Just like any other city, Spain's capital has its secrets when it comes to eating well.
Here are our top five tips and the ultimate food guide to Madrid, from age-old traditions to the latest trends...
Try cocido madrileño
When a dish is embraced by everyone from kings and dukes to builders and plumbers, you know it’s probably worth tasting. Cocido madrileño is a case in point. Although sometimes described as a chickpea stew, it’s more like a meal in itself and has been one of the most popular dishes in Madrid since the 19th century.
The dish itself is a staple of Spanish cuisine, but the exact ingredients and style of serving vary significantly from one region to another. The madrileño version features beef, ham bone, boiling fowl, chorizo and black pudding, all slow-cooked and served over three courses: noodle soup, followed by chickpeas and vegetables dressed at the table with olive oil, and finally the meats.
You’ll find cocido on most Spanish restaurant menus, from the most elegant dining rooms to the humblest cafes. For some of the best, try LHardy – one of Madrid’s most sumptuous restaurants, which also happens to be renowned for its cocido. Alternatively, for somewhere less grand but no less authentic, both La Bola and Malacatin are also exceptionally good.
Visit the neighbourhood food markets
It’s a truism of almost any city that if you really want to get under its skin, you’ll need to veer off the tourist track – and Madrid is no exception. The Spanish capital might be deservedly famous for its tapas bars, but it’s beyond the city centre in the outlying residential neighbourhoods that you’ll find some of the most exciting food.
Make a beeline for the indoor food markets, most of which have fantastic bars where you jostle for a seat alongside portly gossiping grannies and bearded hipsters eating sushi and drinking madrileña craft beers. Two of the best are the Mercado de San Fernando and Mercado de Vallehermoso.
Embrace nose-to-tail eating
Weird and wonderful animal parts have recently become fashionable in Western city restaurants, but in Madrid, offal is one of the oldest traditions in the city. As a result of the capital’s landlocked nature, the absence of fresh fish meant that working people needed to take advantage of every last piece of meat. Consequently, dishes like fried tripe, kidneys or zarajos – deep-fried lamb intestines rolled around a stick like a fried lollipop – are to Madrid what jellied eels or pie and mash are to London.
Specialist offal cafes used to be a feature of almost every street corner, but although many have now closed, one of the most famous, Freiduría de Gallinejas, is still going strong. Don’t expect frills or fancy service and if you’re faint of stomach this won’t be for you either, but if you want to tuck into fried testicles like a true madrileño, this traditional, wood-fronted café is hard to beat. What’s more, you’ll almost certainly be the only non-local there.
Discover the new fusion cuisine
If you need to queue around the block to get into a small neighbourhood bar, you know there’s almost certainly something special going on. On the outskirts of the city in the residential Barrio de Arguelles neighbourhood, Nakeima bills itself as a ‘dumpling bar’ – but these are not dumplings as you know them.
An enticing mix of Asian, Peruvian and traditional Spanish styles results in dishes like ox tail dim sum, Iberian pork nigiri sushi or Nakeima’s own Japanese take on Spanish cheese and membrillo(quince). The bar is the brainchild of chef Gonzalo Garcia who, like many of his fellow young madrileño chefs, went off to work in London and New York and returned home bringing new influences with him.
Sample bocadillo de calamares
No visit to Madrid would be complete without a bocadillo de calamares or fried squid sandwich – the city’s equivalent to a hot dog or burger. You’ll find them on bar menus everywhere, especially in the centre of town, but many serve up overpriced, soggy versions.
Cerveceria La Campana however – a simple, unpretentious bar, close to Madrid’s famous Plaza Mayor – has been cooking up some of the very best since 1970, with the most wonderfully fresh, crisp, battered squid tucked into the softest baguette rolls.
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