Tapas and more: Madrid

For a person who has been dieting for the last 30 years, Madrid appears to be the sin capital of Europe. It has lots of interesting museum and other attractions, but it is the food and the nigh-life that define it. We did not try the night-life, but we sure did emerge ourselves in its culinary heritage.

Tapas crawl

Before the trip, I spend hours browsing the Internet, looking for an “instruction manual” for a tapas bar. I could not imagine how it would be possible to order food in a place without a menu, a waiter, or even a table. I pictured difficult conversations in my far-from-perfect Spanish, trying to explain what we wanted, and being served something totally different. The idea of a tapas bar filled me with dread. Still, the trip was a culinary peregrination, and I knew I’d have to face my fear.
We booked a hotel close to Plaza Mayor, in the heart of the taps bar district of Madrid. The Plaza Mayor itself is a huge tourist trap, with pricey restaurants and pestering waiters, but just a few blocks east of it tiny tapas bars line the streets, and locals perform their customary tapas bar crawl every evening. We headed for our first tapas bar, Museo del Jamon, already a couple of hours into our trip. The Museo is a chain of shops specializing in cheese and hams; the same cheeses and hams, together with beer, olives, and sandwiches, are served in the in-house bar. The place is crowded at any time of the day, and new customers have to fight their way to the counter to get their beer and food. As everywhere else in Madrid, the beer is tiny (200 ml), but you get a free snack with it – usually olives, but also cold cuts or cheese. You order your tapas (called raciones) by pointing at the pictures in the fold-out menu standing on the counter. Bits you don’t eat, like sausage skins or olive pits, can be thrown on the floor – a habit that made me feel a bit sick to begin with, but took a short time to get used to.

Museo del jamon – shop (left), tapas bar (right), and a la carte restaurant upstairs.
This evening, and all the other evenings during our long week-end, we set out for a tapas bar crawl. As most places serve only a handful of dishes, the crawl is necessary to be able to taste all the different treats. We visited Casa del Abuelo, where costumers wade in shrimp shells, and singing is prohibited; this bar serves the best shrimps in garlic I’ve ever tasted.

No singing at Casa del Abuelo!

In a bar on the opposite side of the street, we had to choose between a few types of mushrooms dishes, and chose those stuffed with herbs, garlic, and olive oil. In yet another bar, we gorged on fried tiny fish – one of only two dishes on offer.

We walked from bar to bar, tasting paella, garlic soup, cheese, ham, olives, patatas bravas (potatoes in tomato sauce), fish, squid rings…Too many to name them all!

Because the portions are small, and the price rarely exceeds 5 EUR, you can commit the seventh cardinal sin many times before your stomach, or your wallet, screams for you to stop. But don’t give in without a fight – you haven’t had your dessert yet!
Our dessert of choice were churros at Chocolatería San Ginés at Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5. Those deep fried dough sticks, full of trans fat and calories on their own, are usually dipped in hot chocolate thick enough to stand up a spoon, to give the eater this extra carbs boost. Delicious!

Madrileños eat their tapas in late afternoon. Dinner is eaten late in Spain, usually after 11pm. Because of this, few foreigners eat dinners in Madrid, contenting themselves with afternoon tapas. Tired after the whole day of walking, we never stayed awaken long enough to give Spanish dinner a try.
Salón de Gourmets
Our trip coincided with gourmet fair – a yearly event showcasing Spanish food and wine. The entrance tickets cost 5 EUR and gave us unlimited access to “wine tunnel”, where we could (and nearly did) taste some 100 wines; we also got 5 food coupons to be exchanged for food – a plate with a choice of cheeses and a few tasty bits on cocktail sticks.
And what did my bathroom scale show the day after our return from Madrid, you might ask? Well, surprisingly, nothing at all! We surely did eat more then we should have. But, we spend all the time in between meals walking, sometimes huge distances, so all the calories got burned. What a relief! This spring, we’ll repeat this cardinal  sin trip to Spain, this time in Barcelona!
Tapas and more: Madrid Tapas and more: Madrid Reviewed by Zahir Style on August 08, 2019 Rating: 5

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