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Tapas tasting in Madrid

05 July 2019

Wherever you are in Spain, Chris McLaughlin discovers that eating on the move does not mean stinting on quality.

Spanish tapas

You might have disembarked from a Saga cruise to explore the mysteries of a Moorish city, be enjoying a sophisticated break in Barcelona, soaking up the Andalusian sunshine or simply spreading your wings as a solo traveller in the Iberian heartland. Whatever your Spanish adventure, nothing beats the thrill of exploring avenues and alleyways to eat with the locals.

Wandering around Madrid mid-morning, my gustatory clock rings alarm bells; not only is it behind the local time but, in common with the rest of Spain, people in the capital tend to eat lunch and dinner later than we do in the UK. There’s nothing for it but to choose a churro – a long sausage-shaped, sweet fried fritter that you dip into a mug of thick hot chocolate. Another exotic treat is a bocadillo de calamares – a baguette-style sandwich generously filled with crispy just-fried squid and served from takeaway cafés all around the city centre.

Try our recipe for churros with chocolate sauce

It’s something of a surprise to find that, in a city so many miles from the sea, Madrileños eat a lot of very good fish and shellfish. It’s all flown in daily – in the 1930s there were special designated overnight seafood trains thundering into Madrid from all over coastal Spain. Cod is a great favourite, served coated in a light batter and fried or poached with a shellfish or lemon sauce. Best of all are the tiny croquetas de bacalao, made with salt cod and béchamel sauce, then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Croquettes with fillings made with cheese or ham feature on the tapas scene.

Smoked salmon and dill croquetas

With so many options, how do you choose where to go to taste authentic local cooking, especially if you have only a short time in the city? Bloggers and guidebooks may help, but one of the best ways is to ask an expert.

Madrid-based foodies Lauren Aloise and James Blick set up Devour Tours back in 2011. As well as Madrid, their team of guides now lead tours in Seville, Barcelona, Granada, Malaga and San Sebastian, all Saga Travel destinations. It’s the ideal way to experience the foodie heart of Spain, tasting and learning about local dishes.

Standing up to eat is something of a tradition in tapas bars. Locals will move from one bar to another, tasting a dish of garlic prawns here, a stuffed mushroom there, washed down with a glass of wine or sherry, a cold beer or, as Madrileños often do, a glass of vermut. Once known as an ‘old man’s drink’, the aromatic fortified wine is experiencing something of a renaissance. You’ll find it ‘on tap’ in many bars, usually as the sweet, red variety, flavoured with bitter herbs, which goes well with a plate of olives.

Find all our Spanish recipes in one place

A tip from Arantxa, one of Devour’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides, is to steer clear of tapas bars or restaurants with photos on the menu – they’re more likely to be tourist traps.

One sign worth looking out for is the centenary plaque, awarded by the city to establishments that have been run by the same family for at least 100 years. You’ll see the embossed cartoon emblem set in the wall or on the pavement outside.

More info at, +34 695 111 832  

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.