Newcomers Guide to Tapas in Madrid

Enjoy tasty tapas in Madrid venues, whether for lunch or as a pre-dinner snack with a cold beer

Stuck what to order in a Madrid tapas bar? Rather than haute cuisine, most tapas dishes are in fact cheap and easy to prepare and store – but that takes nothing away from how they taste. Some bars will serve small portions of tapas for free when you order a drink.

Here’s a quick guide from the experts to some popular dishes to ensure you’ll have a fabulous feed, whether for lunch or as a pre-dinner snack with a cold beer.

Bocadillo de Calamares
This isn’t a hugely elaborate dish, but the famous fried squid sandwich is hugely popular in Madrid. You can find them in tapas bars and even tiny eateries specializing in just these, especially on side streets around Plaza Mayor. The calamari (squid) is coated in flour and fried in olive oil, served in a large slab of crusty white bread.

Manchego

Manchego cheese with ham and olives, Madrid, Spain

This tasty cheese is made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk, traditionally made in the La Mancha region and has a long and healthy hisory. It has usually been aged for between two months and two years, resulting in a firm texture and a slightly nutty taste. It may be served as a tapas on its own, perhaps with a few olives or with membrillo, quince paste.

Boquerones fritos
Boquerones (anchovies) are commonly served marinated in tangy vinegar, arranged out on a plate. But when they are coasted with flour and deep fried (fritos) served hot with a wedge of fresh lemon, it’s a tasty yet simple crisp snack.

Pimientos de Padron

Pimientos de padron, Madrid, Spain

These small green peppers are usually pan-fried whole in olive oil and spinkled with rock salt, and served hot. Most of them are pretty mild (but very tasty!) but there might be one spicy one that creeps up on you… It makes for fantastic finger food, and good for vegetarians if you’re finding too much chorizo and plancha on the menu.

Huevos rotos
It might not sounds like anything extravagant – in fact it’s just lightly fried eggs on thinly cut potato strips – but this is a hearty plate which is typically eaten with a crusty piece of bread. It translates as ‘broken eggs’ but you’ll feel completely whole again especially if you have this for a lunchtime snack. It’s great for vegetarians, although some places add chorizo (spicy sausage).

Jamón ibérico

Jamon Iberico hanging up for sale, Madrid, Spain

There’s ham – and there’s jamón ibérico. This is a special type of cured ham, known best in Spain, and from the black Iberico pib which, allegedly, feeds from mountain air and acorns. It’s a large animal, with slender legs and a long nose, and layers of fat that allow the hams to be cured for much longer. It is this which leads to its exquisite taste, and melt-in-the-mouth texture. You pay more than for a dish of Serrano ham – but it’s worth every cent. 

Oreja a la plancha
It doesn’t sound too appetizing, but pig’s ear – literally the cripy cooked ear of a pig – cooked on a hot skillet complete with fat, cartilage and skin, is a tasty treat. It’s an old traditional dish and you might not find the more fashionable venues having it on their menu, but head for the old-school haunts and you could be lucky.

Tortilla

Tortilla for sale in tapas bars, Madrid, Spain

If you need one dish to indicate that Spanish tapas are more commonly easy and cheap recipes, then look no further than the humble tortilla, a simple potato and onion thick omelet. It’s usually served warm, in thick wedges. Filling, it’s a safe option for vegetarians.

Cocido Madrileno
This isn’t a typical tapas dish but a simmering pork stew, which is especially popular in winter, and a local staple. Madrid’s take on this traditional Spanish stew is a dark broth, full of flavor, and with pork, chorizo, chickpeas and vegetables. It’s simmered for around four hours resulting in a robust feast. Buen provecho!

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