The Art of Tapas and Tempranillo – Exploring the tapas scene in Madrid
When it comes to a city break we want three things: great culture, great food and great wine. With flights to Madrid remaining reasonably priced all year round, those wanting to extend their culinary horizons should check out the Spanish city’s tapas scene. It’s a world of mini gastronomic delights which has helped Madrid build a reputation for being one of the new culinary capitals of Europe.
The art of tapas and the practice of ir a tapear (going out for tapas) has revolutionised the way the people of Spain eat and has rapidly became a trendy way to dine throughout Europe. When it comes to eating, let’s face it, us Brits tend to be most comfortable with a sit-down affair. Even a finger buffet can fill many with a sense of dread – as a nation we’re just more accustomed to stationary scoffing. However, if you’re bored of nibbling politely on three courses while making small talk, break free from British meal convention by embarking on your own tapas tour of Madrid.
A tapas bar crawl
Rather than staying put for dinner, getting mobile and indulging in some bar-hopping is the best way to experience the famous food of Madrid. Head out after 8pm and keep size in mind – some bars will try and push larger racoines dishes rather than the smaller tapas offerings – leaving your stomach full and your wallet empty before the evening really gets going. Some bars offer a complimentary plate of tapas with a drink, which can be a real winner, but make sure you still keep prices in mind. Traditionally you pay at the end of your visit but making sure you know what each dish costs will ensure you’re not hit with a big bill when it’s time to leave.
To make the most of your encounter, avoid the inflated prices and unauthentic experience of the tourist traps and go where the Madrilenians go for an authentic experience. The barrio of La Latina and the streets around Plaza Mayor in inner Madrid offer a wealth of tapas bars all in close proximity to each other. Here you can meander between bars and experience an abundance of tastes and sensations without having to troop all around town.
Making it authentic
To really shake free your culinary chains stick to the specialities. At each bar grab a drink and try the recommended dish. Stepping out of your comfort zone and leaving your feast’s ingredients in the capable hands of the knowledgeable chefs means you’ll be expanding your mind as well as your waistline! Nibble on a traditional tortilla (omelette) or try some spicy chorizo (sausage); lechona (roasted suckling pig) is a real treat and cocido (a dry lamb, veal and chickpea stew scattered with lumps of lard) is nothing short of a delicacy. By having just one dish in each bar you’ll extend your evening and get to try all sorts of dishes and bars in one night!
Expect a bit of rustic. It’s traditional to simply drop prawn shells and other foodie-related debris on the worn terracotta tiled floors of the taverns, so don’t be surprised if things are a little more laid-back than you’re used to. The relaxed and friendly atmospheres will put most new visitors at ease, and before you know it you’ll be shelling prawns and sipping Tempranillo like a native.
Don’t forget the wine
With delicious food must come delicious drink, and Madrid’s wine making region – Vinos de Madrid – is famed for its rich and fruity wines. The Tempranillo red grape is used widely throughout Spain, extensively in the Mentrida & La Manche regions of Madrid, and is the prominent grape in Rioja. The Malvar, Garnacha and Albillo grapes are most widely used in white Madrilenian wines.
What makes Tempranillo particularly special is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to experience it at its best. This grape is renowned for producing delicious wines even at the lower-priced end of the spectrum – so you can try a locally sourced but internationally-renowned grape without breaking the bank.
Albillo grapes are often criticised for producing mediocre wines, but when the process is properly executed these grapes can produce light, refreshing wines that compliment heavy, calorie-laden tapas perfectly.
Whether you’re drinking red, white or rose, we recommend you go for wine by the glass rather than the bottle. The idea of a tapas tour is to keep moving, and in Madrid you’re lucky that the ranges of wines by the glass are usually excellent. This also encourages you to try a few different wines with your food – adding to the overall epicurean adventure!
Tapas Bars of note:
Casa Toni – Cruz 21, Madrid
Sit at the bar of Toni’s and watch the chefs prepare all manner of traditional goodies in their teeny tiny kitchen. Try the fried zarajus or the sweetbreads and wash them down with a shot of traditional vermouth. Zarajus are sheeps’ intestines, by the way – unexpectedly delicious!
La Perejila – Calle Cara Baja 25, Madrid
This bohemian, rustic tavern offers a slice of avant-garde chic, perfect for a laid-back experience. Sip on a glass of Cava and make sure you try the Salmotejo – a wonderful light soup similar to gazpacho.
La Camarilla – Calle Cara Baja 21, Madrid
Whilst La Camarilla does have a chic and sophisticated dining room, the adjacent bar is much more bistro-style with a definite traditional feel. We recommend the salmon rolls with scallop béchamel – divine!
Taberna Tempranillo – Calle Cara Baja 38, Madrid
This lively bar and restaurant offers authentic and traditional Spanish hospitality. The fries may seem a bit of a dull choice, but when you discover they’re topped with a fried egg and seared foie gras you’ll soon be hooked!
Photo 1: Tapas Bar Madrid by SJ Bob – Flickr
Photo 2: Tapas by Wordridden – Flickr