In the "Simply Sara Eats " series, I recount the my favorite food and drink discoveries .
I spent the last few nights of 2013 in Madrid, Spain. Here are my favorite places to go for a bite or drink in Spain's capital.
1. Mercado de San Miguel
Our first destination once arriving in Madrid was to the Mercado de San Miguel. We were tired after waking up at 4am to catch our flight, and hungry. This market promised lots of food options. I know now that on a Saturday afternoon, it also promised huge crowds.
Locals and tourists alike flock to this covered market that features 33 vendors. This market opened in 1916 and somewhat recently underwent major restoration, reopening in 2009. A walk around the market offers a great introduction to the tastes of the city - tapas, olives, pastries, wine, sangria, and much more can be found here.
It can be overwhelming choosing what to eat and drink among the stands. The good news is it seems there are no bad options. My favorites? The burrata stand was amazing. Then again, how can one go wrong with a tower of creamy burrata on top of a soft piece of bread? Genius. I tried the one topped with pesto and Michael went for the sun-dried tomato, and I can vouch that both were delicious.
Also worth noting was the vermut (vermouth) stand. A popular Spanish drink is a glass of straight vermouth. Michael sampled the vermut de grifo (vermouth on tap) and I tried one on reserve. Served with a dish of olives, it made a nice stop to stand at the counter and people-watch. I noticed the vermut stand was a popular choice with the guided food tours too.
Plaza de San Miguel, s/n
28005 Madrid, Spain
Open daily, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Sunday 10:00am-12:00am, Thursday/Friday/Saturday 10:00am-2:00am
2. Taberna Albur
I have always loved the concept of tapas. The fact that you don't have to commit to one dish is liberating, allowing one to sample new dishes without risking going hungry. On menus in Spain you will come across two terms - tapas and ración. A ración is a larger portion than a tapa. We were able to split two raciones at Taberna Albur for dinner and were full with just enough room for dessert. We had a baby squid salad and these delicious potatoes. This trip to Spain has been making me dream up a tapas menu for a party, hopefully replicating these potatoes and another of my favorites: crusty bread topped with caramelized onions and firm goat's cheese.
Calle de Manuela Malasaña, 15
28004 Madrid, Spain
Open daily, from 12:00pm - 1:00am (until 2:00am on Fridays and Saturdays)
3. La Musa
On the other side of the street from Taberna Albur was La Musa, conveniently also on the same street as our hotel (Ibis). La Musa offered a fusion of Spanish and Japanese, which made it an interesting break from strictly Spanish tapas. The most unique tapa we tried was called "El Verduritas" and was a combination of asparagus, grilled mushrooms, tomato, arugula and remoulade sauce wrapped in what looked like a hot dog bun, cut into pieces that looked like a maki roll. (Look at their website for a picture.)
We enjoyed the meal so much that we went the next day for lunch. We sat down at 12:40pm, and to our surprise, were told that lunch did not start until 1:00pm. Only in Spain can you arrive to a restaurant after noon and be told you were too early for lunch. This so-not-a-morning-person loved Spain a little more.
We waited for 1:oopm as we sipped some coffee, and we were sure glad we did. The menú del día included a starter, main dish, and a dessert or coffee, for €11.50. If we were in town longer, I'd venture to say we would have eaten there a third time at least.
Calle de Manuela Malasaña, 18
28004 Madrid, Spain
Open daily, Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday 9:00am-12:00am, Thursday 9:00am-1:30am, Friday 9:00am-2:00am, Saturday 1:00pm-2:00am, Sunday 1:00pm-12:00am
4. Tipos Infames
Yup. I went to a book store for a glass of wine. Breathing in the smell of printed pages warmed my heart and made me want to swear off the Kindle that I convinced myself was practical to buy before moving here.* Add the fact that you can peruse the shop with a glass of wine in hand, and voila. The perfect hang-out place. (Reader discretion: this wonderful recommendation comes from someone who would list public libraries among the top things she misses living outside of the US.)
I found not one but two places in Madrid to surround myself with books. La Libre is a really cozy place to stop by for a drink or meal. They have coffee, tea, and snacks as well as tapas. We came here for a late lunch of tapas before heading practically around the corner to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a museum of 20th century art. I could have curled up with a book and enjoyed the setting of La Libre all afternoon, but I do recommend the museum as well. (Go on a Sunday from 3pm-7pm or Monday/Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday from 7pm-9pm for free admission to the main collection.)
28012 Madrid, Spain
Open daily, Monday-Thursday 9:00am-12:45am, Friday 9:00am-2:00am, Saturday 10:00am-2:00am, Sunday 10:00am-1:00am
6. Churros con Chocolate
The last food on my list to absolutely try before leaving Spain was churros con chocolate - those fried dough pastries served alongside a cup of thick hot chocolate for dipping.
I heard that the place to go for this in Madrid is Chocolatería San Ginés. But I woke up on New Year's to a dreary, rainy day and decided to stay close by to my hotel. I read that Chocolatería San Ginés gets busy in the early hours of the morning as people end a night out with a snack. As far as I could tell in Cafe Comercial, it was the hangover cure of choice - the tables were littered with tell-tale chocolate puddles in the bottom of those bright white cups.
Hot chocolate in Europe is much thicker than what Americans are used to, but this was the thickest hot chocolate I have ever seen. The brilliant thing about churros are the ridges they have along the sides, giving some extra surface area to soak in the viscous chocolate. Let me show you my illustration:
So there you have it...while others were getting gym memberships and nibbling on salads come New Year's Day, I was happily dunking fried dough into a liquefied chocolate bar.
Café Comercial was a nice place to sit, but I imagine you can find decent churros at most cafes in Madrid. (Though Café Comercial has a pretty interior, lots of seating, and has been around since 1887.)
Glorieta de Bilbao, 7
28004 Madrid, Spain
Open daily, Monday-Thursday 7:30am-1:00am, Friday and Saturday 8:30am-2:00am, Sunday 9:00am-12:00am
*After my momentary lapse in Tipos Infames, I am happy to announce that I still love my Kindle and still regard it as one of my travel staples that I take with me wherever I go.