Madrid: How To Eat Like A Local by Victoria Ugarte

Spanish cuisine is comprised of the expansive regional flavours of Galicia, Castilia, Valencia, the Basque Regions, and the rest of the Mediterranean. More substantial than gourmet, the Spanish nonetheless relish the times when they get together to enjoy a good meal, and in Madrid, it is almost a religion.

Eating out in Madrid is also cheaper than in most capital cities, and here are a few suggestions that you can take away with you on how to eat like a local.

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Times:

Breakfast is usually eaten on the run at a bar, and is nothing more elaborate than a milky coffee and a sweet roll or croissant. At around 10:00 AM , the locals might leave the office for a plate of churros con chocolate, curls of fried doughnut-like batter eaten with hot melted chocolate.

Lunch is eaten between 1:30 and 4:00, and is the main meal of the day. Most restaurants will offer a lunchtime menu, often called Menu del Dia. This consists of a fixed 3 course, including a cheaper house wine (of course, you can pay extra for a better wine). This fixed meal is, many times, better than the a la carte menu, and it makes it possible to try out the best restaurants at reasonable prices.

Dinner is eaten between 9 and 11:00 PM, no earlier (unless you really want to stick out as a tourist!), particularly on the weekends and the Summer time. Many have simply a light meal, consisting of tapas. 

Tapas are a Madrid institution. Nearly every bar offers these small morsels for just a few Euros a piece. The trick is to remain disciplined when doing your tapas tour, giving yourself a limit of no more than one or two tapas per bar before moving on. This is easier said than done, though, as you eye the tasty morsels deliciously displayed before you at the bar.

The areas of Plaza de Sta. Ana and Chueca are great areas to explore for tapas bars (Chueca is less touristy).

Best tapas bar in town – If you ever have the chance to visit only one tapas bar in Madrid, this one is IT. El Bocaito, which means little bocado (bite-sized morsel) in An daluz. It is situated at no. 6 Calle de la Libertad, in Chueca (near Calle Infantas). As well as eating at the bar, you can reserve a place at the restaurant to eat sitting down, although the bar is the place to be (if you can manage to grab a spot, that is). All tapas are prepared on the spot – no reheating, no microwave. This would be the only tapas bar where I would break my only-two-tapas-per-bar rule.

A word of warning here. For those of you living outside of Spain, and have been lucky enough to have been born into a Spanish family, or have great Spanish friends who cook an awesome paella, you are setting yourself up for a major disappointment if you expect to find the same experience in Madrid. If you are hell bent on having one anyway, do yourself a favour and ask the locals where you can eat the best paella in town. Restaurants that cater to tourists (particularly in the Sta. Ana quarter, where we had the worst paella of our lives) will not serve you anything better than a microweavable paella of yellow rice with lots of salt, and a few mussels thrown in, and will charge you plenty for it to boot.

Churros Con Chocolate:
There is always the world-famous Café San Gines (good luck in trying to find a seat), but the Valor and Cacao Sampaka have better chocolate.

Best Food Deal:
The Menu del Dia is a lunch special at nearly every eatery in town that gives you a limited selection 3-course meal for a fixed price (8-16 Euros). Well worth asking for it. Stay away from the touristy areas, though (e.g. Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor). Best to try the little side streets.

Best Goodies For a Picnic:
Look no further than the fabulous supermarket at El Corte Ingles (Puerta del Sol).

Great Restaurants That The Locals Frequent:
  • La Trucha, situated in the Sta. Ana district. Good tapas and fish dishes.
  • Manduca de Azagra, Calle Sagasta 14 (near Alonso Martinez metro) for good, modern Navarra cooking (80 Euros for 2, but worth it).
  • Restaurant Los Arrieros, Calle de San Nicolas, near Plaza del Oriente. Good fish dishes. Ask for the Menu del Dia at lunchtime.
  • La Bola, Bola, 5 – Madrid (Close to Palacio Real). Famous for its cocido. Non-smoking, which is a rarity in Spain.
  • Sidreria Carlos Tartiere, Calle Menorca 35 (metro station Ibiza). 15-30 Euros a full meal.
A major part of appreciating Spanish culture is all about savouring the rusticity and richness of their cuisine. And as they say in Spain, Que Aproveche!

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