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great eating tradition
By C. Gavilanes
most people have heard of tapas, and they're
available in most Spanish bars, it's not always
clear to everyone how to go about finding
and ordering them. Part of the problem is
that the word tapas usually doesn't
appear on menus or billboards, and that many
bars don't adhere to the real tradition of
tapas. The word tapas comes from the Spanish
verb 'tapar' (which means to cover). A tapa
was meant as a free snack to be placed on
top of a drink to keep flies and other what-nots
out. While many bars in Madrid provide a tapa
with a glass of beer or wine (which in some
cases is delicious and in others hardly worth
eating), it's by no means the norm. More typically,
going out for tapas implies ordering a plate
of food called a ración,
if it is to be shared among a few people,
or a perhaps a canapé,
which is something on a small piece of bread.
Also common in tapas bars are bocadillos
which are sandwiches made with a bread roll
Just about any manner of Spanish food comes
in the form of tapas, and as such it's a very
good way to go about trying the huge variety
of Spanish dishes. Don't worry if you don't
understand the menu, most tapas bars have
their goods on display at the bar so you can
simply point at what looks appealing to you.
If you haven't already done so, you may wish
to consult our list of translations
of Spanish foods, or the list of untranslatable
words and expressions, used rather liberally
throughout the following.
If there are no tables on the terrace, sit inside and wait. Eventually a waiter will come up and ask what you want to drink. The key to successful interaction is simplicity. If you want to drink a beer, just say “caña.” If you want wine, order the “vino de la casa.” At some bars, you can choose your drinks from the pricelists chalked on the wall. If you want cocktails, most waiters will understand the English version. But truly, if you dont speak Spanish, it helps 1) to order simply, and 2) to not be picky. Regardless of your political affiliations, an American might feel as if he or she were walking on ideological eggshells in Lavapies. The less one appears as the typical “ugly American,” the more it seems to smooth out interactions on all levels of communication.
While the atmosphere of Lavapies is upbeat, jovial, and inviting, one must recognize that being American in this neighborhood can be difficult. Acting with a relaxed class and grace will only improve diplomacy!
Tel. 91 532 34 43
outstanding little bar/restaurant is an
excellent choice for those who wish to
sample the Basque food, considered by
many to be Spain's equivalent of the French
haute cuisine. We liked everything
we tried here, and we tried a lot. To
give a few examples: baked onions stuffed
with fresh goat's cheese and jamón,
blood pudding served with baked apple,
perhaps the best anchovies we have ever
tried, coated in virgin olive oil and
Txacolí (a basque white wine),
cod souffle... to mention a few possibilities.
The atmosphere is friendly if a bit cramped,
and don't be misled by the entrance; the
bar is in the basement of a Basque cultural
For those who want more than tapas the
restaurant serves the same food, for an
excellent price. Oh and incidently the
desserts were also superb, sherbert in
vodka, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate figs...
(dinner from 18-25 euro, inc. wine and
(antes La Tercia).
Doctor Castelo, 22.
573 55 90
91 574 00 15
east of the Retiro
park, this area probably won't be
in a tourist itinerary, but if you make
it to the 'far side' of the park (meaning
the side opposite the Prado Museum) we
recommend going that little bit further
to get to this bar.
Fairly modern, but with plenty of traditional
dishes we tried and liked: the croquetas,
(excellent) usually with seafood, but
occasionally with chicken. Scrambled
eggs with white beans and blood pudding
the entrance to the Teatro
de la Zarzuela, this traditional bar
advertises the following speciality: Croquetas.
So that's what we tried. And these really
were special, in fact they were so good,
we didn't get around to trying anything
else. Highly recommended. Fairly authentic
General Ibáñez Ibero, semiesq.
Reina Victoria, 37
553 53 23
you find yourself in the Cuatro Caminos
area (we can't think of too many reasons
why a tourist would go there, except if
you are leaving from or arriving at the
Auto bus station, or if you want to
browse around some of the cheaper shops
in this zone) you might want to drop into
Let me begin by saying this is one
place which upholds what seems to be
the diminishing custom of providing
real (i.e. free) tapas with a drink.
What's more they come in quite generous
portions. I managed to try a delicious
stewed meat with chips (french fries),
grilled cuttlefish, a dish of wild mushrooms
and ham and a sort of roasted pepper
salad. I will also mention, if only
because of their enormous size (I didn't
actually try them), the bocadillo
Puerta Cerrada 6
Tel. 91 365
Tirso de Molina/ La Latina
behind the Plaza Mayor, this small bar
(in contrast to others listed here) is
manifestly not pijo.
The background music is usually some sort
of blues or jazz, or at the very least
in good taste, and the management spends
more time serving the clientele than keeping
the floors clean. Perhaps due to its size,
it's almost always crowded enough that
you get to share your conversation with
your nearest neighbour, but then I suppose
is as fundamental to bars as drinking.
Unfortunately the prices are not in keeping
with the bohemian atmosphere, i.e. not
So, what to try: The cheeses are excellent,
especially the Torta al Casar,
a special soft sheep's milk cheese from
the province of Extremadura.
These comes as generous portions on
what otherwise is an uninteresting bit
of bread. The cured meats are also a
house speciality, they are all worth
trying, so a random pick here isn't
a bad suggestion. If that doesn't appeal
to you, you can point at the item of
interest. They also have a decent, if
not particularly extensive, wine selection,
and of course beer is also available.
Manuela Malasaña, 15
91 594 27 33
of the growing number of worthwhile eateries
to sample in Malasaña. Excellent
tapas include jamón ibérico
tapas (the bread is toasted and coated
with tomato), roast peppers stuffed with
cod, a diverse assortment of cheeses,
and other foods from the northern Spanish
region of El Bierzo.
While a good tapas bar, the Albur is even
more highly recommended as a place to
have lunch. A delicious 3-course meal,
including wine, costs 10 euro. Furthemore,
it´s open sundays and holidays.