Eat out in Madrid
and you will be faced with a variety of regional and international cuisines
that is unparalleled anywhere else in Spain. Everything is represented here – Valencia’s
paella and fideuá (vermicelli-based
paella), intricate Basque pintxos (tapas),
sophisticated Catalan concoctions like veal terrine with fig puree, cured meats
from Extremadura, Galician seafood, Castilian
suckling pig, and old stalwarts like cocido
a la madrileña – the Spanish capital’s
On top of all that,
the formally unapologetic bastion of meat is experiencing an infusion of vegetarian
and vegan cuisine. And umpteen international restaurants have opened in recent
years, with gastronomic diversity that spans from Asia to the Middle East and from
North Africa to South America.
Madrid survived on simple, hearty dishes built for harsh winters and blistering
summers, such as cocido a la madrilène,
a chickpea-based hotpot, and callos a la madrilène,
a tripe-based dish with chorizo, suckling pig and cow hoof and snout. But thanks to the constant migration of
outsiders, la cocina madriléña (the cuisine of
Madrid) has slowly evolved over the years, resulting in a diversity of culinary traditions from all over Spain, a
proliferation of late-night tapas bars and increased sophistication of the
city’s gastronomic offerings.
Basque cuisine, which
was inspired by French nouvelle cuisine and embraces simplicity, technological
advances and shorter cooking times to preserve natural flavours, came to the capital
in the form of pintxos in the late 1970s. These tapas became an art form and
the Basque star has yet to set. Some of Madrid’s most sought-after morsels are
the colourful octopus skewers at Sagaretxe
and the langoustine croquettes and tiny “Unai” hamburgers (fried
in tempura with foie gras) at Txirimiri (Calle Humilladero 6, La Latina;
Between the mid-‘90s
and the early 21st Century, Spain’s surge in economic growth led to a wave of
immigration from Asia, South America and North and West Africa, each bringing
their own ingredients and culinary traditions to the table. These new cultures
gave rise to restaurants such as the Japanese Tsunami, as well as fusion Sula Madrid and O’live,
the former drawing on influences from all over the Mediterranean and the latter
dazzling its clientele with dishes displaying daring combinations of classic ingredients,
such as a goat cheese, fig and anchovy salad.
At the same
time, the city saw a creative upsurge of Catalan chefs who have been
cultivating their own brand of Spanish nouvelle cuisine, largely drawing on the
concept of molecular gastronomy – changing ingredients into unconventional
textures and forms using new technology.
Sergi Arola, Ramón Freixa Madrid and Santceloni are just three
Catalan institutions that have helped increase Madrid’s cosmopolitan quotient.
Until very recently indeed, the idea of vegetarianism – not to
mention veganism – would have been met with suspicion and bewilderment. Non-meat eaters were frowned upon during the
regime of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, given vegetarianism’s associations
with the left-wing movement, and it is only over the last few years that vegetarian
restaurants have been popping up all over the capital. While this new trend is
due in part to the influence of visiting foreigners and the expat community, large
numbers of madrilènes also frequent the likes of Yerbabuena and Al Natural, drawn by the flavourful dishes
that incorporate edible flowers, vegetables, spices, fruit and different types of seaweed into
one colourful melange. La Isla del
Tesoro’s internationally-inspired dishes show an understanding of flavours
and pairings of ingredients, with changing daily menus and superb vegan platters.
Madrileños know good food, and it seems even vegetarian cuisine has finally
become diverse and innovative enough to titillate their palates.
The article 'Madrid’s culinary revolution' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.