There is a fine art to dining in Madrid, with a delicate balance of pinchos, tapas, tostadas, bocadillos, Menu del día… Exciting? Erm, more like overwhelming!

With so many options to consider, and trying to support ethical, organic and local, there is so much to consider it’s no wonder we almost do our heads in just picking where to have breakfast. Meanwhile the black hole in the belly grows and grumbles. Flat panic seems inevitable at this point, but wait! No need to go Spanish nerviosa just yet. The Spanish palette is accustomed to local flavours like olives, jamon and Spanish cheese, so pretty much everything from the pan (bread) to your plate is made in Spain.

What’s awesome about eating local in Madrid especially, is that everything is readily available in this capital city. Phew, that means less hangry, more jamon. Olé! Of course that doesn’t make it any easier to look at a Spanish menu, or to walk through a mercado gazing at the fresh treats on careful display in little food stalls.

What to eat local in Madrid

Image: Crunchy fresh tostadas, Spain, Madrid

What to eat local in Madrid

We all know how vital it is to be making smart food choices when you’re on the road. So here it is: the ultimate guide to what to eat – local and when – in Madrid.

It’s given utmost importance by many through the globe, yet in Spain beakfast is seen as a simple taster to stave away hunger until the main event: lunch. Cue bells and whistles (it really is that grand). Much of the working population grab a quick coffee and tostada at a cafeteria on their way to work, and this is just about the only country you’ll get away with having cookies for breakfast (yesss!). Undeniably simple, the freshness and quality of ingredients is essential and elevates even the common tostada to a state of delicacy. Literally walk out your door and turn the corner, there’s sure to be a traditional cafeteria waiting to serve you hot coffee and crunchy fresh tostadas.

The bread is almost always made in-house, toasted and drizzled generously with virgin olive oil. Some olive farms lie on the outskirts of Madrid but the majority of Spain’s liquid green hails from Jaen, a sparse countryside patterned with olive trees whose pale leaves shimmer in the Mediterranean sunlight.

Madrid Local Food & Wine tours

Next up! A layer of fresh tomato, either thinly sliced or finely diced. The best can be sourced from the frutarias (grocer) or Mercados (market), that ship in fruit and veg from around the country and display them in brightly coloured piles on their slanted shelves. They’re the perfect go-to if you want to keep costs down and make breakfast or bocadillos at home, just look for the Mercados de Madrid sign or pop it into google and you’ll see they’re all over the place. The best are Mercado de Cebada in La Latina, Mercado San Miguel on Calle Mayor, and Mercado de San Fernando. Not only do they offer fresh produce like fruit, veg, cheese, meat and fish but they also have little stalls that cater perfectly to the wandering snacker. Pick up your tostada ingredients at Mercado de la Cebada with it’s extensive array of fresh and organic produce.

Taste a glass of rich and satisfying Spanish wine paired with cheese at Mercado San Miguel, then have another one with a different type of cheese. Pick out a second hand book and put it into your new, African print handbag before sauntering over to sip on a craft beer as you while away the long afternoon. These mercados are notable for their ambience, but smaller versions just packing fresh produce can be found all over the city. It’s like having farmer’s markets in your backyard. All day. Except between 2pm and 5pm, when they close for lunch and siesta!

Taste a glass of rich and satisfying Spanish wine paired with cheese at Mercado San Miguel

Taste a glass of rich and satisfying Spanish wine paired with cheese at Mercado San Miguel

So head out early to grab a couple of juicy tomatoes, picking the ones still on the vine if you can, they taste better. Also don’t be shy to experiment with different types of tomatoes… the pink tomato looks more like a pumpkin in shape and in taste puts rudolf’s regular red-nose tomato to shame. The Kumato’s green skin can be deceiving, it’s not unripe but packs a fresh ‘nd tangy punch. Fresh bread is as easy to find as going next door to the chino, a little convenience store where you can buy anything from beer and chips to fresh bread. The totally un-PC name stems from the fact that the stores are generally owned by someone of Asian descent. Once you’ve created your personal tostada masterpiece, sprinkle with some good quality salt, also sourced local from the salt pans in the South. Aproveche! (bon appetite in Español)

Madrid is all about the pinchos

Hit up any little bar in trendy La Latina, multi-culti Lavapies or edgy Malasaña and with each beer you’re bound to be served up a delectable morsel of bruscheta topped with local delicacies like cod-stuffed peppers or roasted aubergine and goat’s cheese. If you’re a little too hungry to wait for the next beer to get your pincho, similar combinations can be ordered just so or as toppers on a tostada, similar to a pincho but served on a larger slice of artesian bread that is toasted ‘nd served as a perfect afternoon tapa. More loudly grumbling bellies may be calling for a main meal, which often occurs as part of a set meal. It’s useful to remember that the Spanish indulge at lunch time, so be warned that you’ll be disappointed if you head out looking for a hot meal at dinnertime.

Madrid is all about the pinchos

Madrid is all about the pinchos

Mmm now for lunch in Madrid

Luckily this happens around 2 or even 3pm, and is a ceremonious event during which many things come to a standstill. Except for restaurants serving ‘Menu del dia’ or menu of the day, a full-on flavour explosion three or four courses for between 10-15 euros. Starting with gazpacho is perfect for sweltering Summer days that can average on 40’C in the smoking city. If you don’t know what gazpacho is, you need to add it to your vocab fast because it’s going to blow your mind. The ingredients are so simple: tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, garlic, a generous dash of olive oil, Jerez vinegar (from Jerez), salt and lemon juice. All natural, fresh and local ingredients blended into a thick soup that’s served cold. Gazpacho can be found in restaurants during Summer, or you can pick up fresh ingredients at a mercado or frutaria and make it in a blender at home. Other starters commonly include a standard green salad with no frills, huevos roots (scrambled eggs served with jamon or shrimp), or pisto which is a lovely blend of saucy tomatoes, peppers and onions served with a fried egg, and bread to mop it all up!

“The second plate” – a direct translation of ‘main course’ – typically offers a choice of meat and potatoes, fish and potatoes or a hearty stew with beans (and probably potatoes). Meat dishes are labelled as chuleto de cerdo / ternero (pieces of pork or veal) or lomo de salmon / pollo (fillet of salmon or chicken). Stews include the classic Madrid Cocido, a hearty stew made with stock, garbanzos, noodles and four or five different types of meat. Each part of the stew is served separately or you can eat them together. I’m sure it’s apparent that options are slim for vegetarians… but if you tell them they may be able to make a plan for you. Some places cater for veggies but you may want to keep this in mind and seek one out specifically as Madrid’s dishes are heavily meat-orientated. With potatoes.

Dessert is generally something like a rich homemade cheesecake or the traditional flan, a custard type pudding. Many folk opt for fresh fruit after a big meal too, and the options are lip smacking in Summer… from fresh figs and juicy mangos to tangy nectarines that drip down your chin with sweet goodness. Everything (but the kiwi) is grown local around the country or in the invernadores (green houses) in the South of the country. A collection of greenhouses sprawled over…km of desert land, they’re the single man-made structure visible from space. Products cultivated range from cucumbers for dipping into garlicky humus, to pepinos that find their way onto plates in Spanish homes, char-grilled, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and termed ‘pimientos de Padrón’.

Madrid is all about the pinchos

Madrid quick local food guide “Eat, Drink, Dance, Repeat”

Ask anybody what the local dish is in Madrid, and they’ll probably say churros. These are served for ‘breakfast’, a 7am snack gobbled up with the last beer before finally crawling into bed to rest those fabulous dancing feet. These long and thin, slightly oily doughnuts can only really be relished after a night of lost inhibitions, no one’s counting calories as you dunk the doughy goodness into a cuppa thick chocolate sauce. Go on, you’ve earned this with all those serious salsa moves you were busting out last night. Yeah, those ones you never knew you had in you? Nobody knows if it’s the food, or the wine, or the way they pair so perfectly together over three hour long dinners. One thing’s for sure, somehow you’ll find the stamina to keep up with the steady rhythm of this pulsing city.

This blog post was written by Tabitha!

I’m a photographer, writer and English teacher from South Africa, currently living and loving in Madrid, Spain. I travel as much as I can afford to and I’m addicted to trying delicious, local food in every new place I visit. My intention is to share these with you, so you’ll be getting a great variety of international inspiration! Click here to read more

Did you love this story? Share it with your friends!