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Food & Drink
Madrileños are a sociable people for whom eating and drinking in bars and restaurants is a way of life. They enjoy traditional dishes made from fresh, full-flavoured ingredients, often prepared quite simply.
Try Madrid-style cooking, then sample the cuisines from all the regions of Spain, from the Basque country to Galicia, and from Asturias to Valencia. Portions are usually hearty and prices reasonable. In fact, the only disappointments could come when ordering non-Spanish dishes, catering for 'international' tastes. Desserts, however, tend to be standard and unadventurous. They include the ubiquitous flan (crème caramel), arroz con leche (rice pudding) and manzana asada (baked apple).
Fish & Meat DishesThe capital is often called Spain's main fishing port because the fleets send the best of their catch straight to the city. Sauces are rarely needed for the thick slices of lubina (John Dory), besugo (sea bass) and ventresca (tuna), which are grilled a la plancha (on a hot plate). Basque restaurants are particularly well-known for their fish dishes, which have relatively simple sauces, such as white wine with garlic and parsley. The Spanish are also great meat eaters, choosing between tender pork, chuletas de lechal (baby lamb chops) and chunks of solomillo (sirloin steak). There is also a vast array of sausages, from chorizos (pork) to morcilla (black pudding).
Madrid's own dish is cocido madrileño, a stew of meat and vegetables that traditionally is prepared in an earthenware pot by the fire. Baby lamb and suckling pig, barely a few weeks old, are roasted slowly in wood-fired ovens, until the meat is so tender that it falls off the bone.
SnacksDon't miss tapas, the little snacks that are eaten throughout the day, but especially in the late afternoon and early evening before restaurants open for dinner. A tapa was once a small round slice of bread set on top of your wine glass - a simple device to stop flies crawling in! Someone added a slice of ham, an olive or a marinated pepper and - hey presto! - the tapa was born. An automatic companion to a small glass of wine, they range from slices of cheese or sausage to meatballs or snails. Every bar has its own speciality.
Another must is chocolate con churros, which are popular at breakfast or teatime. Cups of hot, thick drinking chocolate traditionally come with churros. Variously translated as doughnuts or fritters, these are light, crispy, deep-fried batter, shaped in Madrid-style teardrops, or in long, thick sticks, called porras. Dip them in sugar, or better, dunk them in your hot chocolate.
WineSpain is rich in vineyards but in recent years there has been a renaissance in wine-making in the province of Madrid. Look for wines labelled D O Vinos de Madrid. Among the blancos (whites) try Albillo, Tapón de Oro and Viña Bayona. Refreshing rosados (rosés) are Tapón de Oro, Valfrío and Puerta del Sol, while reliable tintos (reds) include Valdeguerra and Tochuelo Tinto.