They’re popping up everywhere like shiitake mushrooms on a log after heavy rainfall.
I’m talking about gastrobars and fancy “fusion” temples that are really pretty to look at, but IMHO, offer at best passable food that comes with an expensive price tag that just isn’t worth it. (But lord are they oh so Instagrammable!)
Indeed, the new F-word after that odious sounding tag “foodie” is “fusion”. And I’ve developed a fusion allergy, so much so that when I see the F-word to describe a new place, I stick a mental Post-It to run the opposite direction.
To be clear, I’m certainly not opposed to aesthetically pleasing interiors, but if you ask me where to find some of the best cuisine in Madrid, I’d tell you that some of the five star flavours are found not in these trendy, photogenic hotspots, but rather, in Madrid’s classic old bars that have been around for decades, or in offbeat hole-in-the-walls that any girl who still adulates Carrie Bradshaw won’t be caught dead in. In Spanish, the word is “cutre”, and so I have baptized these dives with amazing food as cutre-licious.
Over the puente (long weekend), I was lucky enough to get a mini tour of Madrid’s classic tapas bars courtesy of the bestselling author of Hidden Madrid, Mark Besas.
I first met Mark sometime in 2011 when I interviewed him about his book for the defunct e-zine, ¡Vaya Madrid! It was because of his book that I learned about some incredible, offbeat facts about Madrid, like how a traveling elephant named Pizarro used to live in Retiro Park, or that a stray black dog named Paco became a furry little regular in Café Fornos because of its unlikely friendship with the Marqués de Bogaraya. (Café Fornos is now a Starbucks. Sad!)
Mark has since become a good friend. And being a good friend, he rang me up bright and early on a Sunday morning to convince me to head to La Latina with my boyfriend, Jef.
Still fuzzy from a hangover, we managed to float our way to Casa Amadeo Los Caracoles to indulge in some delicious gastropods. “Best cure for a hangover, especially with more drinks!” Mark said.
Founded in 1942, Casa Amadeo can get really busy and impossibly crowded, so we were pretty lucky to have found our spot at the bar. Accompanied with cañas and vermut, the caracoles are cooked in this magical sauce mixed with garlic, chorizo and paprika. We wiped the dish clean with pieces of bread, it was that good.
Our next stop was Bar Santurce, where we were like sardines ordering sardines and pimientos de padrón (green peppers). (Next time, we’ll come back for their calamares (fried squid) which is also their specialty!)
I love that their website describes themselves as so: Este humilde bar fue abierto en 1977 y sigue siendo atendido con la misma pasión y amabilidad de entonces. (“This humble bar opened in 1977 and is still being visited with the same passion and love since then”). Indeed, this place was packed and yet it did not keep even more people from coming despite the crowd.
Mark pointed at an elderly lady manning the sardines at the grill and told us she was an institution, having worked there for “like a hundred years” he said. Ok, obviously not a century, but indeed a very long time – and yet she still looked liked she was on top of her game – it kinda reminded me of the chef Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Last stop on our mini tapas tour was Taberna J. Blanco, where we finished off our cañas and vermut with some friends who found us, before heading off to a terraza to enjoy the early Spring sunshine.
I snapped this photo literally a few seconds before the place filled up with elderly locals:
That’s it for now for the traditional discoveries, I promise to divulge my cutre-licious spots in a Part 2 of this post very soon.
Enjoy ze Spring! 🙂