Spain might be known for its paella and sangria, but head to central Madrid and you’ll notice one food is king above all the humble bocadillo de calamares, or calamari (squid) sandwich. Visiting Madrid and not trying one would be like going to New York and not trying a bagel – read on for all there is to know about this delicious delight.
What is a bocadillo de calamares?
It consists of a fresh bread roll filled with squid rings that have been coated in flour and deep-fried in olive oil. Each sandwich is made to order, giving the squid a delicious, just-cooked crunch. It’s that simple. Madrileños usually wash down their bocadillo de calamares with a caña, or small beer. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or, if you’re particularly hungry, for an afternoon snack.
How much is it?
Prices range from around €2.70 (US$3) to as much as €6 (US$6.70). Do as the locals do and don’t dream of paying more than about €3.50 (US$3.90) for your sandwich.
Where should I try it?
Without a doubt, you have to sample a calamari sandwich at one of the bars around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, or main square. Don’t sit at one of the restaurants on the square – instead, make like a Madrileño and buy your sandwich from inside one of the surrounding bars, then either eat it standing in the bar, or find a bench and enjoy it al fresco.
Located on a small side-street just off Plaza Mayor, this bar is one of the most popular spots to grab a bocadillo de calamares. Bar La Campana doesn’t make much else but the infamous sandwich, but they do it to perfection. There is usually a queue, but it is worth the wait to watch the staff fry up their fresh calamari just behind the counter. Sandwiches are a steal at €2.70 (US$3).
Just next door to La Campana is Bar La Ideal, which is also famed for its calamari sandwiches. Service is fast and the atmosphere buzzing. Don’t be alarmed by all the napkins on the floor, when Spaniards have finished with their napkin, it’s very usual for them to just drop it at their feet – some people say the more napkins on the floor, the better the bar. Buy your sandwich (for less than €3 (US$3.35)) then go and enjoy it while sitting on one of the benches on Plaza Mayor amid the beautiful surroundings for a delicious and cheap lunch.
Just off Plaza Mayor heading towards Sol is this no-frills bar popular with locals as a place to stop for a quick refuel while out shopping. It can get very busy, so shout your order to the barman (don’t forget your caña, too) then find yourself a spot at the bar or the small ledge around the side. Alternatively, head to the Plaza Mayor and grab a bench. This place also does a tasty pincho de tortilla (slice of tortilla de patatas) if there are any vegetarians in your group.
A popular joint just off the western edge of Plaza Mayor, Casa Rúa specialises in bocadillos de calamares and it’s not uncommon to see whole families here on a weekend enjoying the typical treat. Don’t be scared of queueing and – local tip – eat your sandwich at the bar, as it’s cheaper than if you sit at a table. Bocadillos here are a good deal at just €2.85 (US$3.18).
If you’re going to stray away from Plaza Mayor for your calamari sandwich, make sure you try one at El Brillante, close to the city’s main train station, Atocha. It serves over 2,000 of the famous sandwiches every single day and offers different bread options including ciabatta and mini-sandwiches. Buy your sandwiches here then make a picnic of it in the nearby Retiro Park.