Where to Eat in Madrid

Confession: I write this post in an attempt to convince my fellow ISD curlies to meet me in Madrid for a girls’ trip of culinary delight. And, believe me, if there is any way to persuade these gals it is through food! After all, this blog was born through a series of brunches where our ideas seemed to double with each sip of a mimosa or bite of a pancake! And, since January is the month of planning, why not plan about future holidays with your pals?
But this post is also simply about my enthusiasm for all things Spanish – especially food, especially Madrid. I’ve written two blogs about this amazing city already not for lack of inspiration but out of pure love!

So, for travel inspiration and serious food envy, here are my top five suggestions on where and how to eat in the Spanish capital.

 

  1. Albur, Malasaña

Albur is puro madrileño to me. You can’t beat its down to earth local feel and truly authentic menu. They do a decent paella and have quite the rice list, but that’s not what I would suggest. (It is worth noting that Valencianos would laugh at eating paella in Madrid. But I understand that if you’re only in Spain for a short time and can’t make it to the land of arroz, then you take what you can get when you can get it!).

If you like meat (and a lot of it), the chuletón or mega steak is where it’s at here. Spanish steak is some of the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Florence, your bistecca is amazing but my adoptive Spanish heart remains loyal). And Albur has an unusual take on it: they deliver the sliced steak seared but mostly raw to your table along with a sizzling hotplate, a hearty portion of perfectly roast potatoes, pimientos de padrón and a bowl full of sea salt. You cook the steak the way you like on the hot plate, salt it to your heart’s desire and just die with deliciousness. It’s ah-may-zing. My carnivorous hubby was in heaven – not gonna lie, so was I!

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The tapas menu is also top shelf at Albur as well. I (always) recommend pimientos de padrón and croquetas – not just at Albur but in Spain overall.

What also makes this joint so fun is that despite being in the middle of Madrid’s achingly pijo (posh) hipster neighbourhood, Albur has retained its character 110%. So, it’s not a trendy joint, it is just Albur.

  1. Bazar, Chueca

Speaking of trendy joints, though, my favourite is and always will be Bazar in the buzzing gay village in Madrid, just north of Gran Via. I was introduced to this place early in my first year in Spain and I make sure to have a meal at Bazar every time I’m back in Madrid. Maybe it’s the white décor with fuschia back lighting or the delicious Spanish-Asian fusion thing they’ve got going on, but Bazar always feels like a treat. One blog described it as the spot where you can always find “the well-heeled of Madrid,” which is both true and hilarious, but it is actually not as pretentious as that sounds. It’s just fancy fun!

One thing to note though: without a reservation, you can expect to wait a while or not get a table at all. So, book ahead if you can or scope out bars nearby for a vino while you wait.

  1. Mercado San Miguel, Plaza Mayor

Now this place is totally a tourist trap and you can find tapas that are as good (or better) for half the price at other places. HOWEVER! It is so lively and vibrant that the ambience alone is worth the extra couple of euros. Located just near Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid, this old market has been converted into a collection of tapas bars that serve up all different regional specialties. This is another reason I like it: I can get Basque pinxos and Galician pulpo all in one place. It makes for a great end to a walking tour of central Madrid.

  1. Tapas Crawl in La Latina, La Latina

Now, it goes without saying that tapas is what and how you should eat in Spain. These small sharing plates make for an authentic and delicious way to dine. It also helps that you can get a perfect glass of red and a delicious nibble for 4 euros. La Latina is definitely the barrio to find tapas in Madrid because it’s got such a great vibe and is so madrileño. It is just south of Sol and north of Lavapies – very central.

I recommend doing your research beforehand though and finding an organized tapas crawl or at least noting the recommended bars because there is such a thing as tapas overload and you want to make sure you’re getting the best of the best, especially in such a touristy zone in Madrid where you can get sub-par food quite easily. DSC_0474

I recommend the following tours:

The Culture Trip

Madrid Food Tour 

 

  1. Chocolateria San Gines, Sol

Another central Madrid fave Chocolateria San Gines is smack dab in the middle of the city and serves up some churro and chocolate goodness like you wouldn’t believe! Again, it is in a touristy zone of Madrid so it is full of Americans asking stupid questions like,  “Why do they serve chocolate in a cup??” but ignore that. You can definitely find more authentic spots, but I’m keeping this list central, presuming that those who will be reading it will be tourists themselves and staying in downtown Madrid.

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My list could go on and on – I really don’t have enough good things to say about the Spanish capital and its culinary delights. It is worth mentioning, though, that Spanish food is not very veggie-friendly. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you may have to do some extra research to find out where to eat.

Happy planning (or just day-dreaming)! If you have any other questions about visiting Madrid, feel free to send them over.

 

 

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Sweetheart Cities

The enchanting smell of the bakery woke me every morning; the neighbours’ chatter in a delectable foreign tongue easing me from dreams to reality. My mother and grandmother bustled in the courtyard behind the house, their banter in the same language I spoke but sweet to the ear nonetheless. My sisters played on my dad’s lap in the hammock outside while my aunt and uncle chatted at the table beside. Our days in that place started with these warm smells and comforting sounds and were followed by winding excursions to the Mediterranean beach, fresh ice creams awaiting us.

Many evenings during this month, festivities took over the village: little girls my age dressed in polka dot dresses with frills on their sleeves, their mothers and aunts and cousins adorned the same, flocked to the square in colourful packs. Men in vests tuned their guitars while families filled the streets and the balconies above the plaza. I watched, entranced, as the women began to dance, feet stomping to rhythms so fast I could barely keep track, hands snapping castanets in syncopation, their frilled tails twirling behind them. Tired but ecstatic, we would walk back through the narrow streets, uphill all the way to our little house.

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La Plaza del Sol, Madrid, Spain

I was enamoured, totally and completely. Cómpeta, this small village in Andalucía in the south of Spain, was my first sweetheart city. I knew I would come back and I promised the Spanish language would one day become my own. Even at just seven years old, I felt a light inside of me in this place, a comfort and familiarity with these surroundings that was not through experience but sensation alone. That’s what a sweetheart city is: a place not native to you but where you feel both at home and more alive in a way that no other place can make you feel.

 

What I didn’t realize at the time in this Andalucían corner  was that I hadn’t just fallen in love with this one town but the whole country. I made good on my promise to return, traveling back to Spain on family trips and school excursions a few times before finally moving there in my early twenties. I also came to speak Spanish fluently, as I told myself I must do.

During those later trips and the three years I spent living in Spain, I realized I had a sweetheart city in Madrid, too. To this day, my heart skips at the thought of the Spanish capital – I can smell its air, taste its food, find my way through its winding core to my favourite corners.

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In my element

Sometimes I think I became myself in that place, I found who I wanted to be – or perhaps who I always was. This is a key element of what makes a sweetheart city, I think. It isn’t just the delicacies and the architecture, but what the locale makes you feel about yourself when you are there. I am exceptionally fortunate to have traveled to so many wonderful places in my lifetime and I have loved many. However, none made me feel like the same way. Madrid – Spain, really –has me enganchada (hooked) for life.

 

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A hidden bay in Vela Luka, Croatia

This past summer, I was thrilled to visit this sweetheart city of mine again and discover that of my best friend Sonja for her wedding.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Sonja spent her summers in her father’s hometown of Vela Luka, Croatia. When she and her (now) husband decided to get married, they chose the small island town of Vela Luka to host just 30 of their nearest and dearest. While I had visited the Croatian island on vacation before (at Sonja’s recommendation, of course), I had never been back with her.

When I arrived and saw her in this new terrain, I recognized immediately the joy and contentment on my bestie’s face. In Vela Luka, she became her true mermaid self, in and out of the turquoise Adriatic every hour, munching on fresh figs she picked from a tree on the road, always barefoot. Sonja and I met in middle school in Toronto at 12 years old. Since then, we have been best friends and watched each other grow through so many moments of life. Despite knowing each other so well for so long, never before had I seen her like this, in her element. I realized I never could have known this part of her because it could only fully come alive in this special place.

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Sunset besties

After the beautiful wedding in Vela Luka, I flew to Spain to celebrate the nuptials of another dear friend. Returning to Madrid felt like coming home. The last time I visited the city was in 2011. In between then and now, I had recrafted roots as an adult in my hometown of Toronto and lived in India for the better part of a year. I didn’t know how I’d feel – if that sweetheart feeling might have changed for me because I had changed so much in that time.

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A classic Croatian breakfast spread

But no. Spain still felt as familiar and enchanting as it always had. And despite the great life changes that had occurred in between my visits, I experienced those same glorious sensations: the contentment in my middle, the skip in my step. It felt so good.

It’s truly something else to have a sweetheart city.

I would delight in hearing tales about your favourite places. Please feel free to leave a comment below and tell me what corner of the world makes you come alive again.

 

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