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8 must-try dishes when you’re in Madrid

8 must-try dishes when you’re in Madrid

by Great British Chefs 16 August 2018

Madrid is home to some of Spain’s most celebrated recipes, ranging from porky stews and seafood sandwiches to sweet pastries and tapas bites. Zachary Lande lists eight of Madrid’s best dishes that simply must be tasted if you find yourself in the city.


Madrid is one of the most cosmopolitan, vibrant and exciting capital cities in Europe. Its culinary scene is a melting pot of different cultures from various regions, religions and nationalities, all of which reflect the development of Spain over the centuries. The first significant milestone in the culinary history of Madrid was at the end of the sixteenth century, when King Felipe II moved the capital city from Toledo to Madrid and established it as the new epicentre of his kingdom. This change led to waves of mass migration from all over the Spanish Empire, with various groups and communities bringing their own cooking techniques and tastes into the capital. As the city grew, it incorporated new customs that led to the creation of some its most famous foods, many of which are still hugely popular today.

The dishes listed below are among the city’s most beloved and are a must-try if you’re visiting Madrid. Each one reflects the local cuisine, which is grounded in bold flavours, regional ingredients and age-old traditions.

1. Cocido madrileño

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Cocido madrileño is a hearty stew, designed to warm the cockles during the colder winter months in the city, but is also eaten year-round. The central ingredient of any good cocido is a mountain of chickpeas, accompanied by other root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, cabbage and turnips. Pork is another important element, and comes in the form of belly, chorizo, blood sausage and cured ham. Beef shank and chicken is sometimes added, as well as bones to enrich the stock. The beauty of the dish, however, is how it is eaten. Each element is served separately in three ‘acts’ known as vuelcos. The first vuelco is a ladleful of the aromatic cocido stock, sometimes served with thin noodles. The second vuelco consists of the chickpeas and the vegetables, and the third vuelco is the assortment of different meats. You therefore get a three-course meal out of a single dish. As you would expect, this seriously hearty stew is best followed by a long siesta.

2. Bocadillo de calamares

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A bocadillo de calamares consists of squid rings lightly coated in flour and deep-fried in olive oil, which are then stuffed into a fresh, crusty bread roll. Washed down with a caña (a small beer), this squid sandwich is the perfect afternoon snack, and will only ever cost you a few euros. Make sure you get one made to order, and if you can, ask for some tangy allioli sauce to accompany the squid. The best place to sample one of these sandwiches is Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, or main square. Buy a bocadillo at one of the many surrounding bars and eat it standing up at the counter, or find a nearby bench in the plaza itself. No fuss, no frills; this is Madrid street food at its simplest and very best.

3. Callos a la madrileña

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Callos a la madrileña is another type of stew, for those seeking something a little more adventurous. It is similar to the cocido madrileño, in that it contains chickpeas, blood sausage and chorizo. However, the star of the show is veal tripe, which is boiled until tender, sliced into strips and then cooked in a rich tomato- and saffron-based broth. Despite being a straightforward recipe, the dish is revered and held in very high regard by the locals. It is served in many bars and restaurants, who will all claim to have the best recipe. It is a good idea to ask some friendly madrileños (the name for the people of Madrid) where the best callos can be found. The stew is great for sharing among large groups, as the portions are often very generous.

4. Churros con chocolate

Churros are the unquestionable cure for your sweet tooth when in Madrid. These sticks of fried pastry dough can be found everywhere and can be eaten at any time. A simple paste made of flour, water, oil and salt is piped through a churrera (a syringe-like tool with a star-shaped nozzle) and dropped into a waiting vat of bubbling oil. They are then fried until golden and crispy then dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Churros in Madrid are typically thin, straight rods, but you can find them in all shapes and sizes, including curls, spirals and twists. As well as being sold by street vendors, churros can be eaten in specialised churrerías in the form of a café or shop. Best enjoyed with a steaming cup of thick, silky hot chocolate for dipping, churros are quite a messy affair to eat, so have some napkins at the ready!

5. Tortilla española

Careful not to confuse your tortillas when in Madrid! In Spanish, the word tortilla is the diminutive form of torta, which means cake. It has nothing to do with the corn or wheat tortillas of Mexico. In its most basic form, a tortilla española is a thick omelette made with eggs, potatoes and (sometimes) onion, which is why it is also known as a tortilla de patatas. To make a tortilla española, starchy potatoes are cut into thin slices and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil at low temperature until softened, then combined with beaten eggs. This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly fried. Once the eggs are cooked on one side, a pan and plate is used to flip the tortilla and cook the other side. The finished result can be eaten hot or cold; it is an enormously popular tapas dish that is often skewered onto cocktail sticks and served in bite-size pieces. You will also find triangular wedges in sandwiches, or lying on top of small pieces of crusty bread to be eaten as a pincho (snack).

6. Patatas bravas

Arguably one of Spain’s most famous dishes, this tapas dish translates to ‘ferocious’ or ‘fiery’ potatoes. The golden, crispy cubes of deep-fried potato are an ideal snack to enjoy with a glass of red wine or a cold beer. They are served warm, piled high, and covered in a piquant tomato sauce, often with allioli. Spicy food isn’t that common in Spanish cuisine, but patatas bravas are a notable exception to the rule.

7. Huevos rotos

Ham, egg and chips Spanish-style. Huevos rotos literally means ‘broken eggs’, and the trick to making them is frying the eggs until they’re perfectly over-easy. The eggs are served over homemade chips fried in olive oil and tossed with sea salt. To finish, the runny yolks are pierced to allow the oozing, sunshine-coloured liquid to spread over the chips and coat them in delicious flavour. The eggs and chips are accompanied by some kind of meat layered on top, normally ham, bacon or sausage, and the whole dish is served hot immediately after plating. This is an all-day menu item, often listed under the name huevos estrellados (star eggs) because of the star shape the yolks make when broken.

8. Jamón ibérico

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No trip to Madrid would be complete without tasting the king of pork products; jamón ibérico. It is a cured ham like no other; a cherished local product eaten all over the Iberian Peninsula. Jamón ibérico is PDO-protected, ensuring all hams carrying the name must come from black Iberian pigs. Once weaned, the pigs are fattened on a diet of barley and corn. They then become free range, roaming among oak groves and feeding on grass, herbs, roots and acorns. After being slaughtered, the hams are salted and dried for two weeks. They are then rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their hams for up to four years. The hams are then graded and labelled with coloured stickers according to their ancestry and diet. Iberian hams are prized for their velvety texture, thanks to the marbling of the fat, and their savoury flavour, with powerful notes of forest fruits and nuts. The meat is prepared to order, and sliced off the leg in wafer thin slivers which are arranged on a plate.

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