Eating and Drinking Well in Madrid
As Spain's most vibrant melting pot, Madrid is home to countless regional Spanish restaurants serving everything from Valencian paella to Basque pintxos, but the most classic fare closely resembles that of Castile.
With a climate sometimes described as nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno (nine months of winter and three of hell), it's no surprise that the local cuisine is essentially comfort food. Garlic soup, stewed chickpeas, and roast suckling pig and lamb are standard components of Madrid feasts, as are baby goat and deeply flavored beef from Ávila and the Sierra de Guadarrama. Cocido madrileño (a meat-packed winter stew) and callos a la madrileña (stewed tripe) are favored local specialties, while jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Iberian ham)—a specialty from las dehesas, the rolling oak forests of Extremadura and Andalusia—is a staple on special occasions. Summer fare hinges on minimally manipulated fruits and vegetables, while contemporary restaurants frequently offer lighter dishes.
But don't feel tethered to Spanish cuisine—the city's diverse and ever-increasing immigrant populations have given rise to countless exceptional, and often fantastically affordable, international restaurants. The overall quality of Chinese and Senegalese restaurants is particularly noteworthy.
Itinerant grazing from tavern to tavern is especially popular in Madrid, beneficiary of tapas traditions from every corner of Spain. The areas around Plaza Santa Ana, Plaza Mayor, Calle Ponzano, and Cava Baja buzz with excitement as crowds drink beer and wine while devouring platefuls of boquerones en vinagre (vinegar-cured anchovies), calamares a la romana (fried squid), or albóndigas (meatballs).
Sopa de ajo (garlic soup), also known as sopa castellana, is a homey soup that starts with an unapologetically garlicky ham-bone stock. Stale bread is then torn in to thicken it up, followed by a cracked egg—a final enriching flourish. Caldo (hot chicken or beef broth), a Madrid favorite on wet winter days, is often offered free of charge in traditional bars and cafés with an order of anything else.
Cocido madrileño is Madrid's ultimate comfort food, a boiled dinner of garbanzo beans, vegetables, potatoes, sausages, pork, and hen simmered for hours in earthenware crocks over coals and presented in multiple courses. It is usually served in an earthenware casserole to keep the stew piping hot. Estofado de judiones de La Granja (broad-bean stew) is another soul-satisfying favorite: pork, quail, ham, or whatever meat is available simmers with onions, tomatoes, carrots, and luxuriously creamy broad beans from the Segovian town of La Granja de San Ildefonso.
Asadores (restaurants specializing in roasts) are an institution in and around Madrid, where the cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig, is the crown jewel. Whether you taste this culinary specialty at Casa Botín in Madrid or Mesón de Cándido in Segovia or Adolfo Restaurant in Toledo, the preparation is largely the same: milk-fed piglets are roasted in oak-burning wood ovens and emerge shatteringly crisp yet tender enough to carve using the edge of a plate. Lechazo, or milk-fed lamb, is another asador stalwart that emerges from wood ovens accompanied by the aromas of oak and Castile's wide meseta: thistle, rosemary, and thyme.
The traditional Madrid house wine, a coarse Valdepeñas from La Mancha, south of the capital, has fallen out of favor as better-quality cuvées from Rioja and Ribera del Duero (for reds) and Rueda and Rías Baixas (for whites) have become more readily available. Deep-pink rosados, the best of which hail from Rioja, Catalonia, and Navarra, are increasingly popular in the summer. Natural wines—made largely without additives and pesticides in family-run bodegas (wineries)—are becoming trendier by the minute and can be enjoyed at a number of specialty bars and restaurants.
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