A Self-Guided Food Walk in Madrid

A Self-Guided Food Walk in Madrid

The reputation of Spain as a major gastronomic power to reckon with goes a long way. The capital city of Madrid has a lot to offer visitors in terms of soul warming food experience. On this walk you will visit some of the city's most vibrant and lively food markets and other places serving traditional Spanish and typically Madrid food and delectable treats. You will also get a chance to see some of the eateries that left mark in the gastronomic and cultural history of Spain and the rest of the world. Many of these places date back over a century, attesting to which usually is a special golden plaque fixed on the pavement outside, so you better keep your eyes open so as not to miss anything important.

1. Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor
Image Courtesy of: Sebastian Dubiel
Just as any other journey of Madrid, this food walk starts in Plaza Mayor, a place that has throughout its tumultuous history seen a multitude of events: from bullfights to soccer games to public executions, and more. Nowadays, Plaza Mayor is skirted by a number of restaurants and cafes most of which are somewhat overpriced and brimming with tourists. Still, despite the high prices, Plaza Mayor is a marvelous place to sit out and enjoy a sip of good Spanish wine and tasty tapas (most notably the calamari sandwich – a culinary specialty of Madrid – a bread bun filled with calamari battered in flour and egg and then fried, just craving to be washed down with an ice-cold beer) in some of the many delicious corners surrounding the square. One such “corner” is the Los Galayos historic restaurant open since 1894, serving traditional Madrid recipes. Its main specialty is a beef tenderloin on a hot stone block. The restaurant has a number of dining rooms, plus two outdoor terraces for those who seek just a quick snack of tapas. Unlike many tourist traps nearby, most of which are quite pricey and not always up to a tee food-wise, Los Galayos – albeit not so cheap either – has the history and well-deserved reputation in terms of food quality that draws both, locals and guests of the city in their numbers.
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2. Sobrino de Botín Restaurant

Sobrino de Botín Restaurant
Image Courtesy of: Esetena
Our second stop on this walk, just near Plaza Mayor, is second to none in terms of culinary pedigree and continuation of service. The Botín restaurant has been in operation since 1725 which makes it the world's oldest working restaurant. Proving this fact is the Guinness World Record certificate displayed in the window. Specialized in roast meats (particularly, the roast suckling pig), over the centuries Botín has been frequented by many Spanish literary grands, as well as some international ones too, such as Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway. Even Francisco de Goya, the artist, once worked here as a waiter. A true slice of history and good food under one roof. If you're nowhere near a vegetarian mindset and really dig on swine, this place should be on your bucket list for sure. Their slow-roasted in the original wood-fired oven suckling pig (cochinillo asado) served with tender roast potatoes has been the talk of many generations of food lovers for nearly three centuries(!!!). To produce such a marvel regularly, suckling pigs are supplied here straight from Segovia several times a week. Moreover, Botín employs one industrious chef solely for shoveling trays of piglets into the oven. The entire process can be watched through a window in the restaurant. Rather entertaining!
Offline reading and travel directions:
You can carry this article in your mobile device to read offline and create a self-guided walk to visit the venues featured herein with the GPSmyCity App (available on iTunes App Store or Google Play Store).

3. Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel
Image Courtesy of: Juan Antonio Flores Segal
A few more steps down this walk bring us to the famous Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market), one of the oldest covered markets in Madrid and the best places in the city to immerse in the Spanish rich culinary culture. Originally built in 1916, this historic and recently refurbished wrought-iron-and-glass gourmet venue holds an array of food stalls with ready-to-eat bites, selling a vast spectrum of premium Spanish produce, from fresh fruits to world-class cured meats to fine wines to seafood to cheeses to pastries and more. Whilst here, make sure to treat yourself to the olive, anchovy and quail’s egg pincho at La Hora del Vermú or some fresh seafood at El Señor Martín, or check out a local champagne and oyster bar, or grab a bite of some made-on-the-spot tapas, e.g. al ajillo (garlic prawns) or tostas topped with a slice of jamon, paired with a glass of masterly made sangria.
Offline reading and travel directions:
You can carry this article in your mobile device to read offline and create a self-guided walk to visit the venues featured herein with the GPSmyCity App (available on iTunes App Store or Google Play Store).

4. Chocolatería San Ginés

Chocolatería San Ginés
Image Courtesy of: Fred Romero
Drifting further away from Plaza Mayor in the direction of Puerta del Sol, we eventually find ourselves at reputably the best establishment in Madrid for a sweet local delicacy – chocolate con churros – slender pastry dipped in luxurious liquid chocolate. Chocolatería San Ginés has been in place since 1894, serving churros 24 hours a day 7 days a week much to the delight of the outgoing locals who simply adore to pop in here every now and then, especially in the early hours of morning after a long night out on the town. Churros may well not be the best cure for a hangover, but definitely cracking delicious.

- Chocolatería Los Artesanos
Just a couple of blocks away, at Calle San Martin 2, sits another chocolatería, Los Artesanos. This family run business has been trading since 1902. Albeit smaller and not as prominent as Chocolatería San Ginés, Los Artesanos attracts visitors with a huge glass window through which one can observe the entire churro making process; plus there's always a good chance of being seated at a table right away. As an extra treat, at Los Artesanos you can also choose between milk and dark chocolate to dip your churros in.

5. Casa Labra Restaurant

Casa Labra Restaurant
Image Courtesy of: Midir
As we approach Puerta del Sol, it is imperative not to miss the historic Madrid tapas bar, Casa Labra, renowned as the birthplace of the Spanish socialist party but also, and perhaps most importantly so, for offering an amazing choice of vermouth, fino sherry and other local wines complete with their to-die-for salt cod croquettes and deep-fried tajada de bacalao (another iconic dish of Madrid). The place opened its doors in 1860 and has gone down in history, primarily, as a stomping ground of Federico García Lorca, a celebrated Spanish poet and playwright who was tragically killed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

6. Puerta del Sol area

Puerta del Sol area
Image Courtesy of: Tomás Fano
Now that we set foot in Puerta del Sol, a bustling Madrid’s neighborhood, home to the eponymous Puerta del Sol plaza and the famous bear statue, we get a chance to eat like a true madrileño in the number of family-run restaurants, authentic taverns and tapas bars that have been known to the locals for decades being quite close by yet remarkably away from the trodden tourist paths. One such hidden gem is called La Mallorquina, renowned for its pastries, particularly the 'roscón de reyes' (special ring-shaped cake for King's Day).

7. Plaza de Santa Ana

Plaza de Santa Ana
Image Courtesy of: Edgardo W. Olivera
Just a short stroll from Puerta del Sol, we reach Plaza de Santa Ana, another key destination on the food map of Madrid. The square gets particularly busy on Sunday mornings with thousands of Spaniards flocking in to buy a newspaper or a loaf of bread, or to take their families for a walk, and then to sit out and knock back a glass of wine or three! In summer, the buzz continues from the early evening until late at night with younger crowds taking over the terrace cafes prior to moving on elsewhere for a dinner or a wild party till the early hours. Plaza de Santa Ana is the centerpiece of the Huertas district replete with hundreds of tapas bars, cafeterias, cervecerias (beer houses), and restaurants. Back in the day, this relatively small but vivacious neighborhood was frequented by illustrious personalities such as Ernest Hemingway who, among other places, particularly favored the nearby Palace Hotel and Cervecería Alemana to quench his thirst with a glass of beer. If you're a discerning tapas hunter yourself with a taste for exotic cuisines, you will find the variety of hip gastrobars in the area most satisfying.

8. Cervecería Alemana (Historic Bar)

Cervecería Alemana (Historic Bar)
Image Courtesy of: Boca Dorada
Sitting on the southern edge of Plaza de Santa Ana, Cervecería Alemana (“German Beerhouse”) was once the favorite taproom of Ernest Hemingway and many other celebrities of the day, including Ava Gardner, each of whom either lived in or visited Madrid quite often throughout the 20th century. Established in 1904 by a group of German manufacturers, hence the name, the brewery is still “a good place to drink beer and coffee,” as Hemingway once put it in his article in Life magazine, to be shared, if lucky, with "the most beautiful woman in the world."

9. Calle de Huertas

Calle de Huertas
Image Courtesy of: Jorge6880
Just a few street winds to the east bring us deeper into the neighborhood of Spanish writers, known as Barrio de las Letras, or Huertas for short, that was once (back in the 1600s) inhabited by the likes of Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Quevedo. Today, nearly every door in this bohemian cobble-stoned area is either a bar or a restaurant offering old and new spins on the local cuisine. A wonderful whirl of traditional taverns and chic celebrity chef joints, Huertas is packed to the brim with thriving delicatessens and tapas outlets offering top-notch eating to the many visitors drawn here by the Paseo del Prado and other museums, seeking to recharge their batteries between art viewings with a bit of a bite and tipple. Amid such a gastronomic boom, even the most full-bellied would find hard to resist the gluttony temptation.

10. Mercado de Antón Martín

Mercado de Antón Martín
Image Courtesy of: manuel m. v
Arriving at the border of the Huertas and the neighboring immigrant (and just as bohemian) barrio of Lavapiés, we reach the final point of our walk, Mercado de Antón Martín. Open since 1941, this is one of the most traditional Madrid markets, yet with a great deal of “indie” vibe. The adjacent to Mercado de Antón Martín area is dominated by the florescent lights of numerous butcher shops with racks of lamb and huge cuts of beef lining the path to the market from the eponymous (Antón Martín) metro station. Inside, the two-story market is packed with over 60 stalls selling just about everything: organic food, herbs, wines, craft beers, cheeses, and other local and regional specialties – Iberian ham, seaweed from Brittany and Galicia, canned gourmet items, Japanese sushi (at Yokaloka) and Italian specialty porchetta (at La Saletta), to mention but a few. All at reasonable prices!

11. Food Mapping and Tips:

Food Mapping and Tips:
1. The best way to immerse in Madrid’s profound food culture is to visit a local market and to take advantage of the ready-to-eat bites generously offered at food stalls.

2. Go to Plaza Mayor for a cup of coffee and people watching, but opt for Plaza Santa Ana if you seek to enjoy a meal al fresco.

3. Huertas district is the place to drown your thirst in a glass of draft beer topped with a bit of foam, called caña (just walk up to a bartender and say, “Una caña por favor”). If you're a wine person, vino tinto (red wine) or vino blanco (white wine) would do for you.

4. If you look for a unique dining experience and something cool to tell back home about rolled into one, indulge yourself with a roast suckling pig – renowned specialty of Sobrino de Botín, the world's oldest operating restaurant.

5. Other than tapas and churros con chocolate, make sure to treat yourself, while in Madrid, to Iberian Acorn Fed Ham (Jamón Ibérico de Bellota), Tripe Stew (Callos a la Madrileña), and Fried Pig Ear.

6. Beware of siesta! Many local eateries and bars close after lunch, around 4:30pm, and don't re-open for dinner until after 8:00pm.

7. Most Madrid restaurants offer menú del día, a lunch set complete with drinks and dessert. A great way to acquaint yourself with typically Spanish fare in large and filling portions.

8. In Madrid, act like a true Madrileño and order for dinner a set of raciones – shared plates – featuring different stuff, from Spanish cured ham to fried calamari and more.
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