Category Archives: madrid restaurants

Madrid: Your Tapas Cheat Sheet

It’s a good thing Andalusians invented ‘little plates.’

Not only do they ‘comen las palabras’
with their easy going accent, but I’d also be fifteen pounds heavier…
and broke.

Believe it or not, debate still surrounds the birth of tapas. One story says that a 13th-century doctor instructed Castilian king Alfonso X El Sabio to eat several small meals a day with wine (wish mine told me the same). Voila! Tapas was born. Later, in the 17th-century classic Don Quixote, Cervantes refers to “llamativos” or “lures” as small plates designed to arouse hunger or thirst. These days, the most commonly accepted story is that tapas originated in 19th century Andalusia. Small saucers in the taverns were set over wine glasses to keep the scent in and the buzzing flies out.

Eventually, some smartie pants hit upon the idea that free food placed on top of saucers would increase bar sales. Today, tapas are rarely free, but there’s often an honor system involved. You pay by the empty plates you’ve counted or the toothpicks left in your hand. There are more than a thousand varieties in every region, city, and bar in Spain so this week… it’s all about tapas, mi tia.

While dealing with my favorite travel PR folks in NYC, I was informed of a little company like no other. Offering a nighttime tapas tour of Madrid, the select few could buy the right to become privy to the Tapas World’s greatest secrets. Adventurous Appetites, led by one tapas-loving die hard Euro, gives a gastronomic tour of Madrid’s little plate scene, taking visitors off the tourist track to experience the authentic side of Madrileño and Spanish socializing, while eating and drinking to your heart’s content. To make the process even easier, if you book a room at the InterContinental Madrid, they’ll arrange it all for you.

As James Fraser, Head Honcho of Adventurous Appetites, says: ‘Madrid can be a bit intimidating and particularly if you don’t speak the lingo – you end up walking past a bar teeming with noisy Spaniards and don’t feel brave enough to go in, whereas the next bar is empty and you don’t want to go in. Adventurous Appetites shows you the sort of thing you should be looking for and gives you the confidence to go off and explore on your own. We even leave you a list of vocab and suggestions on places to try.’ Well, Fraser can’t give away ALL his secrets, but he has warmly decided to open up to Jaunt Magazine and share a few gems with you.

Queso Cabrales: Blue cheese from a village in the Asturian region. Originally, each family according to its status in the village had the right to put a certain number of cheeses per year in the cheese cave where these cheeses are matured.

Jamón: Spanish ham. The famous Spanish cured ham is like Italian prosciutto, though not as sweet. Quality from cheapest t most expensive are: Serrano, Ibérico, Ibérico de Bellota, Pata Negra.

Queso Manchego: Typical Spanish cheese. Types include: curado, mature, semi-curado (milder)

Morcilla: Black pudding aka. blood sausage (for the uninformed: that’s sausage made by cooking pig or cattle blood with a filler like meat, fat, suet, bread, barley, or oatmeal until it’s thick enough to congeal when cooled… yummmmmm)

Callos: A traditional Madrid stew of tripe cooked with tomato, chorizo, and black pudding.

Cured tuna; a fishy version of Jamón

Cocido Madrileño:
A typical Madrid stew of chickpeas cooked with a bit of ham, black pudding, chorizo, chicken, turnip, carrot, cabbage. It is traditionally served in 3 stages. First a broth made from the juices, then the vegetables, then you finish off with the meat.

Boquerones en vinagre:
Fresh anchovies, covered with vinegar. This “cooks” them. Then, they’re sprinkled with garlic, parsley and olive oil. Eaten cold, they’re completely different from the salty things on top of pizzas people usually think of when you say anchovies.

Pulpo a la Gallega: Octopus, usually served on a bed of boiled potatoes and sprinkled with sea salt and paprika.

Tostas: Pieces of toasted bread with delicious toppings. In the Basque country and Basque bars in Madrid these types of nibbles are called pintxos and traditionally they have a cocktail stick stuck in them and you would help yourself before paying for the number of cocktail sticks you have in your hand when you leave.


Fino: Dry, drunk chilled with as aperitif and with white fish.

Manzanilla: Very similar to fino but from Sanlucar de Barrameda. Dry, drink chilled with as aperitif and with white fish and during Feria de Sevilla with 7-up (rebujito) which is very palatable, but boy… does it give you a hangover!

Amontillado: More like what the Brits drink in the UK and people in the US cook with, but still very dry. Drink chilled with consommés and white meat.

Oloroso: Much rounder, heavier, winier flavour. Drink with red meat and game.

Palo Cortado: Between Amontillado and Oloroso. Mahogany coloured, still nutty but got wine flavour

Red Wine: Tapas Guru, James Fraser, owner of Adventurous Appetites in Madrid, likes the red wines from the area Ribera del Duero (more than the Rioja which is generally accepted by visitors as the Spanish wine). It comes from the area around the river Duero which turns into the river Douro as it goes through Portugal before reaching the sea in Oporto, where the Portuguese make the port wines. A really good, heavy, full-bodied, meat eaters wine.

Pacharan: An after-dinner digestivo to make the food go down. Made from sloe berries and slightly like anisette.

Fraser suggests the following for sit-down eating:

El BOTíN – C/ Cuchilleros 17, Madrid. Tel (0034) 91 366 4217.
The oldest restuarant in the world per Guinness book of records. Not overly expensive. Speciality: suckling pig. Must book.

MACEIRAS – C/ Huertas 66, Madrid
A very typical Galician restaurant, seated on wooden stools and drinking refreshing white wine out of bowls. Great seafood. Try the clams in an Albariño sauce. Very good value. Cash only. Don’t expect great service but the atmosphere is well worth it.

Gathered from James, and two other inside sources, here’s a list of where to tapas:

LA LATINA – An area full of terraces to sit out and people watch over a beer

CALLE CAVA BAJA (in La Latina) – A street perfect for bar-hopping as full of bars and restaurants.

El TEMPRANILLO (C/ Cava Baja 38, Madrid) – For a great selection of wine and tostadas (pieces of toasted bread topped with wild mushrooms, ham, partridge, etc.

El TXACOLI (C/ Cava Baja 42, Madrid) – A Basque bar for a refreshing glass of white wine (Txacoli) and pintxos, a wide selection of different tapas to choose from, laid out on the bar.

MATRITUM (Cava Alta, 17)
Try the tomato bread with slices of Jamón Iberico and croquettes stuffed with jamón. Drink: Viñas del Vero Syrah.

CASA DE AMADEO (Plaza Cascorro, 18)
Excellent Pimientos de Padrón (small fried Galician green peppers with sea salt), snails in a paprika broth, calf sweetbreads sauted in olive oil and lots of garlic, navajas (razor clams). Grab un caña (a little glass) of Mahou beer and remember why you came here.

LA CASTELA (Doctor Castela, 22)
Don’t miss the fried chistorra sausages with french fries, chipirones encebolladas (small calamari with sauted onions, drizzled with olive oil and squid ink!!), un pincho de bacalao with tomato foam. Drink the Albariño (a tart white from northwest Spain) y “Venga!”

RETINTO (Calle Alonso Cano, 38. Madrid Tel: 914 423 419 Metro Stops: Alonso Cano or Rios Rosas
You won’t see any tourists in here. I read about this ditty online. Apparently, away from Plaza Mayor, Calle Ponzano and its surrounding streets hold several tapas bars with an authentic Madrileno feel. As a free tapa with your drink you may be served little “empanadillas” or maybe the pickled garlic which is in a huge bowl on the counter. Try the Cabrales cheeses with anchovies and avocado, Torta del Casar, and grilled foie with Pedro Ximenez.

End the night on chocolate at:

CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES (Pasadizo San Gines 5) – Open all through the night till 7am. The place to have chocolate and churros (gloopy melted chocolate and deep-fried doughnut twists)

If you want to know even more under-the-radar novelties, tell James I sent you and book a one-night tour with the foodies who know best.

PS. Don’t blame me if you gain 15 pounds. Pace yourself, ya fiend. That’s why they’re called ‘Little Plates.’