I can honestly only apologise for the lateness of all these travel posts, but it’s quite nice to be able to blog about adventures pre-Covid whilst knowing that travel is currently not a safe option for most people.
So, last year some friends and I embarked on a little miniature travel trio which began in Madrid, Spain. I’m ashamed to say that the majority of my Spanish adventures have been to tourist heavy beach destinations, plus a couple of long weekends in Barcelona. I was excited to experience a bit more authentic Spanish life whilst exploring the country’s capital city and Madrid absolutely fulfills all your expectations in that regard.
Whilst it may not be as obviously or as decadently beautiful as cities like Barcelona, Madrid is full of hidden gems when it comes to culture, a classic Spanish aesthetic and some delicious local foods that you might find vary from what you’re use to experiencing in other parts of Spain or the Balaeric and Canary Islands.
During our time in the city we explored a few different food options, but obviously the classic Spanish dishes are tapas and paella. It took less than 24-hours for me to park myself down on a table outside Cafe Europa in Puerta del Sol (one of the biggest and most central squares in Madrid) and order a vegetable paella for the table, soak up the sun and begin planning our adventures over the next few days. There’s something so wonderful about sharing food with friends – all digging in to the same enormous platter of paella, gossiping about our journeys (we had all travelled separately to meet in one glorious city) and full of anticipation for what’s to come. It was all topped off beautifully by the paella. Now, Cafe Europa is not necessarily the most authentic or in fact cheapest places to sit but we needed somewhere central to meet up and actually, if you go for a sharing plate like a paella then it worked out at around €12 each, including a Cola Light per person. So if you’re a people watcher who likes to take their time getting their bearings then I would absolutely recommend enjoying a drink or a meal here as you plan your trip.
Once we felt immersed in the city, we began to merrily explore all sorts of little hole in the wall type places for food. For the sake of budget that might be a casual ‘Supermarket Sweep’ version of tapas made in our apartment one night, but due to Madrid’s relative affordability (particularly, as I always say, when compared to London) we were lucky enough to eat out one way or another most days. One of my travel buddies was the Spanish afficionado It’s Just Becks and her knowledge of where to grab the tastiest empanada, or where might have the most varied options for a snack lunch was invaluable and meant we definitely tried as much as we could during our short stay.
An area known as La Latina in Madrid is famed for its high concentration of tapas bars and restaurants so one night we ventured there to see what we could come up with. We landed on Casa Toni on Calle de la Cruz due to it having incredible reviews on line, looking very authentic and full of atmosphere and also having a table available for a gaggle of excited girls. Being veggie, there aren’t always a miriad of options on a tapas menu but it’s very easy to make it work – I recommend ordering olives, padron peppers or a variation thereof, any kind of patatas bravas style situation, and there are often many other veggie dishes when you dig deeper. My companions also enjoyed the delights of chorizo, a variety of incredible looking hams and of course some seafood delights as well. Casa Toni offered everything you might want from a night of tapas in Madrid; authentic local variations on well known tapas dishes, a venue crammed so full of atmosphere it looks as though it might burst from the outside, and great place to enjoy delicious food with friends.
Later on in our trip we found ourselves with a little time to kill once again in the Sol area and ventured to what I can really only describe as Madrid’s answer to a greasy spoon. It was basic and clean, full of locals watching and yelling at the tv and a tapas menu to die for. We decided to give it a go, and in all honesty I feel awful not being able to recall the name of the place because it was spectacular! Incredible food, delicious drinks (we enjoyed a little sangria, when in Spain after all!) and the atmosphere felt very homely and comfortable. Of course we quickly realised that when you’re slightly off the beaten track, you really do have to crack out every last bit of Spanish you know, but the staff were incredibly patient with my broken Spanish (my GCSE was getting a little rusty at that point, so I’ve cracked out the Duolingo so it doesn’t happen again!) and we had one of those evenings you just know you’ll remember as a highlight of the holiday.
Please don’t judge us too harshly, but in one particularly desperate moment we popped into a McDonalds for some sustenance and found you can get patatas bravas (and a beer!) in Spanish McDonalds and for some reason that made me giggle rather a lot.
All in all, you can’t really go wrong with Spanish food – it’s warming, tasty and full of heart, whether you are sitting in a fairly upscale central eatery, or grabbing an empanada to go from a small kiosk down a side street. It’s just delicious.