The One Dish You Must Eat in Madrid
Beer and Boquerones. When it comes to tapas, each region in Spain has its own specialties and customs, and Madrid is no exception. So what do Madrileños usually start their tapeo off with? At the most authentic tavernas, you won’t necessarily see glasses of deep red rioja wine with fancy canapé pinchos; instead, expect beer and boquerones—anchovies!
"Wish the article was longer! But, it did leave me wanting a plate if anchovies... And I dont really like them!" 5 stars by Suzanne
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Beer and Boquerones
When it comes to tapas, each region in Spain has its own specialties and customs, and Madrid is no exception. So what do Madrileños usually start their tapeo off with?
At the most authentic tavernas, you won’t necessarily see glasses of deep red rioja wine with fancy canapé pinchos; instead, expect beer and boquerones—anchovies.
You might connect beer with Germany and (anchovies) with the seaside, but both have a strong link to Madrid.
Boquerones, an anchovy tapa dish, served Malaga style
Juan Manuel Casillas Delgado / Alamy
Flocking to the Capital
Since becoming the seat of the Spanish crown in 1561, Madrid has attracted people from the four corners of the Iberian peninsula, who flock to the capital in search of work or to sell their wares.
The Andalusians, Asturians, and Galicians brought chorizo, jamón, and seafood with them, making Madrid the melting pot of the whole country.
Today, the best fish can often be found in the capital, via Mercamadrid, one of the largest fish markets in the world. Among these sea creatures for sale are anchovies, which make their way into the city’s bars in a number of incarnations.
So what about beer?
Though beer production dates back to Greek and Roman times, it truly only fermented in the early 16th century under Emperor Charles V. Flemish by birth,
this mighty Spanish ruler was not terribly fond of the local beverages and thus imported his own brewers. Some small breweries popped up along the Manzanares River, but larger factories weren't built until the 19th century. (The most famous was Mahou, founded in 1890.)
With this mass production and cheap prices, cerveza gradually grew in popularity over the 20th century and even more so currently with the rise of Spanish craft beers.
Image Courtesy David Adam Kess, ((CC BY-SA 4.0)
How it's Served
The simplest form is boquerones en vinagre, or anchovies marinated in white vinegar, though they can also be dressed in olive oil, garlic and parsley.
They are often served with potato chips, and in many traditional tavernas you may even get these for free when ordering a beer. Other incarnations come wrapped around olives, fried (frito), decorating pinchos (tapas served on bread originating from the Basque country), or as filling in small sandwiches (bocadillo, a common Madrid snack).
Beer is almost always poured on tap. For the most authentic experience, try a Mahou, but if you happen to be in the hip district of Malasaña,
you might be able to find various local craft beers at breweries like Fábrica Maravillas (C/ Valverde, 29) and Irreale (C/ Manuela Malasaña 20). In the equally cool Lavapies, you may stumble upon El Pedal (C/ Argumosa, 33).
Tapas and Jamón Serrannno
Image courtesy Gordito1869 (CC BY 3.0)
How to Order
In many bars and typical taverns you’ll want to order at the bar. Whatever you do, don’t ask for “una cerveza por favor”; instead, ask for una caña, a small glass of beer which most Madrileños start with.
If you’re really thirsty, request a jarra or tanque, a glass about the size of a pint.
If you haven’t received any boquerones on the house, you can ask for la carta (menu), which should include some boquerones and other tasty tapas. These are generally served as ración (dinner-sized plate) or media-ración, a more reasonable size if you only want a snack or if you’re ordering a few different items.
How to Pay
It’s rare to pay immediately in Spain. The bartender usually keeps track of your consumption, so when you’ve eaten too many boquerones or are ready to move on to dinner ask for “la cuenta.”
Gambas al Ajillo
Image courtesy Javier Lastras
Do stand at the bar. This is what locals generally do and you’ll feel like you fit in or maybe even make some amigos.
Do throw your napkin, toothpick or olive pits in a trough located on the ground against the bar. It’s common practice and you’ll see the regular patrons doing it. The staff come by and clean it up later.
Do try some other Madrid favorite tapas such as patatas bravas (potatoes with aioli, a dish supposedly invented in town), huevos rotos (broken eggs with ham and potatoes), gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic), or—if you’re really adventurous —oreja a la plancha (pan-seared pigs’ ears).