Madrid can be summed up in one word: energetic. As soon as we left our luggage at our hotel we were off to discover what was in store. Of course, we were more interested in food than anything else and after inquiring were told to walk to La Latina- a neighborhood in Madrid known for its wine, innovative tapas bars and night life. Also in the same area are many famous restaurants offering traditional Madrid fare. On our way to La Latina we made a few pit stops to fill our empty stomachs and just because we couldnt resist all the seducing window displays of cured legs of ham. It was hard to focus and get to our destination without caving in and walking in to one of the many jamonerias and tapas bars.
We worked backwards. Our first stop was dessert. It looked so good it was hard to resist this pastry shop on an empty stomach. This dessert shop has been around for centuries and is located in the west end of Plaja del Sol. Two orange balls covered in sugar and a Napolitanas de Chocolate were quickly inhaled and we were off to our next destination.
Next while criss-crossinng through the streets while attempting to find our way to La Latina we arrived at Plaja del Mayor. A large pedestrian square, lined with restaurants and is surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 breathtaking balconies facing the Plaza. Sounds of foreign men selling annoying whistles and flying glows also covered the square (we were soon to realize that at each tourist filled square in each town and city in Europe we would again run into these men).
The square was so beautiful that we had to stop again. “But we haven’t reached La Latina” I complained to the Count. “Have you seen the inside of this place?” he said. The place he was referring to was the Museo de Jamon, translated to the “Ham Museum”. Seriously? A museum dedicated to ham? The place was covered with cured meats on walls and ceilings, slot machines and men carving legs of ham under bright lights. A large crowd of tourists and locals filled the restaurant and filled every empty seat available on the outside facing the Plaza. It was intoxicating. This was our first exposure to the ham obsessed Spaniard culture, one that both of us adapted to with ease and passion. And one that while I write this I wish was a daily part of my life.
We were seated facing the Plaja del Mayor and ordered a plate of jamon and a basket of bread served with two cervesaz. It was the perfect introduction to our Spanish adventure. But I was a woman on a mission: destination La Latina for some world famous tapas!
We passed through one of the many arches of the square and walked a few more minutes down to Cuchilleros, crossed Segovia and continue on to Cava Baja, the main street famous for its tapas. We first walked in to a jamon shop. The Count who at this point was only familiar with the Italian term ‘prosciutto’ was in Jamon-heaven. He even approached a salesman to ask whether he could ship a whole leg to America, sadly he was refused. “Lo Siento” said the Jamon man. That was the first Spanish phrase the Count leaned on our trip.
I was a kid in a candy store. Well, more like a carnivore in a butcher shop. But you get the gist. A foodie’s paradise (and not your vegan or veggie foodie, but your meat-loving one). So many great places to choose from. But that was the thing. We had to choose one. Based on recommendations we walked into Casa Lucas, a cozy, sleek tavern offering a range of wine and innovative yet traditional tapas. Here we got the fried calamaris, brought to us served whole and chopped up bar-side and mixed with the black squid ink. One word: amazing.
Casa Lucas is located at: Cava Baja, 30 28005 Madrid, Spain, +34 913 65 08 04
After our calamari dish and wine we walked down a bit further and had more Spanish wine. I was floating on cloud 9, so happy and so in love with Madrid. We were the only foreigners in a sea of spaniards which made ordering somewhat of a challenge but I’ve found pointing to objects and using hand signals really work in these dire circumstances.
We spent the evening in La Latina, walking back late at night to our hotel located by Plaja del Sol. Except, it didn’t feel so late. Crowds of people roamed the streets and the squares were filled with performers (and those undesirable salesmen mentioned above).
Our tapas adventures continued on the next evening starting off with the famous fried cod at Casa Labra. I had read about this place in travel guides but came about it quite randomly while taking a wrong turn off of Plaja del Sol. Cod an cod croquettes are the specialty served in a room that has remained almost untouched since the 19th century. The crowds and the smell of fried cod made it hard to resist. We walked in and ordered from the friendly man at the counter. Beer and delicious, hot pieces of fish were served to us at the standing bar.
Casa Labra is located at: Calle Tetuan 12, close to El Corte Ingles Store located in Sol
The night then turned into a sea of tapas when we made our way to Mercado de San Miguel. Crowds of hungry and thirsty people stormed the various tapas bars lining the glass walls of this foodie market. I felt right at home and ordered one dish from each and every merchant, making this foodie experience deserving of a post of its own.
Mercado de San Miguel is located at: Plaza de San Miguel, (+34) 915 42 49 36