Typical Food to Eat in Madrid and its History

pig ear typical food in Madrid
Roasted pig ears with a slice of lemon—the perfect combination!

Here at Madrid Food Tour, we’re pretty adventurous eaters. We’ll try anything and firmly believe that the best way to get to know a city is by eating everything the locals love. In Madrid, our adventurous spirit serves us well, as many of the typical plates tend to be a little bit odd for us expats. The capital of Spain has a long history, and many of the most common dishes are heavily influenced by what has happened here over the span of centuries of war, shifting politics and poverty. The organ meats, hearty stews, honey-sweetened vegetables and abundance of seafood you’ll find on menus here all have extremely important historical and cultural significance, so maintaining an open mind and ordering bravely serves you very well in your quest to experience local life in Madrid.

Callos, traditional foods in Madrid
Nothing warms you up like a richly flavorful callos stew.

Callos a la madrileña

The most typical food to eat in Madrid, especially in winter, is callos. A stew made of cow’s tripe, callos has been around since the late 16th century when it was thought to be brought to Madrid by immigrants from Asturias (a region in northern Spain). In early times, the dish was a poor man’s food made from the organs discarded at meat markets, but nowadays it is a typical and well-revered treat offered on the menu at nearly every Madrid tavern. The best callos are served with morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo and the famous Spanish jamón, and truly warm the soul on a cold winter day. Though the ingredients may scare away most visitors, there is a reason that so many Madrileños tuck into a bowl every week; it is absolutely delicious. Muster up some guts (pun-intended) and sample the stew with fresh bread and a glass of red wine!

Caracoles a la madrileña

Paris may be famous for its escargot, but Madrid has its own brand of slippery snails. Anything that is deemed a la madrileña, or Madrid-style, lets you know that the preparation is simple and indigenous to the capital, letting the main ingredient run the show with the help of few other ingredients. Caracoles are a very typical ración, or shared plate, here in Madrid where snails are harvested locally and cooked slowly in beef broth and often garlic and jamón. The slimy snack should be served piping hot and with a little kick to it making for a hearty end of the day meal.

calamari sandwich typical food in Madrid
Delicious fried calamari bocadillos—a must try when visiting Madrid.

Bocata de calamares

Many people are surprised to learn that seafood is so typical and fresh in land-locked Madrid. Spain has very strong Catholic roots, and in past centuries it was very important for the capital to have access to seafood, as strict Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays. To make sure politicians and royals could adhere to their values, some of the best fish and seafood would be sent to Madrid every week via specially created routes to be sold at market. For peasants, the easiest and cheapest way to prepare the seafood they could afford to buy was to fry it and serve it on bread, which is exactly how the bocata (also called bocadillode calamares came about. To this day, the fried calamari sandwich is sold as a snack food all around the Plaza Mayor, just as it was in the 18th century: fried calamari on a crusty baguette with no sauce. Simple, cheap, delicious and one of the most typical foods to eat in Madrid!


Fun Fact: Madrid is home to the second largest fish market in the world (after Tokyo), MercaMadrid!

Oreja a la plancha

One of the first things that visitors learn about Spain is that the pig is sacred (which perhaps dates back to the fact that eating pork was proof of your conversion to Catholicism during the Spanish inquisition). Jamón is worshipped and great care is taken in raising pigs to provide a rich tapa for hungry Spaniards. One of the most interesting ways that Madrileños indulge in the animal is by snacking on its ears, usually fried and sometimes enhanced with bacon and mushrooms. Pigs are prepared to be eaten from birth and treated with the utmost respect in Spain, many raised free-range and fattened up on a diet of fresh acorns, and so it is very important for many Spaniards that the whole animal be consumed. The ears themselves are mild but savory in taste and absorb any flavor you cook them with, making the Madrid-style ears a salty and garlicky dish.

Some of the most typical foods to eat in Madrid may seem very bizarre to a visitor, but as home to the number 1 restaurant in the world, Spain seems to know what it’s doing when it comes to food. Be sure to sign up for our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour to indulge in all the city has to offer under the guidance of a history and food expert. 

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