There are various theories about the origin of tapas, the small bites popular throughout Spain. One of the most common is that saucers were used to keep flies out of wine glasses and someone came up with the idea of topping them with snacks. Genius! Not dabbled before? Today is World Tapas Day and a good opportunity to dive in. Sharing raciones (small portions) or tapas is an excellent way to sample lots of different flavours in one sitting, and one of the best cities – for atmosphere and options – to do it in, is Madrid. Make a meal of your visit with our recommended spots.
Start your night here
Where: La Venencia
Named after the person who serves sherry with a ladle, this museum-piece bar specialises in (you’ve guessed it) sherry. Open since 1925, it’s an institution with Madrilenians, who often drop by for an early-evening aperitivo. Tourists are tolerated but don’t expect service with a smile; quickly order your drink at the cask-stacked bar and skulk to one of the tables out the back, where you might be joined by resident cat Lola (who’s far more amenable than the staff).
Must-try tapa: Mojama (a type of salt-cured tuna from southern Spain) works perfectly with a Manzanilla dry sherry. Expect to pay about £2.50.
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Make this your main event
Where: El Lacon
Set aside any British courtesies and elbow your way to the front of this busy bar – the waiters will respect you for it. Bold and boisterous (as any good tapas bar should be), it’s best experienced standing up. Wines come with a limited choice of free tapas, but experiment with some of the excellent raciones. Dating back to the late 17th century, the space was originally used to store rifles and swords; in the 1900s, it was a popular spot for bullfighters.
Must-try tapa: The Secreto Iberico (grilled pork) is buttery, tender and crisped with flakes of salt. Pay £10 for a small plate.
Give it a sweet ending
Where: Pinkleton & Wine
OK, so it doesn’t sound very Spanish (the owner just liked the sound of the name) but this offshoot of a famous flamenco taberna is a summary of great Iberian tipples. You’ll find the tiny bar inside the covered Mercado de San Miguel, which is located behind Plaza Mayor. They have an impressive 500 different wines and champagnes by the glass, so there’s plenty to whet your whistle. Arrive before midnight (when the market closes) and prop up against the bar or a barrel.
Must-try tapa: Grab some churros from one of the nearby bars to accompany a glass of rose cava. Pay about £6.
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