The Madrid Daily Diet

Madrilenians invest a huge amount of their time and energy in eating and drinking. Forget all that stuff about the Mediterranean diet and don’t even think about cutting down on sugar, salt, fat or alcohol. Being in Madrid is really not compatible with healthy living. The buzzwords here are cholesterol, caffeine and calories.

Breakfast should be eaten out. Elbow your way to the counter at a local bar and choose whichever combination of stodge and sugar takes your fancy. Toast – white bread of course – is plastered with butter, browned on the griddle, then served with more butter and jam. Croissants and other pastries are also on offer, but for the true Madrid breakfast experience you should really have churros – sugar-coated deep-fried strips of batter – which must be dunked into coffee or, even better, thick hot chocolate. In Madrid, thicker tubes called porras, which taste not unlike Yorkshire pudding, are also very popular.

To do things properly, this nutritionist’s nightmare should be accompanied by a generous shot of brandy or Chinchon anisette, or even  – why not go the whole hog? – both together to create a sol y sombra.

Thus fortified, you should be ready to face an hour in the Prado. When your blood-sugar level plummets at around 11 0’clock, join the rest of the population back in the bar for more coffee and a toasted sandwich or a wedge of tortilla.

A swift hour’s sightseeing is perfectly punctuated by the hora del aperitivo. This deeply-ingrained ritual should be experienced in a traditional bodega or tasca. You can drink beer, wine or sherry, but the purist’s choice is the locally-produced draught red vermouth with a splash of soda – vermut con sel. A dish of olives, some boquerones en vinagre and a few slivers of jamon iberico will get you thinking about the serious business to come: lunch.

Gastrobars and designer restaurants may be all the rage these days, but the culinary soul of the city lies in unpretentious, no-nonsense restaurants – although it has to be said they are disappearing fast. For ultimate authenticity, try and find somewhere with a frosted-glass frontage with half a pig, three aubergines and two tins of sardines arranged into an artless still life, or go upmarket with a traditional establishment with checked cloths and a wood-burning oven. Have the menu del dia, which is not only cheap but also saves you having to tax your brain deciding between too many options. And it includes wine.

After ploughing through the obligatory three courses, it is good manners to finish off your meal with an espresso or two and a copita (the diminutive form could not be more inappropriate) of brandy or pacharan, a powerful concoction made from sloes and aniseed that tastes not unlike cough mixture.

By this time, your cultural itinerary is probably looking less appealing, so head instead for the Retiro park, where a leisurely stroll around the lake will help the digestion along and prepare you for the next calorific onslaught: merienda. This involves a large coffee and a slab of cake or toast, or perhaps tortitas con nata  - a platter of pancakes, syrup and whipped cream from a can. Or you can just go for more chocolate y churros.

As evening falls, a little light shopping up the Calle Fuencarral is followed by a few sprightly laps around the tapas bars, and before you know it, it’s ten o’clock and time for dinner, which should be an entertaining, highly social affair. Madrilenians like their restaurants noisy and lively, so choose somewhere busy and informal for optimum authenticity.

It will be well past midnight by the time you leave the restaurant, which counts as early in Madrid. And of course, you can’t go to bed on a full stomach anyway, as that would be very unhealthy indeed. So repair to a bar or pavement cafe for a few cocktails, gintonics or cubatas (rum, whisky or vodka with coke), after which your energy level will surge and you’ll be skipping off to the clubs to dance the night away with the rest of the population.

All too soon, dawn is breaking and it’s time to wind down and stave off the worst of the hangover with a comforting snack of chocolate y churros before going home for a few hours’ sleep and a drastic rejigging of the next day’s plans.

10 thoughts on “The Madrid Daily Diet

  1. Ahh, I love this post! However, I tend to save these days for when I have visitors or when I have at least one day to recover from the amount of grease I put into my system.

  2. haha! Don´t paint it so black… i don´t know anyone who would indulge in ALL of that in one day! hahaha! Although I think that this day in age, eating out in any city is taking a bit of a health risk. Don´t even start with the USA…I may be American, but I know the “typical” diet is not healthy by a long shot! Happy munching :)

  3. Hi Annie,

    I walk past El Brillante (on Eloy Gonzalo) on my way to work every day and one thing that is off-putting is the fact that they haven’t cleaned their air conditioning filters for many years. You are enveloped in a cloud of hot stale oily squid fumes for about 50 metres as you make your way along the pavement in the summertime.

    See you soon I trust,

    S. x

  4. I’m currently in my fourth week of study here in Madrid and I have to say that some parts of this article is untrue. I’m staying with a Madrileno family do I definitely can speak to their customs and habits. Breakfast is a cafe con leche (teacup sized not what we get in 7/11 every morning) along with a very small pastry called a Madrileno or ONE small peice of toast with jelly. They will have a mid morning snack if fruits which is considered a luxury. For lunch it will be a small peice of protein with a salad, very small portion sizes. After lunch, some, not all will have a merienda during siesta time which is a small sandwich about one wedge and a cafe. Then theirs dinner which could be anything from Spanish tortilla to spaghetti. The food over here tastes natural yet healthy. The portion sizes are always small. Keep in mind that not all Madridlenis eat all of these meals. Many I’d the younger generation skip meals such as merienda and mid morning snack. Instead they would do the three small meals a day. The girls over here all almost all skin some are super skinny. The average size over here is a 4. They all dress and carry themselves like models. They put us American women to shame. That’s why I’m encouraged to make a change. I’ve been learning from then since I’ve been here. They believe in not being angry or uptight or having a negative attitude. They believe in respecting your body and how you dress is a large part of who you are. Obese people are viewed as slovenly and disliked more so than the thieves. They believe theives steal to eat but theirs no excuse for obesity. By the way Im a size 10 and considered obese over here. So many comments about my size but not in an ugly way but in an encouraging manner. They avoid duet drinks because if the high fructose which makes you crave sweets and they only eat organic foods without the addictives and preservatives which makes it harder to lose weight. They walk EVERYWHERE!! ALL the time. when they get home they change clothes get dressed up to walk the streets or the plaza for no particular reason just to see and be seen. These are people that are not glued to the TV. They don’t watch it much. They like to congregate outside in the cool evenings in the plazas with their friends and neighbors. Even the men and old people come out. Everyone does, the kids the dogs. I live it here and wish America can learn to not beso hateful and mean and distrustful of each other. We have lost our sense of values and community. I once read an article that says that most overweight people are depressed. If that’s so then the US needs a serious intervention. Good luck everyone in your weight loss goals!!!

    • Hi Sharon! This post is tongue-in-cheek; of course I’m not suggesting all Madrilenians behave like that all the time. Sounds like you’re enjoying Madrid – and please don’t worry about your weight, you sound perfectly normal to me. The family you are staying with sound great – though very unusual if they eat a purely organic diet and walk everywhere! I’m sure that with eating well and all that walking any extra pounds will fall off anyway.

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