WRITTEN BY HEIDI SIEFKAS
If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, it stands to reason that it is also the best way to get to know a culture. In Spain, there is no better place to get a taste of the best of Spanish food, wine, and culture than its capital, Madrid. There, much of life is enjoyed outside of the home whether with a café con leche (coffee with milk) at a local coffee shop or discussing fútbol (soccer) in the park or Plaza Mayor (Main Square). In fact, Spain has made an art form of welcoming patrons to bars, while preventing patrons from getting tipsy with its tapa culture. While you can spend a lifetime getting to know this Spanish city, this self-guided tour will help you enjoy the spice of life in a shorter timeframe.
Tapas are small snacks that are typically placed atop a glass of wine or beer at a local bar, café, or restaurant. In this Mediterranean country, you’ll find seafood like gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), calamari, mejillones (mussels), and also you’ll find aceitunas (olives), almonds, jamón serrano (cured ham), and mouthwatering manchego cheese.
To get a good sampling of Spanish tapas in Madrid, visit three main markets. At each venue, all under one roof, you have multiple restaurants as well as vendors for purchasing picnic supplies and snacks to keep you satisfied during your visit.
Mercado de San Miguel is located in the heart of Madrid in San Miguel Plaza. This market has twenty different stands to sample the best of Spanish tapas; plus, it is walking distance from the major Metro stop Puerta del Sol. Mercado de San Antón is in the neighborhood of Chueca in La Plaza de Santa Bárbara. This three-floor foodie paradise has nearly two dozen stands and restaurants for all tastes. Mercado de San Ildefonso is situated in the neighborhood of Malasaña. The venue has two terraces, three bars, and nightly entertainment, as well as many options for tapas from traditional Spanish cuisine to Asian and Latin favorites.
Food and drink go hand-in-hand. A wonderful Spanish Rioja or sangria would be perfect to wash down jamón serrano, manchego cheese, or tortilla española (Spanish potato omelet). Pair Ribeiro, a very light white wine from Northern Spain, with paella— the region’s specialty rice and seafood dish made with saffron. If you fancy beer, order a Mahou, a local Madrid brew. If you like draft beers, order a caña for a half-pint or a jarra for a full pint.
One of the favorite pastimes of Spain is to dar un paseo or take a walk. Take a stroll through the Retiro, the Central Park of Madrid. The Retiro has several cafes for coffee and sodas, a main lake with rental row boats, and a never-ending parade for people watching.
After walking off some of your indulgent tapas, head up to enjoy the city and the sunset from a rooftop terrace. One of the best perches to witness the world go by is atop the Bellas Artes building on the Gran Vía. The azotea (rooftop terrace) gives you an out-of-the-city feeling with a new perspective on Madrid (and a top photo op!). For another YOLO view in the heart of it all, head to the rooftop bar and restaurant atop El Cortes Inglés in Puerta del Sol. Go to the top to toast life with a glass of cava.
Although Madrid is a feast for the eyes with its architecture, art scene, and countless plazas, the Spanish capital is truly a treat for your taste buds. Buen provecho (enjoy your meal) and salud (cheers)!