lot of gastronomy to live up to, which it certainly does. I have come to understand that the Spanish, no matter what region, consistently, confidently and effortlessly serve-up bite-sized scrumptiousness. Snacks that stretch the imagination of how food can taste and be presented. A grazing session through Madrid teaches us all that snacks at the bar can be a cornucopia of morsels, flavors and textures and there is no need to ever sit down for a meal.
While arranging a short visit to Madrid I put out the word on Twitter and asked for some restaurant recommendations. I did get a few, but strangely I was not told about a specific place. It was always, “oh I ate at a great place right near Plaza Mayor, but I cannot remember the name” and similar comments. Now I know why this is: Madrid, like so much of Spain, “is” a restaurant. It is a sprawling food court of cervecerias, siderias and just plain good ol’ tapas bars. To fully enjoy this experience you should first change your way of thinking to not look for someplace to eat but rather anyplace that has food in those ubiquitous glass bar cases. Pop in, have a bite and a drink, if you like it then order another and if not then move on.
Here are a few places and tapas that we enjoyed a lot:
Sidrería El Tigre, Calle de las Infantas, 30, 28004 Madrid, Spain
A very rustic and basic tapas bar complete with a mounted boar’s, typical rock walls and wooden beam ceiling. Before deciding to finally try it I had passed by a couple of times and always noticed that it was crowded. To look at the interior I could not really understand why and then I ordered a beer, glass of wine and some tapas that totaled a whopping €4.00. After paying I took another look around and it dawned on me that this is seems to be a university hang-out, judging by the clientele. Even though this bar was crowded I was very impressed by the efficiency of the barmen. There is nothing worse then being ignored at a bar and this was not the case here. The tapas are not gourmet but the bustling atmosphere and price are hard to beat.
Mercado de la Reina, Calle Gran Vía, 12, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Modern and more upscale this tapas bar and restaurant draws a more buttoned-up after work crowd rather than the t-shirted after class patrons at El Tigre but it is still casual. Just as the atmosphere is slick so are the tapas which are too many to review but I will say that the potato tortilla here is perhaps the best I have ever had. If you only have the tortilla here that is served all day this bar is worth it. Another tapa that I had here, which is common in Spain, was a portion of Padrón peppers. The green peppers are roasted and then dressed with a bit of olive oil and salt. But the fun of this tapa is not in the taste but in the thrill. You see, mostly these peppers are sweet but sometimes they are super duper spicy. So eating a plate is like playing Spanish Roulette.
Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de Oriente, 3, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Not a restaurant like Mercado de la Reina but actually a market. This newly remodeled glass and steel structure houses over 30 stalls that sell fish, meats, books, pastries, wine and beer among a lot of other goods. There are tables set up or you can just gnash your way through. We enjoyed buying a glass of champagne and walking with it to sample this and that around the market.
Lizarran, Calle del Prado 4, 28014 Madrid, Spain
There are a few of these in Madrid so if you are not into the ‘franchise’ thing you may want to give this a miss. With that said, I am a sucker for a pinchos restaurant and this place holds its own. As you would expect at any pinchos bar there are a number of interesting looking and tasty bits served on little slices of bread. All you have to do is lift up the glass case and choose one. Keep the toothpicks on your plate so the barman can tally your bill.
Cerveceria Alemana, Plaza de Santa Ana, 6, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Apparently a Hemingway favorite but we had no idea when we visited this typical bar off Plaza de Santa Ana. This seems and looks like one of those traditional places that women were not allowed into until laws were passed. The bar was tended by someone who may have actually served Hemingway and the ground was covered with discarded napkins. Walking into here was like going back 50 or so years, except that it is one of the few places in Madrid that is smoke-free. Just judging by the location, decor and staff it is obvious that it is an institution and perhaps a tourist trap. However, we did not find this to be the case in the least. The prices are clearly marked, the staff was super friendly and the bill was right in line with other prices. One thing that made us nervous here was that the barman kept offering stuff and when we refused he insisted and said ‘gratis’ (free). As a rule of thumb you should always ask the price before accepting. This time it turned out okay but in the past I have gotten burned on the what I like to call “oh my friend you must try this!” scam. One tapa that I had here that was exceptional was the fried chorizo. Common as chorizo is I have never had one so tasty.
Madrid is filled with great food and friendly people so even if you still want to sit down and have a meal make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to just go on walk-about and experience the capital of the world’s Snack Capital. Enjoy and Buen provecho!