“The sun rises late in Madrid. Or maybe it just seems that way to me when I’m in the mood for a lazy bed day. Look – I’ve barely got here, and I’m already embodying the character of the city! At once buzzing and bustling, yet also relaxed and human, where for the first time I feel as though the world is there for me, and not the other way around – where I’m important and don’t continually have to accommodate others. I start the day with breakfast: a coffee with milk – café con leche – and of course a Spanish tortilla, which only tourists are ignorant enough to call ‘scrambled eggs’.
Locals – if they understand your cultural insensitivity – will throw their heads back in wounded scorn: The tortilla is an institution, a craft which Spanish chefs teach to American housewives. It matters, for example, which kind of pan you cook in, at what thickness, and what kind of wooden spoon is used to stir it… The tortilla is an exceptionally important piece of Spanish culture, and the pleasure of eating one rhymes perfectly with all the other pleasures of life here.”
“Though the city is a long way from the sea, Madrid has some of the best and most interesting seafood in all of Spain. Fresh seafood reaches the capital from every coast, though for me, the legendary serrano ham was even more irresistible.
Ham, or jamon, is sold at least as frequently as fridge magnets. Indeed, you can even get a serrano ham fridge magnet, but I think the ham-shaped decorative pillow definitely topped it as a unique souvenir.
If you want to get a comprehensive picture of the local gastronomy I would recommend a trip to the market, or Mercado de San Miguel: pastries, wines, seafood, including a wide variety of fish, olives, and ham – in all shapes and sizes! It is an exclusive place and might be better described as a mass of tapas bars than a real market. The prices are quite high, but in return, you get a big serving and plenty of garnish. It gets crowded late in the evening, but it’s still unmissable!” (Adam, 2017)
The main meal of the Spaniards is lunch. Most restaurants offer a daily menu on weekdays and only for lunch. The menu items are quite affordable, typically costing 8-13 euros, of course, more expensive in the trendy restaurants. Lunch menus are well displayed on the street front of restaurants.
“There’s no better way to spend your time in Madrid than eating! It’s worth knowing, however, that Spanish eating habits are a little different. Don’t be surprised if they look at you strangely for wanting to eat dinner at 7 pm, or if you try to find a place for lunch at noon, and encounter only closed doors. This is the ‘siesta’, or midday rest, which usually lasts from about noon until two or three in the afternoon. (This was originally a defense against the heat of midday in summer, but it has since extended into winter as well). It’s a time when people go home from work to eat lunch and catch some shut-eye.
Still, don’t despair if you’re hungry during this time – the big fast-food chains are open all day, from morning until night. The inhabitants of Madrid usually eat in a restaurant at least once a week, at which time the whole family or group of friends gets together and talks for hours, not going to bed until at least midnight. In Madrid, coffee typically costs one euro.
Almost every day ends in a bar – and if it doesn’t, it probably started there! There is a long tradition of ‘tapas’ bars here. You should try as many different types as possible – there are set menus, and plenty of buy-two-get-three type promotions. For about €7 you can enjoy a modest lunch. What might seem odd is that in many traditional tapas bars you’ll see lots of napkins dropped on the floor. Don’t be alarmed at this – in fact, quite the opposite! It means you’ve found an excellent bar. The many napkins on the floor are a sign of satisfied customers. Nowadays, though, it’s more common to put your used napkin into the small trash can by the bar counter.
The word ‘tapas’ comes from ‘tapar’, which means to cover or hide something. Apparently, long ago when people spent hours over a large mug of beer and long conversation, they got into the habit of covering the top of their glass with a slice of bread, to keep out the bugs and the dust. Well, when the bread was already there, it seemed natural to put a topping in it – a slice of ham, perhaps, or salami, or whatever else was in the kitchen. This is how the first tapas were created.