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The Best of Madrid’s Local Food and Wine

Photo by Beebe Bahrami

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A History of Drinkable and Edible Madrid

Madrid has long been a wine-loving city. It has many traditional wine houses (bodegas) and taverns and inns (tabernas y mesones). Today there are many historic wine bars where you can enjoy great Spanish wines with delicious tapas or multiple course meals.

The 13th century king of Castile and León, Alfonso X, gets credit for the rise of the custom of eating tapas with a glass of wine. Better known for his poetry and music, Alfonso X also passed a law that wine shall not be served in public houses without something to eat.

His concern was to improve people’s health and to prevent unwanted drunkenness. Tavern keepers started serving snacks with any order of an alcoholic beverage. That tradition happily survives over eight centuries later. But it was not until the early 20th century that the term tapa defined these morsels.

One day a more recent Spanish king, Alfonso XIII (1902-1931), was in the south of Spain; he stopped to enjoy a glass of brandy. Right as a gust of wind was about to blow sand into his drink, the waiter deftly placed a slice of ham over his glass. Creating a top for the glass, una tapa, delighted the king. He promptly ate the ham and asked for more.

Kings set fashions and soon those legal morsels were spun into little tops.

This delightful practice of eating a little and drinking a little has become a whole culinary movement over the centuries. It is still practiced with gusto all across Spain. When you order a wine or beer in Madrid, you will almost always get something to eat with it.

In addition to wine and beer, vermouth, especially in the 1920s, was a popular drink in Madrid.


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Adventures in Madrid’s Moveable Feast

A wonderful place to start and get your bearing, both physically and culturally, is a stop at the beautifully refurbished Belle-Époque covered market, Mercado de San Miguel, where you can enjoy drinks and tapas as well as do some high quality local food shopping.

In the vicinity of the Royal Palace and the Plaza Mayor, highly recommended for tapas and wine are El Anciano Rey de los Vinos, Casa Ciriaco, Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas, Bodegas Ricla, around the Plaza de la Puerta Cerrada, and Casa Paco,

Also, nearby, almost any place along the and drink street, Cava Baja, is famous for food and drink. This includes Posada de la Villa, Taberna del Capitán Alatriste, Taberna La Cava de Yllán and El Schotis.

A classic place for lunch or dinner specializing in excellent traditional Castilian cuisine is Restaurante Sobrinos El Botín.

Don’t miss Madrid’s signature liquor at El Madroño, served up in edible chocolate-coated shot glasses. This special elixir is made from the fermented berry of the madroño or strawberry tree. This is the tree featured in Madrid’s emblem with the bear. Less obvious are its berries, which ferment naturally on the branch.

Heading to the other side of the Plaza Mayor and nearer the Puerta del Sol, you will find yet more classic tapas and taverns. Among these are Casa Lucio, Taberna Tirso de Molina, La Casa Alhambra, El Abuelo, and Las Bravas.

All along and around the Plaza de Santa Ana is also a great food and drink area. Among the highlights here are Viva Madrid, Cervecería Alemana (Hemingway’s dig) and Casa Alberto). A little further afield, heading back toward the Puerta del Sol, are the historic Restaurante Lhardy, and Casa Labra.


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