The Spanish must have invented the idea of a ‘moveable feast,’ because spending an evening meandering through the calles of Madrid sampling tapas at each appealing tapas bar is truly a meal to remember. In this article we’ll introduce 7 tapas to try in Madrid and the best places to find quality tapas bars in the city.
The best places for tapas in the city can be found in Lavapies, the Plaza de Santa Ana, and the Calle Cava Baja. Nightlife in these areas and elsewhere in Madrid can run to the early morning hours, but don’t let this stop you, even if you’re just on a short jaunt to Madrid. For example, you may find it convenient to stay at a hotel nearby and rely on the frequently running subway or Airport Express buses to get you to and from your tapas treats.
Pulpo a la Gallega
The name of this mouthwatering tapa translates to Galician-style Octopus, but you don’t have to go all the way to Galicia to appreciate it. Usually served on a small wooden platter, the octopus meat is cut into bite-sized chunks, boiled, and served with paprika, salt, and olive oil. This pairs well with white or dry red wine.
Deep fried morsels of mashed potatoes stuffed with ham, chicken or fish, this comfort food is a quick, hot bite that compliments a dry red wine in the winter or a cool glass of beer in the summer. Croquettes, as they’re known in English, can be ordered in most tapas bars in Madrid. If you somehow miss them on your nighttime tapas excursion, you can also order them as an appetizer before lunch in many restaurants, or anytime at the Mercado San Miguel food market behind Plaza Mayor in the center of Madrid.
Rabo de Toro
For a true taste of Spain, rabo de toro features a cut of beef you may not have tried before—the tail. This stew can be ordered in restaurants as a whole dish, or shared in a bar with bread, as a tapa. Originally, this southern Spanish dish was prepared with the tails of bulls killed during a bullfight but now it’s more likely to be cooked using the meat from a non-fighting bull.
Tajada de Bacalao
A piece of fried cod might not sound that exotic to travelers, but trust us, it’s delicious. Cod is one of the most important and well-liked fish in Spanish cuisine, and a flat piece of fried, salted bacalao hits the spot with beer after a hot day of sightseeing. This can be found in many bars throughout Madrid, but the tajada at Casa Labra near Plaza del Sol gets great reviews.
Gambas al Ajillo
Make your own surf-n-turf tapa sensory adventure with a serving of Iberian ham and one of gambas al ajillo. It’s made by sautéing shrimp and a generous amount of garlic in olive oil. Red pepper, brandy and paprika are also often added. Eat the shrimp one at a time from a toothpick or piled onto chunks of fluffy baguette. Gambas al ajillo pairs well with most non-sweet drinks, but red wine is a top contender.
Pimientos de Padrón
Though full of flavor, Spanish cuisine doesn’t have many spicy-hot dishes but, if you’d like to try a little fire in your tapas, try the pimientos de Padrón. These will be prepared slightly differently in each bar, but usually the dish is simple: small, fresh Padrón peppers are quick fried in olive oil and dusted with sea salt. Not every pepper has a bite, but some do—so make sure anyone sharing your tapas can handle heat. You’ll see plenty of people drinking red wine while munching these but beer pairs nicely as well.
Jamón Serrano and Manchego Cheese
Salmon and wasabi. Eggs and bacon. And jamón with manchego cheese. Some things just taste right together, and you’ll appreciate the full-mouth flavor of a thin strip of jamón with a slice of manchego if you nibble it between sips of a full-bodied red wine. However, it’s harder to go back to lighter flavors after you indulge in this. Louise Vinciguerra resides in Rome and enjoys traveling in search of fun food. When she’s not on Facebook, WordPress or Twitter she plans nature trips and explores her resident city of Rome.