A rough guide to the best tapas in Madrid
Spanish food is well-known around the world for the typical tapas. It’s no surprise then that tourists who visit Madrid come to taste real tapas in their birth country. They book tapas tours around the city centre hoping to find some amazing authentic flavours and learn more about this staple food. However, many visitors are sadly deceived and leave the country without experiencing what tapas are all about.
But do not dispare. At WabiHost we want to prevent this from happening. We want you to have a real tapas experience and enjoy them as locals do. So we decided to write this post. After reading it, you will know all there is to know about tapas so you won’t fall for copycats when you visit Madrid.
Legends and folklore
There are many legends that try to answer questions such as where do “tapas” come from? and what exactly is a “tapa”? As many things in life, there is no one who holds the absolute truth to the first question. The most popular one is that king Alfonso XIII was on an official visit to the southern province of Cádiz. Anyone who has been to that region will know it can get pretty windy in sometimes. Sand coming from Northern Africa flies in the air and gets everywhere. Legend has it that at a local stop in his royal trip, a bar owner who was serving his majesty, decided to put a slice of ham on top of the wine glass to prevent any sand (some say flies) from getting into the precious drink.
The king loved it and asked for more. In similar fashion to modern-day celebrities, the court adopted the practice quickly. Naturally, the people imitated what higher ranks did and so it became a popular practice to put a food lid (in Spanish “tapa”) on top of their drinks.
Other legends tell us this practice went the other way round the social ladder. It’s said farmers used to cover their glasses or cups with slices of bread while they worked the fields. When taking a break after such a hard-labour job, they would get back to enjoy a dust/fly-free drink.
Another simple version says that king Alfonso X (another Alfonso called The Wise) decreed that bars should serve food with the wine. The practice aimed at preventing alcohol from getting to people’s heads too quickly. Very wise indeed.
Today a tapa is technically any food aimed at accompanying a drink. We don’t recommend you to put it on a glass though.
Traditional tapas in Madrid (and where to find them)
When looking for traditional tapas in Spain, you should know they all vary vastly depending on where you are. Dishes easily found in Málaga might be hard to find in Barcelona and viceversa. Although Madrid hosts communities from all around Spain, it also has its own distinct flavours. So we’re going to tell you the typical tapas in Madrid you cannot miss when visiting the capital. Some are traditional in the city while you might find others wherever you go in Spain.
An old tradition
Mind the gap between the portion and the tapa. There is a difference between a “ración” and a tapa. A tapa is small, one or two bites and should come with your drink, typically for free. Raciones are larger in size and you should order and pay for them. Unfortunately, in big cities it might be hard to find this beautiful old tradition still alive. That’s why we love “La pequeña Graná”, a lovely cozy bar where they serve a free tapa with any drink you order. They have like 20 different kinds to choose from and the environment is both traditional and welcoming.
Pintxos on the other hand are spoonfuls of food on a slice of bread or toast. So you better know your Spanish vocabulary before you hit the bar.
“So what should I have?” I hear you asking. Well…
Tortilla de patatas
Tortilla de patatas is sort of a queen in Spain. No visitor should leave without trying a very good “Spanish potato omelette” as some foreigners call it. To try some of the best tortilla, we recommend “Casa Dani” in the Mercado de la Paz in Salamanca. Another good option is “Juana La Loca” in La Latina, where the cod pintxo is also out of this world. A personal favourite for tapas in Madrid is also “La Buha” (La Latina and Chueca) to try a massive version of this classic dish.
I love cod fish but unfortunately not a lot of people know how to make it properly. Fried cod (bacalao frito) is a very traditional thing to have in Spain. If you want to try the best fried cod in Madrid, head to the old-fashioned “Casa Revuelta” just off Plaza Mayor. They serve very traditional Spanish tapas at good prices in an amazingly typical environment. The cheese is also very good.
Boquerones en vinagre
Anchovies preserved in vinegar don’t sound so appetising. However, they are very traditional and if well made, delicious too. So visit the “Taberna de Angel Sierra” to try some truly excellent ones. The places is just opposite Chueca Square and the place is so old and atmospheric it will make you feel you’re already part of Madrid.
Oreja y patatas bravas
These two are some of the most traditional tapas in Madrid. Patatas bravas is truly a classic. Friend potatoes in spicy sauce, sometimes with an extra garlic sauce…absolutely delicious. They are easy to find and there’re a number of places where they make some excellent ones. If you’re a football fan and would like to visit the Bernabeu Stadium, take a break at “Las Jarritas”. This local bar serves good food and drinks at great prices. And since you’re there, I would suggest you to order oreja a la plancha. These are the pig’s ears which also might not sound so appealing but trust me, they nail it here.
You’ll find these fried dumplings everywhere in Spain. Any Spaniard will tell you that their mothers’ are the best but if you don’t have a Spanish friend, try some of these places: “Casa Labra” for the very famous cod croquettes. It’s just behind Sol but usually packed. For some fancier innovative croquetas, try “La Gastrocroquetería de Chema” in Malasaña and “La Musa” in La Latina. You can find really good ones at “Bodega de La Ardosa” which is already a classic. All these places in Madrid have a great selection of tapas so you can’t go wrong here.
We can’t forget about this wonderful food. Sadly Spain is not as well-known as it deserves for its cheeses. But you should know there’re some very traditional ones you cannot miss. I promise you’ll want to take some home with you. To try some good traditional tapas involving cheese, we recommend “Alimentación Quiroga” in Las Letras. The place is just 5 years old (at the times of writing) but the atmosphere feels private and cozy. Try Torta del Casar for some typical smelly Spanish cheese.
Bocata de Calamares
Are calamari a typical tapa in Madrid? Well, yes. Fried, salty and in warm bread, delicious with a cold beer. You should try them at “Bar La Campana” which for my taste are among the best. This establishment is just outside the Plaza Mayor. If you’re leaving Madrid and couldn’t try them yet because you’ve got a train to catch, don’t worry. There is also “El Brillante” near Atocha station which has built quite a reputation.
Yeah, not just the French eat them. Snails are also very popular when in season in Spain. Madrid makes has its own version so if you’re a real foodie, you should definitely try them. “Casa Amadeo Los Caracoles” is one of the few bars that serves them and I must say, they are really good.
This dish is not for everyone. Gallinejas are made with the intestines and present a particular flavour and texture. If you dare try them, go to “Freiduría Gallinejas” near Embajadores. The place is really old-fashioned and you can enjoy some other excellent traditional tapas too.
The best tapas in Madrid
The best tapas in Madrid are the ones you share with friends. This is a social ritual and we want everyone to enjoy the best tapas. So join us on a foodie walk off-the-beaten-path to try some of Spain’s best products with a group of friends. Learn about tradition, culinary culture and take home with you the best flavour Madrid has to offer.
We’ll be waiting for you at the bar…with tapas of course!