If you’ve ever visited Madrid, you’ve probably tried its fresh and tasty fish and seafood. Paella, grilled sea bass, squid sandwiches (Bocadillo de Calamares) … Does it sound familiar?
Also, visiting its marvelous markets, you will have noticed the amount of different fish or frutti di mare that are for sale.
You may have wondered how it is possible to find such fresh fish so far from the sea and why the “Bocadillo de calamares” is so popular.
That is a very good question!
Madrid is situated in the center of Spain – with the nearest beach in Valencia 360 km away– and in the Puerta del Sol next to our Trixi shop we find the plaque of the famous “Kilometre 0” from which all distances are measured – it is the symbolic center of the country.
So how is it possible to be so far from the sea and have such fresh fish at hand?
The answer is complex but can be summed up as follows: Madrid is a privileged city in terms of the distribution of fresh produce.
In his book “Cooking history. Gastronomic curiosities of Madrid”, Jose María Escudero Ramos explains that there is evidence that fresh fish was already arriving in Madrid at the end of the 16th century. The route was called “The ‘Galician Way’, it was about 600 km long and it took around 12 hours to reach the Spanish capital. In order for the fish to withstand such a long journey, snow was stored in wells and the product was transported cold throughout the journey.
With the time this situation improved, the industrial revolution allowed the arrival of ‘pescaíto fresco’ (fresh fish) by train, in a single day. In addition, the Catholic tradition of not eating meat at certain times contributed to the incorporation of fish and seafood into the diet of the Madrid court and the market grew even more.
Today Madrid is still a privileged city for having the largest “port in Spain” (without the sea!) and the second largest in the world: we are talking about Mercamadrid – under normal conditions you can visit the market, stay in the loop!).
Mercamadrid is the market of markets and is considered the largest European perishable food market and the second largest in the world with respect to the Central Fish Market, after Tsukiji in Tokyo. Mercamadrid occupies 222 hectares of land, has a radius of influence of 500 km and supplies 12 million consumers.
Thanks to Mercamadrid, the distribution of fish is so good that both locals and visitors to Madrid can enjoy top quality products. While Madrid is still asleep, from 4 o’clock in the morning, sellers, buyers, distributors and transporters are already at work. When the sun begins to shade the streets of Madrid – the restaurant pantries are already full and the markets are already stocked.
In Madrid we can enjoy seafood in many ways. We can go shopping in one of the traditional markets such as the Mercado Anton Martin and cook a dish with our own hands or else – eat out. In this case we can choose more elaborate dishes or simpler ones.
One of the simplest but especially popular in the Spanish capital is the bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich). Although it is also known in other regions of Spain, nowhere else is it as famous as here.
There are probably several factors at play, not only the accessibility of fresh seafood. It is possible that this dish was popularized by the maids and cooks who worked in upper-class Madrid homes, as many of them came from Galicia or Asturias (areas with a strong fish culture).
Very typical of Madrid, served in its bars and lately in some restaurants in its most gourmet version, the calamari sandwich (Bocadillo de Calamares) is a cheap, tasty and very caloric food.
It is also a perfect plan for people who have little time, as it is a type of “fast food”. A perfect occasion to find out where to eat it in Madrid could be our Madrid Highlights Bike Tour where we explain where they are served. So after a nice 3 hour bike ride you could try a bocadillo de calamares to get your strength back. Our tour passes through the Plaza Mayor where many of the famous calamari sandwich bars are located, so you’ll know where to come back for a calamari sandwich.
There are many charming places, including La Campana , Bar La Ideal etc.