The tradition of tapas originated when people would order a drink and a little bit of food came on the side, for free. Part of the original purpose was to put the snack on top of the glass, to keep the flies out.
Although I don’t generally worry about extra protein in my drink (I generally just pick out suicide bugs that gorge themselves in my liquor), I was thrilled to find these traditional tapas while eating in Madrid.
Our first night, we made our way to the roads south of the Puerto del Sol Metro, to an area that was chock full of tapas bars. The first place we saw, Museo del Jamon, was packed to the brim – to the point of being intimidating. We had no idea what to order or how to even make our way to the bar. I was just beginning to get my Spanish language legs under me.
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The Tapas Band-Aid
We continued on, and instead of looking for the perfect spot, we just stopped in some place and ordered some drinks, a patatas bravas, fried potatoes with a spicy sauce on top, and some sliced chorizo. They are some of the most touristy tapas, but we needed to just get something in our system. So, we ripped off the tapas bandaid. It was fine, but nothing great.
We continued to make our way through the neighborhood, and found a place where we ordered two beers, and in return we received a small plate of cheese and crackers. A pretty good start, but I wanted more. The evening progressed with pork ribs, and an offer to try fried pigs ears (I accepted).
We were getting the hang of it. We had to remind ourselves that the goal is to tapas hop – grab a drink and a snack, and then move on to the next locale.
After a few nights eating in Madrid, and eating nonstop the entire time, I reached a breaking point. Although initially I was thrilled to receive a free tapas with my drink (the best one being the large plate of potatoes, breads, spicy sauce, cheese, and sausage along with our two beers), I became stuffed like a human version of fois gras.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Over-Eating in Madrid
One night we hit a famous restaurant, Botin, for roast, suckling pig. Its a favorite of ours at a particular restaurant in Barcelona, and we tried to recreate the experience – but failed. I told Eric we would just order the pig and nothing else because I had woken from a nap, and did not have an appetite. At this point it was for the best as the portions were ridiculously expensive. Botin held the Guinness record for oldest continuously operating restaurant – and the prices showed the distinction.
The pork was good, but not like in Barcelona. This place was squarely on the tourist map, and obviously recommended by the most expensive hotels in town. The American mother at the table next to us had at least a 4 carat rock on her finger. The place in Barcelona, although just off Las Ramblas, was more authentic – we have met the owners and the food is amazing. This place just did not cut it.
I was feeling ill by the end of the meal (which consisted of only a few bites of pig for me), even after downing a liter of ice water. We walked in the cool air until I felt a little better. I informed Eric what I needed was an ice cold beer – something to get me back in the spirit of eating in Madrid. Problem was that every place we went to offered us another plate of tapas along with the beer – I looked at the food and winced. I had hit my wall.
Free tapas was what I had hoped for, but after 4 days and nights of fantastic food, even on small plates, I was stuffed to the brim. Eating in Madrid had done me in.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.