Just as we have a Royal Academy of Language that monitors the correct use of Spanish, there is also a Royal Academy of Gastronomy founded on the conviction that food and the way it is prepared has always been at the very heart of our culture. Studying and promoting this important heritage is the academy’s principal mission, which is why, after a long process of research, it has just published a succulent list of 100 essential Spanish recipes with details of where and how they originated. Want to know which are one hundred per cent Madrid? Keep reading!
Soldaditos de Pavía
The legendary Casa Labra on Calle Tetuán, near Puerta del Sol, is responsible for this snack that has become one of the city’s signature dishes. When the Hussars commanded by General Pavía dissolved Parliament on 3 January 1874, bringing an end to the First Republic, the people of Madrid identified the reddish hue of the soldiers’ uniforms with the battered cod strips wrapped in red pepper that they served in this tavern..
Besugo al horno
Madrid may be a long way from the sea, but few dishes are as typical as this one, which is also known as Besugo a la madrileña (Madrid-style sea bream). Although Arcipreste de Hita (1284-1351) mentioned this fish in The Book of Good Love, it only became popular in the 18th century, when the city’s taverns discovered how easy and fast it was to prepare. Then it became fashionable to eat at Christmas, accompanied by almond soup. Tip: Serve with oven-roasted potato rounds and a few slices of lemon. Although you might prefer to try it at the Taberna de la Daniela.
Callos a la madrileña
The first written reference to this popular dish dates back to 1599, when Guzmán de Alfarache published a novel by Mateo Alemán in which tripe was described as “fricassée” of veal. The recipe was born in the taverns but by the 19th century it had found its way onto the menus of prestigious restaurants like Lhardy. It is typically served in an earthenware dish, although these days some chefs like to add a contemporary twist, such as you might find at La Cesta.
Buñuelos de viento
Although we’ve grown used to eating them filled with cream, sweet potato, truffles and other more daring flavours, buñuelos de viento are Madrid’s most typical version of profiteroles. They take their name (“viento“) from the fact that all they’re filled with is air – that’s right, nothing! As everyone knows, profiteroles are made by mixing flour with water or milk, sugar and egg to form a dough which is then deep-fried. But what very few people know is that they were first eaten by the Moriscos (Muslims who converted to Christianity after the reconquest of Spain), rolled in honey. They are typically eaten on All Saints’ Day, in November. I can highly recommend the ones you will find at the cake shops Nunos and Vait.
Canutillos and bartolillos
Here’s another great Madrid pastry. In fact, it’s simply a piece of fine dough that is fried and then filled with a type of custard. No one knows if it was the Romans or the Arabs who introduced these rolled wafers in Spain, although some say they originated in the kitchens of the country’s convents. Canutillos have a cylindrical shape, while bartolillos look more like small pasties. You can try them at Antigua Pastelería del Pozo.
With a chato (little glass) of wine. That’s how people ate their torrijas in Madrid’s taverns at the beginning of the 20th century. And some places still serve them that way, even though nowadays torrijas are associated with Easter. The recipe couldn’t be simpler: slices of bread soaked in milk or wine and then deep-fried. Honey, syrup, sugar or cinnamon provides a delicious final touch. The Horno de San Onofre makes fantastic torrijas, and at La Casa de las Torrijas they’re served all year round.
Rosquillas tontas and listas
Rosquillas listas are “clever” miniature doughnuts with a sugar coating, while rosquillas tontas, the “stupid” variety, are served plain. Both are the typical desserts served during the festivities of San Isidro, celebrated in May. My favourites? The ones they make at El Riojano.
I’ve talked about the dishes and pastries that the Royal Academy of Gastronomy regards to be one hundred per cent Madrid, but there are others that are eaten everywhere in Spain and yet tend to be associated with this city. For example, leche frita (fried milk squares), gallina en pepitoria (chicken fricassée in a wine, bread, egg, almond and pine nut sauce), potaje (broth), garlic soup… and, of course, tortilla de patatas (potato omelette), a simple, tasty snack that appears to have been invented during the Carlist wars to feed the hungry army. To try it in the traditional way—delicious with onion and extra virgin olive oil—head for the tavern La Ardosa.