Chit Juan revisits Madrid with the eyes of a local, wandering through the old city's streets and discovering the culture of some of its centuries-old restaurants.

This is the first of two parts. See Mad about Madrid (Part 2): Siestas and Sangrias.

I have not visited since college days and to me Madrid meant “siestas” and sangrias. So when I learned that some friends moved back to Madrid I knew it was time to go back and visit.  What would I remember of those days when we travelled, guide book in hand, doing stuff tourists usually do?

Maybe I should look at it this time from the eyes of a local. Jose Ma. Guerrero is a true blue Madrileño who loves Madrid and its quirks. Like saying “corriente y vulgar” for many common things tourists may find. So, he had to do one better and take us to “untouristy” places.

Head to Barajas for the best churros

Even if El Brillante is across the Atocha train station, there are many locals who still come and enjoy its specialty Bocadillos de Calamares — freshly-fried breaded squid rings on a baguette. For just EUR 7.50 it is a filling snack. Take that with a glass of local brand Mahou beer, ice cold and smooth when it goes down. We could not resist the Chopitos, or deep fried small cuttle fish, and a tapas portion of chorizo.

Bocadillos de Calamares from El Brillante

When looking for the best churros, Jose decides to drive us to his hometown called Barajas, which is near the airport and now a barrio of Madrid, to a place called Churreria Avenida. Freshly-made sticks of fried dough, dipped in sinful white sugar, and dipped again in a thick chocolate drink. It is so thick, you'll have to spoon it if you wish to finish the last drops. Jose did one better and put some hot  milk, swished it in the cup, so he could drink all the chocolate left in it.

For Madrid’s Cocido—a boiled meal of chicken, pork hock, beef brisket, chorizos, carrots, cabbage and chick peas—visit La Taberna Daniela on Calle Cuchilleros. Everyone eating inside is Spanish or a local and everyone orders the cocido and the callos. Served with bread, the callos is thick, rich and delicious. The cocido is served with enough chickpeas and a garlicky sauce you just mix together for a party in the mouth.

Pastries from La Mallorquina

After lunch, stop by La Mallorquina on the square called Puerta del Sol or simply Sol. It has been there since 1894 and for good reason. It has the best puff pastries like Empanada de Bonito, Napolitana Jamon Y Queso, Agujas de Ternera and sinful Tocino del Cielo and Yema balls, too.

Something about the age of restaurants in Madrid tells you much about the history and culture of Madrilenos. They love to eat and drink and they surely keep their local restaurants alive. It seems normal to find restaurants founded in the 1800s still serving the same food and still with waiters who look as passionate as when they first started serving in this or that establishment. In fact, Jose tells me, the waiters of yesteryears considered their first job as their job forever. It is normal to see a lot of  older waiters still serving the same dish day in and day out. It is a career choice. 

Restaurante Botin, the oldest restaurant in all of Europe

But if you wish to find the oldest restaurant in all of Europe you have to visit Restaurante Botin, founded in 1725. It still serves the same specialties which are cochinillo asado and cordero asado. Served with a starter of Gazpacho (Andalusian cold soup that Jose tells me is comer para pobres, or food for the common man) or a sopa de ajo (garlic soup). I personally enjoy another specialty of Botin which is Chipirones en su tinta (squid cooked in its ink) served interestingly with a side of steamed rice and a piece of dark toast.

Memories of my first time in El Botin made me order a Sangria to complete the reminiscing . But after all that rich food, one cannot go wrong with a dessert of just lemon sorbet. So refreshing. And makes you ready for the next meal!

This is the first of two parts. See Mad about Madrid (Part 2): Siestas and Sangrias.