11 Food Specialties To Try in Madrid
The metropolitan city of Madrid has a well-developed culinary scene. There is an infinite number of restaurants around town, in every neighborhood. Not only that, but the Spanish citizens have mastered the food of other cultures as well, so the cuisine of places like Italy and America can also be found.
But if you’re reading this article, it means that you want to experience Madrid’s food the authentic way. Lucky for you, the city has an abundance of traditional recipes to taste in every restaurant. From tortilla de patatas to Iberian ham, you’ll have a hard time going back to other cuisines.
If you know anything about Madrid’s traditional food, you probably know that tapas are a big deal. But the term isn’t one specific dish; rather, it’s a category of small plates that are served with drinks.
This means that almost all of these food specialties could be served as tapas, and fill you up while you enjoy a pint of cerveza. Whether you try a small plate or a main dish, you’re going to want a second serving. The Spanish people have mastered everything from fish to potatoes.
Pulpo a la Gallega
One of the more formal dishes of this list, pulpo a la Gallega is an unexpected classic of Madrid menus. The popular dinner item is usually made with few ingredients.
Originating from Galicia, the northwest region of Spain, its Atlantic coastline just above Portugal explains how Madrid adapted this seafood specialty.
Pulpo a la Gallega is prepared with just oil, salt and paprika, so it doesn’t require a whole basket of groceries to cook. And while this surprising fact might make you want to try to make it at home, the Spanish expertise comes down to the preparation.
First, the tentacles are dipped in the hot water to make them curl slightly. Then, the octopus is boiled in a copper pot for 20 minutes, and left to cool for another set of 20.
While it may seem easy, there’s a fine line between the perfectly cooked and the rubbery consistency, which is why it’s recommended to taste pulpo a la Gallega from a talented chef.
When paired with a side, pulpo will usually come with boiled potatoes or bread, and it’s recommended to be paired with red wine.
In fact, the dish is so popular that you can find numerous pulperías in Madrid, or restaurants that dedicate their cuisine to the octopus plate. Typically served on a wooden dish, this is something you must try while in Madrid.
Tortilla de Patatas
This Spanish classic makes for the perfect breakfast. Literally translated to, potato tortilla, the fried dish is mixed with eggs and cooked until it takes the shape of the pan it’s made in.
Though it looks like a slice of pie, tortilla de patatas isn’t sweet. Nonetheless, it’s delicious. When purchased at the grocery store, you can add a bit of ketchup on top and enjoy it at the start of your day.
Sometimes the tortilla is filled with cheese or other flavorful ingredients like onions. In Madrid, the plate is served with a spicy tomato sauce called salsa brava. Tortilla de patatas is filling and goes well with a beer.
Paella is one of the most well-known typical plates of Spain, and it’s often enjoyed in groups. The base ingredient of the dish is rice, made with the spice, saffron, which comes from a purple flower and gives the rice a yellow color and delicious flavor.
Additional to the rice, there are numerous variations of added ingredients that can be offered, from vegetables to seafood.
The original version is said to be Paella Valenciana, which contains green beans, rabbit, chicken, duck, snails, and beans. With so much flavor going into the pan, the dish is loved by many.
Traditionally, paella should be eaten during lunchtime and taken directly from the pan. If you want to try the amazing food, grab some friends and gather around with spoons.
Bocadillo de Calamares
A less expected tradition of Madrid cuisine, the bocadillo de calamares is a sandwich with calamari. The delicious food is particularly prevalent in and around Madrid’s popular square, Plaza Mayor. Made by splitting a baguette and filling it with fried squid, the sandwich typically doesn’t contain many other ingredients.
Still, mayonnaise can be added and may even be included when served. Frequently, lemon is squeezed on the squid for flavor and the sandwich is filled with fried breadcrumbs. If you want to enjoy it like the Madrileños do, order a cold beer to go with it.
But there is more to this sandwich than its taste. The city’s customs for enjoying it are part of what makes the bocadillo de calamares so good. You’re likely to eat the sandwich while standing up, since it’s served in tapa bars. This savory delight is meant to enjoy while sharing time and beer with friends and family.
Caracoles a la Madrileña
Though assumed to be identified with France, this unique food also has a story in Spain. Restaurants like Los Caracoles near Madrid’s Sunday market, El Rastro, dedicate their restaurant to this specialty.
The dish’s season corresponds with spring, though you can find snails at restaurants in Madrid year round. The escargot are served hot in a round clay dish. Traditionally, caracoles a la Madrileña are picked from the vines of various areas around Madrid.
Since they are simmered in meat broth, the dish pairs nicely with red wine, a.k.a. vino tinto. For added flavor, the Spanish snails are seasoned with chili pepper, which gives them a slightly spicy taste.
As you can see, there is actually quite a difference between French escargot and caracoles a la Madrileña. Spanish snails are served more informally and have a spicier taste, although they are both eaten with bread.
Callos a la Madrileña
The Madrilian’s Tripe
Madrileño is the term for a person from Madrid. Hence the name, this dish actually originates from Madrid. While the traditional recipe involves cow guts, chorizo, blood sausage and ham, there are also vegan variations that are also rich in flavor.
The cow guts are sourced from butchers at farms near the capital, and the dish is a central example of Madrid’s cuisine. The hot meal is frequently served during the winter months.
Callos a la Madrileña consists of the collection of meats cooked in tomato sauce with spices like thyme, nutmeg and rosemary. The vegan version substitutes the meats for chickpeas, and tastes just as good. This hot dish is perfect for enjoying on a cold day, and can be found in many restaurants around Madrid.
Have you ever dipped a grilled cheese sandwich in tomato soup? This Spanish dish is comparable to actually blending a grilled cheese into tomato soup. Originating from the autonomous community of Spain called Anadalucia, the purée can be topped with Iberian ham or hard-boiled eggs.
Made with garlic and oil, bread is actually blended into the soup to give it a rich texture, and it’s served in restaurants all around Madrid. While salmorejo is considered to be a variant of the classic Spanish soup, gazpacho, that version is made of blended raw vegetables. Surprisingly, salmorejo is served cold.
This detail makes sense considering that salmorejo comes from Cordoba, where the summers are very hot. Salmorejo was made specially for those sunny Spanish days, and it could become your new favorite starter.
Translating to “rough potatoes”, patatas bravas are a popular side dish in Madrid. Made by thickly cut potatoes that are fried and topped with or dipped in a flavored sauce, these are the best of Madrid’s fries.
Often served on the side of a burger or ordered separately, patatas bravas can be the perfect way to fill you up. This Spanish specialty is one of the easiest to mimic at home. Simply bake or fry thickly cut potatoes, add salt, and dip in your favorite sauce. For a truly scrumptious bite, choose truffle mayo.
The striking photo above shows how Madrileños can take something as simple as fries and turn it into a classic delicacy. Patatas bravas are the perfect staple dish for the dinner table, but can also be ordered when eating out.
A common appetizer at Madrid’s restaurants, jamón iberico is a traditional Spanish plate that dates way back. The snack is a cured ham that’s produced in Spain and Portugal. It gets its special name from the Black Iberian pigs that it comes from.
Iberian ham tastes smooth and savory, and the meat comes as a result from salting and drying the leg for weeks. You’ll know you’ve arrived at a traditional restaurant that serves Iberian ham when you see the ham legs still hanging from the wall.
The appetizer is often eaten on its own. The picture above shows a typical plate of ham accompanied by dried bread sticks. Alternatively, Madrileños enjoy the ham on top of slices of multigrain bread. For extra flavor, a slice of cheese can be added on top.
White wines tend to be recommended to go with jamón Iberico, like Galicia’s dry Albariño. Other vinos blancos to choose with your appetizer include Pinot Grigio and Riesling.
The plate is served at room temperature, as Iberian ham is usually cut directly off the dried leg and then the slices are served to the table. An interesting fact is that this Spanish export was banned from the United States for fear of swine fever, until it was approved by the Department of Agriculture in 2007.
Carne de Toro de Lidia
Fighting bull meat
A practice less well-known than the actual sport of bullfighting, there are many restaurants in Madrid that buy the fighting bull meat from the event and prepare it in their restaurants.
In fact, the healthy lifestyle that the fighting bulls are provided for strength to fight actually translates to higher quality meat for consumption, as opposed to animals who are raised to supply meat to the food industry.
Eating fighting bull meat can also be seen as an ethical decision just for the fact that it guarantees that the animal doesn’t go to waste when the event is over. Madrid’s restaurants take pride in the story behind the carne de lidia that they serve to their guests. Learn about Madrid’s bull fighting sport in this article.
Dried and salted codfish
Bacalao is the Spanish preparation of codfish, but the dish is historically significant to more than just Madrid. Salted codfish was one aspect of the connection between the Old World and the New World, and became a traditional food across many cultures.
This was particularly true for inhabitants of land near the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, since codfish was the main export of the North Atlantic region. In Spain, it is served at dinner on Friday night of lent, to substitute for meat.
It’s common to find bacalao at tapa bars. The plate of fried whitefish goes perfectly with a pint of beer. As seen in the photo above, upscale restaurants may choose not to fry the dish. Popular accompanying ingredients include tomatoes, vegetables, and wine.
This list comprises the most incredible food you’ll find in Madrid. Whether originating from Spain or adapted from elsewhere, Spaniards of the capital really know how to cook.
After tasting meals prepared by Spanish professionals, you might even try to prepare some plates at home. Recipes like tortilla de patatas and bacalao have rather simple processes.
For information on what to pair these plates with for dessert, see the article, Top 10 Spanish Desserts. Finish off a dinner in Madrid with one of their famous sweets and enjoy an unbeatable Spanish cena.