From croquetas to every single thing at Mercado de San Miguel, today I’m sharing five must-eat foods in Madrid, Spain.
I’ve always thought of croquettes as mashed-potato based nuggets that sometimes had small bits of crispy ham embedded inside. Oh, little did I know. Spanish croquetas are actually creamier, thanks to the fact that they’re actually made of a stiff bechamel sauce (a white sauce made with milk, butter and flour). Sometimes croquetas have jamon woven throughout, and other times they have a little Manchego cheese grated in, like Martha Stewart’s recipe here.
However you enjoy them, croquetas are the perfect Spanish bar snack. An order of croquetas typically is only two to three nuggets of glory, and they’re meant to be eaten while fresh out of the fryer. I loved having croquetas with a cold glass of sangria. One ideal area for trying croquetas is Calle Cava Baja in the Latina district of Madrid, a street of tapas restaurants jam-packed with locals. Try Posada del Dragon, which is actually a little tapas bar in the bottom of a hotel.
2. Tinto de Verano
I’ve mentioned tinto de verano on this blog already, but it bears repeating: this sunny red wine spritzer uses delicious, abundant Spanish red wine but adds grapefruit soda and a splash of sweet vermouth to make the ideal daytime tipple.
Tinto de verano is best enjoyed outdoors on a sunny afternoon in Madrid. Bodegas Rosell, near the Atocha train station, is a great spot for sipping tinto de verano with tostas (griddled bread slathered with any number of toppings, from oozing sheep’s milk cheese to smashed bits of avocado with serrano ham) while waiting for your next train to points beyond Madrid.
3. Jamon, Jamon, Jamon
Rounding out the third spot in the five must eat foods in Madrid is jamon (ham). I don’t think I really, fully appreciated Spain’s obsession with cured meat, especially ham, until I happened upon sights like this:
If your heart just went a-flutter like mine, then be sure to check out Mercado de Anton Martin. Mercado de Anton Martin is an indoor food market where the jamon counters are endless. Nestled between vegetable stalls and wine shops are also cafes and lunch counters serving cured meats, tapas and wine peppered throughout the multi-storied building — you know, just in case you can’t make it out of the market before your next snack attack.
If you’re truly devoted to jamon, order a tapa de huevos rotos con jamon Iberico, or “broken” eggs with Iberico ham. Jamon Iberico, as you may already know, is an extra-special cured meat because the ham comes from Iberian pigs that eat a particular kind of acorn, which in turn produces extra tender, sweet meat. Tapa de huevos rotos con jamon Iberico consists of this magical ham, seared and placed on top of potato wedges. To top things off, a just-fried egg with a runny yolk is gingerly placed on top, and the idea is to “break” the egg yolk and let it run all over the potatoes and ham. It is truly a delightful (if completely decadent) tapa.
4. Boquerones Fritos (Fried White Anchovies)
I have a confession: I did not love anchovies for most of my life. I’d always experienced the canned, salty, incredibly fishy kind, and I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until I visited Italy in 2008 that I discovered how truly delicious these little fishes are, especially when they’re fresh. I loved marinated alici (a European anchovy) dressed in a little olive oil, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. Alici aren’t “fishy” like the canned ones, and their meat is solid and fleshy but still tender.
Boquerones are the fried version of these fresh little fishes, and we had a stellar version at Casa Toni, an aged, quaint little tapas bar just off of Puerta del Sol, a main tourist area. The area is full of burger joints and sleeker tapas restaurants, but press onwards to Casa Toni. All of the tapas are reasonably priced at under 15 euros, and a cheerful barman pours icy glasses of sangria while you perch on low wooden stools around rickety tables.
The boquerones at Casa Toni were lightly battered and garnished with crusty flakes of salt and lemon wedges for a wonderful crunchy, salty and tart bite. If anchovies aren’t your jam, the calamari at Casa Toni were excellent too — satisfyingly chewy without being rubbery and just ever-so-lightly battered.
5. All the Things, Mercado de San Miguel
Any food lover visiting Madrid must visit Mercado de San Miguel, a food hall that embodies all that’s wonderful about Spanish cuisine. Trust me when I say that this isn’t one of those “oh, if there’s time, we’ll squeeze it in” type of places. You simply must go.
The market contains stall after stall of all sorts of tapas, from marinated olives to boquerones to cod brandade to tiny tostas. Spend the first half hour of our visit “window shopping” to check out the unlimited variety of foods so that you can devise your plan of attack.
I can’t imagine having a bad meal at Mercado de San Miguel, but the crowds can be difficult to manage. We arrived at lunchtime on a weekday and found the market teeming with tourist groups, so it’s best to time your visit during an “off-peak” meal time. Also, if you do happen to score a coveted table (or even the corner of one) in the center of the food hall, do not leave your “spot” under any circumstances. Hunker down with a glass of wine and take turns with the others in your party out to scout and bring food back to the table, like heat-seeking missiles.