While Spaniards are not really big on eating a big, slap-up breakfast, they are totally fine with enjoying a sweet start to the day, so early morning is the ideal time to try a Spanish classic: chocolate con churros. The long, doughnut-like churros are best eaten dunked into rich hot chocolate. Chocolatería San Ginés is the city’s most famous churro place and is open 24 hours a day.
Alternatively, try some classic pan con tomate (tomato bread), a staple breakfast in Madrid, washed down with a café con leche.
Avoiding eating on the touristy Plaza Mayor is a good idea; the quality is usually not great and the prices high. One food that is absolutely typical of the plaza – or at least the street surrounding it – though, is a bocadillo de calamares, or a crusty bread sandwich stuffed with deep fried squid. Bar La Campana is a local favourite; it might have queues out the door on weekends, but the tasty snack is definitely worth the wait.
Those with a sweet tooth should pop into La Mallorquina, a bakery right on the busy Puerta del Sol that has been serving Madrileños an array of cakes, pastries and chocolates since 1894. Try a napolitana de crema (custard-filled pastry) or de chocolate (filled with chocolate).
Before you settle down for lunch, it’s probably time for a vermút de grifo (vermouth on tap). Vermouth, a fortified wine, is an extremely popular aperitif in Spain and has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years. The so-called hora del vermut, aka vermouth o’clock, usually takes place before lunch. La Hora del Vermut, in Mercado de San Miguel, a covered market just off the Plaza Mayor, is a good central spot for a drink. Alternatively, enjoy a tipple just around the corner in the mother and son-run bar, Bodegas Ricla.
The menu del día, a fixed-price lunchtime menu, is said to have been invented by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as a way of making every restaurant in the country offer a hearty and reasonably-priced lunch that anyone could enjoy. Most places today still offer this deal, which usually includes a starter, main course, drink (including wine or beer) and a dessert or coffee. It’s a great budget option and adheres perfectly to the traditional Spanish habit of eating a larger lunch and smaller dinner.
Emma Cocina’s lunchtime menu is always varied and uses fresh, local ingredients to make tasty Spanish dishes.
Alternatively, check out some of Madrid’s brilliant markets – while Mercado San Miguel might be the most famous and is well worth a look, don’t miss exploring some more local markets like Mercado Antón Martín and Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés. They have a range of Spanish and international food stalls where you can eat on site or buy produce for a picnic.
After a long afternoon of sightseeing, evenings in Madrid are about one thing: eating. La Latina, one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city, is full of tempting tapas bars that are a favourite with both tourists and locals. On the winding Cava de San Miguel, Meson del Champinon specialises in garlic mushrooms, cooked on a hot open grill right in front of you.
Further into La Latina, Calle de Cava Baja is the area’s famous “tapas street” and is home to several excellent tapas bars such as Taberna La Concha, which has an excellent array of dishes, including vegetarian and gluten-free options – try the pork cheek or, for vegetarians the pisto, a Spanish version of ratatouille.
Make your way down Cava Baja, popping into any tapas bars that take your fancy – La Perejilla is a great bar with vintage-themed decor and a range of different toasts, while Taberna El Tempranillo is a wine bar with a variety of tapas dishes, from grilled asparagus to jamón Ibérico and lots of Spanish cheeses.