Annie Sibonne has worked as a chef and travelled the world. She’s found that the best way to get to know a place is through its food.
Here she tells us all about the amazing cuisine you can devour in Madrid all night long as seen in her series on LifeStyle FOOD ’From Spain With Love’.
People who think New York is the city that never sleeps have never spent a night in Madrid. Locals and tourists don’t head out until midnight, hopping from tapas bar to night club to after-hours clubs, eating savoury Spanish snacks and sipping local wines and beer, typically capping the night off with a cup of hot chocolate and a Spanish-style donut.
The San Miguel Market
The San Miguel Market isn’t just a place to shop for food. After dark, it becomes a destination where you can go, grab a bite, be seen, fuel up for the night ahead and even meet somebody to spend it with.
Footsteps from the grand square of Madrid, the Plaza Major, is one of the oldest covered markets in the city, the Mercado San Miguel.
And it’s not like any North American supermarket. By day, the San Miguel market is filled with locals and tourists shopping at over fifty food stands where vendors are selling fruits, mushrooms, cheeses, fish and ham. In some cases, the same family has been running the stall for generations.
By night, the San Miguel Market turns into a fantasy food land, where you’ll find yourself elbowing your way to the counter for a drink and tapas. There are no reservations required at the market. It’s like a food theme park.
The Mariscos Morris stand is one of the busiest places in the market and it’s known for its incredibly fresh seafood, simply prepared, with a glass of Cava, or a beer, it’s amazing.
Goose barnacles or Percebes, as they’re known in Spain, are one of my favourite things in the world. They do have a pure flavour of the sea and with a glass of Cava, it couldn’t be any better.
Olives and Vermouth
Where else other than Spain, would you have a bar dedicated exclusively to olives and vermouth? You have olives with mussels and peppers, olives with cheese. It’s amazing.
The combination of having a few olives with the vermouth is the typical Spanish aperitivos.
Red vermouth is slightly sweet and refreshing and a quintessential match for salty, briny olives. The ideal snack to stimulate your taste buds and get your stomach in gear to eat all night long.
Ham, Glorious Ham
Ham is a religion in Spain. Typically people come to a tapas bar to have some ham and a glass of wine and then they move on to another place.
Spaniards don’t just mechanically slice ham, they hand slice it to be able to get the incredible flavour and so that it’s tender and that it falls apart in your mouth.
It’s stored at room temperature to allow the fat to actually sweat out through the meat. And it’s sliced into very thin pieces.
Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian ham, is the king hog of ham in Spain. It comes from the black-hoofed pig that roams freely in the oak forests and feeds only on grass and acorns. Its sweet, nutty flavour and silky texture can be tasted in every bite.
Spaniards are notoriously late eaters. There is no 6pm supper hour in Spain. Even at home, dinners are served late at night. So going for a sit-down dinner, even at midnight, is a part of Spanish lifestyle.
In Spain, instead of bar hopping people go tapas hopping
Night time in Madrid is the best time to eat. After warming up at the San Miguel market, there’s even more warming up to do and the next stop on the all-night eating tour is that fantastic, Spanish tradition, tapas.
A time-honoured, late-night pastime in Madrid is to eat a bocadillo de calamares, a calamari sandwich.
Lightly battered calamari rings are deep-fried until slightly crisp on the outside and tender and succulent on the inside.
You must have a beer with your calamari sandwich.
Finish on a Sweet Note: Churros
Churros con chocolate is the perfect Spanish late night treat.
Churro dough is a mixture of flour, water and salt. It’s piped through a churrera, a tube with a star-shaped nozzle that gives the churro its rigid surface and its prism shape. And it is dipped in a chocolate so thick, it can practically stand up in the cup.
The legend is that centuries ago Spanish shepherds, who did not have ovens, used open fires to fry the batter they made from wheat. Eventually, creativity and a sweet tooth on someone’s part, lead to a sugar-coated, fried bread. They called them churros because the shape resembled the horns of the churros sheep they herded.
The ideal churro has a distinct crunch when one bites into it, but in the centre, it should be tender and light. This custom is a Spanish obsession.
Madrid has some of the best chocolaterias in Spain where you can enjoy this treat. It is so popular that even though Spain does not have many food stands, carts and food trucks like other countries… they make the exception for chocolate and churros, particularly in Madrid.