Tourists usually go to Madrid thinking of two things: paella and sangria. The reality is that, while those things do exist in Spain, they are far from being the center of the locals’ culinary universe. Here are some things to try while in Madrid, in order to both look like a local and have a different story to tell than every other visitor to Madrid has.
1. Instead of Jamon Serrano, try Jamon Iberico de Recebo
The ham in Spain is a point of nationalistic pride. The pork industry was spawned by the ousting of the Moorish occupiers many centuries ago, as a sign to the previous Muslim inhabitants that they would never be welcome back again. While tempers have died down, the love of pork and ham is still as fervent as ever. Ham from Iberia (Jamon Iberico) is seen as a step up from the usual Serrano, in part because of the fact that the pigs will have always eaten some of the acorns there reputed to impart amazing flavor and texture to their meat. For an extra special treat, try the (very expensive) Jamon Iberico de Recebo, which is also from Iberia, but this comes from pigs exclusively fed acorns. It has a special flavor, melts on the tongue, and is seen as the pinnacle of all cured meats.
2. Instead of Paella, try Angulas
If you’re looking for a national treasure, seafood-wise, try the ubiquitous angulas. Although they look like angel hair pasta, they are actually baby eels, and they are everywhere. If you want to save some money and have a truly special picnic, grab a package of these oil-packed beauties from a local supermarket (like Carrefour), a baguette, and head to the park for the most unique sandwich you’ll ever have.
3. Instead of sangria, go for Horchata
Sangria is one of those things that screams tourist in Spain. Aside from the two weeks in summer, during which the temperatures routinely top 110, no locals ever order it. If you’re looking for something sweet and cool to sip outside at a cafe, try the much-beloved horchata. A summer treat the locals await like kids for an ice cream truck, horchata is an iced blended mixture of local almond milk and sugar, but has a flavor reminiscent of lightly sweetened watermelon juice. It’s less sweet than sangria, and actually nutritious. If you’d prefer something alcoholic, try a local rosado. Cool, pink wine may not be high quality in the United states, but Spain loves good rosados. Cheap, available everywhere, and pretty, they really hit the spot during tapas time.