Archive for food – Page 2

Vegetarian in Madrid

NOTE:  Due to COVID-19 some of these places may be temporarily closed (or permanently, alas).  Example:  Fresco salad bar needs to  do some major thinking to make their restaurant virus-safe; sign in their window says they hope to re-open soon.   A few other places have closed for other reasons; for now they’re at the end of the list in case someone is looking for a place they ate in the past.

High on the list of priorities when new to a city is finding food – where to get best staples at the best price and where to find specialty items or treats. This can be a challenge in the best of circumstances, but for people with special needs, it can be downright daunting.

This article is a quick guide to vegetarian and ecological grocery stores and restaurants in Madrid. Most of these places can satisfy a wide range of needs – for vegetarian, vegan, celiac or lactose-intolerant cooking – or supply cooks with that specific kind of tofu, oil or grain not available at standard grocery stores.

In addition to the grocery stores shown here, look for smaller herbolarios in your neighborhood – most will have at least the basics and some a complete array of products. Ethnic grocery stores are another good source: oriental, Indian, Latino and Moroccan shops are scattered around the center of Madrid, with odd vegetables, different oils, noodles, rice, breads and tofu, sometimes in a fascinating cross-cultural mix.

Some of the bigger classic supermarkets have health food and ethnic sections. You may have to roam the aisles to find what you want, but once you do, you can read labels to be sure you’re getting what you want, and avoiding what you need to avoid.


Vegetarian grocery store (see restaurants, some have attached stores)

Salud Mediterranea Locations near Atocha and Manuel Becerra. One of Madrid’s biggest vegetarian grocery stores, has cosmetics and vitamins as well – they have an additional location near Cibeles that doesn’t have any food, only health and beauty products. Helpful staff. Website:

Ecocentro, Near Cuatro Caminos. Two grocery stores, one for perishables, other for staples; the grocery stores are among the best in the city, very large selection of products including cosmetics and vitamins. IMPORTANT NOTE: Esquilache street is split in two separate parts, Ecocentro is on the southern half just off Islas Filipinas.  Website:

Biotika, Salamanca neighborhood store on Ayala street.  Website:

Planeta Vegano, Lavapies neighborhood.  Smallish but nice selection. Website:

Kiki Market, metro Tribunal.  The Tribunal location has a small deli, too.  La Latina (my ‘hood) store is smallish but has excellent selection including fruits, veges, cheese and some tofu products as well as all the non-perishables you would expect to find at a good health food store.  More info at

Be Organic, metro La Latina.  This store used to be a Kiki Market, but appears to have changed owners.  Selection not quite as good as it was as Kiki, but it’s one of the only health food stores in the area.  More info at

Veggie Room:  Vegan store on San Vicente Ferrer, near metro Tribunal,  not far from location of Madrid’s first real health food store (now extinct, alas).  Noticed when walking by, haven’t been inside but did notice they have energy bars for hikers including Cliff Bars.  More info at


Restaurants: Most of these places have lunch deals, and some may offer similar deals for dinner. Most have options for vegans as well as vegetarian, and can handle celiac or lactose intolerance, though it’s wise to check ahead if last two are super important for you. Some of the smaller places might not take credit cards. * indicates the restaurant has an attached store.

*Biotika, Near Santa Ana. A classic. Small restaurant with vegan as well as vegetarian food, grocery store next door. Good food and not expensive. Website:

*Ecocentro, Near Cuatro Caminos. Same as above, separated as their store is one of the largest in Madridso merits its own note. Restaurant/coffee shop between the two stores, they do converences around the corner on a wide variety of personal development and food topics. Also has a bookstore. IMPORTANT NOTE: Esquilache street is split in two separate parts, Ecocentro is on the southern half just off Islas Filipinas.  Website:

VivaBurger:  used to be a semi-classic vegetarian called Viva la Vida but has evolved to have salads, vegetarian burgers, wraps, and some lighter dishes.  On Plaza de la Paja, one of the prettiest squares in central Madrid. Website:

Freedom Cakes, near Plaza Puerta del Sol:  started as a pastry shop with some vegan options, now has a new locacation and a small café with light food as well as pastry.  Check the menu, it looks like they have some classic (non vegetarian) food as well as vegetarian and vegan. I am trying to resist temptation, they have cupcakes and dark chocolate brownies.  Website:

Artemisa Locations just off Gran Via and near Plaza Santa Ana. One of Madrid’s first vegetarian restaurants, pared-down décor but good food and not expensive. Usually packed, they understandably don’t like you to linger after the meal. Menu in English is on their website. Website:

Fresc Co Calle Fuentes 12 (near Opera). Alas, this small chain used to have many more locations but they’ve all closed, a real shame because it’s a good salad bar with a few hot dishes at the back, usually soup, pasta or pizza. Good all-you-can-eat lunch deal. Website:

Yerbabuena  Two smallish places near Plaza Mayor, great for fast, heathy meal when you’re downtown. Website: (note: the ws is not a typo!)

Vegaviana calle Pelayo 35, telf 91 308 0381. Metro Chueca. Good food and inexpensive. No website; Trip Advisor rates this place highly

Rayen Lope de Vega street near Santa Ana. Vegan and ecological. Smallish, pretty décor. They make their own bread and have a nice selection of craft beer. Website:

Distrito Vegano, Vegan food & art. Near Lavapies, allows non-human animals (dogs and cats and others?). Website

*El Vergel, Near Metro Principe Pio, across from Casa Mingo chicken restaurant.   UPDATE:  closed as of summer 2019.  Trip Advisor post indicates some less than friendly action on the part of the owner.  Sign on the door says closed permanently, I’m hoping someone will take up this business because they were really, really good.    Closed for now, alas, but I’m keeping my eye on them.  Anyone looking for a business opportunity?       Good food, nice décor. Large store upstairs has a good selection of everything including fresh organic vegetables. This is my personal favorite and where I do most of my shopping for special products. Their client card is a good deal and they’re open long hours. Website:

El Estragon Vegetariano Plaza de la Paja.  UPDATE:  as of late 2019 this place also has changed focus, no longer vegetarian. They call themselves the vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians. Nice décor, outdoor section in season. Website shows their menu, has (slightly fractured) English translation. Website:

Al Natural Between Sol and Cibeles. UPDATE:  as of late 2019 this wonderful vegetarian place closed, restaurant at same location is very carnivore  (I¡m trying not to think cynical thoughts about the proximity of Spanish Congress, as in, how many politicians are vegetarian and how many carnivores?)   Vegetarian and vegan, in the past this restaurant has also had a few non-vegetarian dishes but I don’t see them on their menu now. Good food and fun décor, more interesting than most other vegetarian places in Madrid. Al Natural is right behind Congress so you will notice more police presence and maybe more “suits”, probably politicians. Website:

Loving Hut Vegan food next to Plaza de España. UPDATE:  as of fall 2020 this place has closed permanently. Website doesn’t have a lot of information, does show their vegan restaurants in other cities. Website

Kale Tale

Spain. Galicia. Kake

Wheelbarrow of kale

Kale is a super-food, or so they tell us. It’s on that list with blueberries, salmon, quinoa and now (yes!!) dark chocolate.

Now I’m not a real cook, but I do like playing in the kitchen, and my first experience with kale chips was a real revelation (thank you, Betsy).  The problem is finding kale in Madrid.

Sometimes I can get it at the Vallehermoso market.  Then there’s a small fruit-and-veg place in the trendy and health-conscious Chueca neighborhood. There’s even a place not too far from my apartment. But none of these is really reliable, and all require a special and sometimes unsuccessful trip.

It’s different in the north, where kale is food for some kinds of livestock as well as an important ingredient in regional dishes. That includes Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain, where gardens with kale abound along the last kilometers of the Road of St. James (el Camino).

When I say gardens, that can be anything from a two rows to a big field.  It’s not unusual to see knee-high kale next to a stalky kale almost two meters high, so tall you’d think it was another plant altogether.  I’ve always been curious about that tall kale (Camino pilgrims walking with me also ask), but never had the chance to talk to an expert to get the scoop.

Last month I got my chance during first part of Way-Back Camino, walking the Camino away from Santiago instead of towards Santiago.  In a village at the top of a hill on that dang rollercoaster into Portomarin (pilgrims will remember, it’s harder going east!) right on the Camino there was a wheelbarrow piled high with kale and a woman harvesting in her garden. I took a photo of the wheelbarrow as she was coming out with another armful, looking at me with a puzzled expression, um, you like my wheelbarrow?

 So we talked about kale , and I got the scoop.

The knee-high kale was planted about three months ago – March or thereabouts – and the tall kale about a year and a half ago; kale can easily live two years and get taller than hers, so tall that you have to pull it way down to harvest the leaves. No, the frost doesn’t kill it, she says it tastes even better after a freeze, something I’ve seen in kale recipes that require frost-nipped kale. (climate note: it does freeze in Galicia, but temps are rarely below freezing for the entire day, and certainly not below 25ºF for any length of time at all).

She told me that caldo gallego is usually made with kale from late spring to fall, and with turnip greens in the winter.  (A Galician woman in Madrid told me this can be a family thing, as her family always uses turnip greens).

My expert got the kale scoop too  – she was surprised to hear that kale is considered a super-food, and liked the idea of kale chips.  She was shocked that kale is hard to find in Madrid, and that one of my sources told me it’s not the season – she indignantly insisted that it is high season for kale, but we concluded that the clueless Madrid vege vendor was thinking hearty soups, not a summer favorite in Madrid where temperatures are often over 90ºF.

We parted after a nice conversation and some good giggles, sort-of friends. This is just the kind of local encounter that I love and seek out whenever possible – next time I walk through her village I’ll be looking for her to say hi and ask if she tried the kale chips.

 Spanish language tips:

Kale = berza.  Turnip greens =  grelos

Caldo gallego: literally Galician broth, though this hearty soup is anything but “broth”.

Spanish slang: coger una berza (catch a kale) = get drunk


Spain. Galicia. Triacastela

Kale garden Triacastela

Caldo gallego recipes

Caldo gallego is one of those traditional recipes with some basic ingredients and lots of options.  Every Galician cook has a recipe, and most cook by eye instead of by a book; if you want to make caldo gallego here are the basic guidelines:

Must have:  greens (usually kale or turnip greens, also works with spinach or cabbage or a mixture of greens), potatoes, white beans (some kind about ½ inch long)

Optional:  ham, chorizo type sausage, beef, meat stock (meat is not at all necessary to make a fabulous soup).  Some people add onion, garlic or chestnuts.

Lovely thing about caldo gallego? There’s no way to make it wrong.  Well, it’s not wrong as long as you use the three basic ingredients, that watery potato soup with three beans in Triacastela on my last trip was not caldo gallego. What a disappointment!

If you are a by-eye cook, here’s my unscientific, super-simple method. It’s not 100% authentic but pretty close, easy to do and pretty darn good (I like one-pot meals that don’t need watching!).  True cooks who cringe at this method: see real recipes at the end.

Proportion idea per serving (do your own thing if this doesn’t look right):  1 medium white potato, handful uncooked of white beans, about 3 or 4 times volume of potato in uncooked kale.    Make extra, this keeps for several days and heats up well.

Remove the big central vein from the kale leaves and tear into pieces, size not real important but thinking of eating ease perhaps double the size of soup spoon is largest reasonable size.

Cut the potatoes into thick slices (chunks are ok too).

In a deep, heavy pot, get the potatoes started in some olive oil. When they’re a little soft add a bit of garlic or onion if you are using. This is a good time to add the chorizo, so the potatoes get the flavor.

Add the soaked white beans and about double water to cover (or a bit more depending on beans, less if beans are pre-cooked canned type).

Add a bit of salt and a sprinkle of pepper (not really in Spanish recipe but tastes good). Another possible addition: sprinkle of Spanish smoked paprika.

Let that mixture do its thing on medium-low heat for a while, add the greens and let it finish cooking.   How long? Ummm.  Greens need to be totally wilted into the soup, beans done but potatoes not completely mushy. Correct seasoning and serve.

Possible addition:  Chestnuts! Peeled and maybe roasted prior to soup (I can get them prepped like this in Madrid).  I’ve never had caldo with chestnuts in any restaurants, but saw this in a recipe (now vanished) tried it and it’s great; Galician chestnuts are as famous as Galician potatoes.

A recipe in Spanish

 Two recipes in English, they look ok, first more than second


Food Slang 101

FOOD  – and food-related expressions. Food seems to pop up in slang and popular expressions more than any other group of words. Here is some slang using food words:

Pasta:     Pasta like macaroni and spaghetti and slang word for money

Pavo:      Turkey and slang word for the euro-coin. A “pavo” used to be a 100 peseta coin, using it for the euro-coin is inflationas a euro is something like 166 pesetas.

Chorizo:   sausage and a petty thief – or not so petty, also used for businesspeople and politicians caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Partirse un piñon:     Share a pine nut, used to say people are close, more often in business or politically than personally. Most usual construction: Esos dos están a partirse un piñon.

Berza:   kale  and someone or something that is tedious and not-too-intelligent, or drunken spree

Buenas migas:     good crumbs, another way to say people are close, though this one can be friendship as well business. Most usual construction: Esos dos hacen buenas migas.

Seta: wild mushroom and mountaineer slang for the top flap of a backpack, usually with a small storage pouch.

Talking Tortilla

Spain. Madrid. Tortilla

Spanish potato omelette



It’s probably the most universal of Spain’s traditional cuisine, a perfect example of simple ingredients that together add up to much more than you would expect. Available everywhere, cheap, and when it’s good, you can’t ask for a better fast and filling meal.

In case you haven’t guessed, we’re talking tortilla. Tortilla española, to be specific.

For those not in the know, “tortilla española” bears no relation to Mexican corn patties. “Tortilla española” is a thick omelette with potatoes and often a bit of onion or garlic. Other omelettes abound in Spain – with sausage, cured ham, peppers, vegetables or a mixture of all that is a one-meal dish. But it’s the potato version that really defines traditional cuisine in Spain – and in a land of hearty, simple food, that says a lot.

If you’ve never tried tortilla, you’re probably new to Spain because sooner or later – usually sooner – everyone has a chunk, a slice or a whole tortilla with friends. If your tortilla experiences have been few or not very pleasant, read on for some tips.

Where and when: Just about every informal eating establishment has tortilla, but don’t expect to find it in upscale restaurants or in tiny villages with few outsiders, where most people eat at home. Tortilla is usually available from about 10AM all the way to closing time at night – except times in between when they’ve run out and are making another – if you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth the wait to get tortilla right out of the pan.

How: Probably the most frequent way to eat tortilla is a “pincho” – a slice of omelette with a chunk of bread, great for a late breakfast or or a light lunch. You can also ask for a “bocadillo” – sandwich on “baguette” type bread – yes, mom, this is a heavy dose of carbs, potatoes AND bread? But it’s delicious anyway, and if you’re hungry and in a hurry, a fast way to get some filling food in your stomach – ask for fried peppers or tomato-rubbed bread if you need the veges to assuage your conscience. You can also ask for a whole omelette to share with a group: the usual dinner-plate size will feed five people or a hungry foursome. A whole omelette is usually served uncut – the traditional way is to cut it into more or less bite-sized squares (a little more than 1 inch / about 3 cms square), and spear with forks or toothpicks.

Tips for getting the best: Good tortilla is firm outside and slightly juicy but not runny inside, with the potatoes done but not crunchy or mushy. Finding this can be tricky; sometimes the potatoes aren’t right, or the tortilla is too dry or too runny, and personal taste does play into the definition of “good” (tortilla newbies often shy away from “juicy”, preferring something that most would define as too dry).

If possible, try to see the product before ordering. If the tortilla is under the countertop display case, or if you see a slice go by, check it out: is it dry? juicy? crusty around the edges? If you’re asked if you want it heated up, think twice. Room temperature is usually better than microwaved, which can turn tortilla dry and rubbery. Beyond texture, personal taste takes over: onion or not, salt, thickness, etc, all are tortilla variables that you can now explore.

So where can you get good tortilla in and near Madrid? I LOVE tortilla but have to limit my intake – it’s habit forming and fattening, so I restrain myself to special social occasions or pre-hike breakfasts, when lunch is miles down the trail. Thus the number of places outside Madrid – most are trailheads for favorite walks.

In the city: Kybey II on the southwest side of Olavide square, near calle Cid (metro Bilbao), excellent tortilla, and their tortilla and salad deal is well worth waiting for a table on their summer terrace – the place is always packed. Las Bravas on calle Alvarez Gato makes decent tortilla (metro Sol/Sevilla), and will spoon on their patented hot sauce. Meson La Tortilla on Cava San Miguel (metro Sol), along one side of the Plaza Mayor specializes in tortilla; a little touristy. Cabaña de Senen in the Casa de Campo park, west side of the lake (metro Lago), another outdoor venue with great tortilla and views of the Royal Palace.

Out of the city: Dos Castillas in Navacerrada pass – but think twice if it’s ski season, quality can drop due to crowds. Venta Marcelino in Cotos pass, used to be a favourite but it’s not so good recently (new cook?) El Brillante (calle La Fuente 20) in Valdemorillo has the best thick and juicy I’ve tried – and the service is really friendly.

Want to make your own? In addition to the general guidelines shown in any Spanish cookbook, here are some reminders and hints from experts. Get the right proportion of eggs and potatoes – this will take some practice, and it may be best to set aside part of egg mixture until you mix the potatoes and eggs – then you can add it if you need more egg. When potatoes are ready (not crunchy, softish but cooked,), pour them into a bowl with the eggs, mix well and pour the mixture back into the pan. Turning the omelette over is a delicate moment – once one side is set, pat the edges with a fork to consolidate a little, cover the pan with a big plate, flip and carefully slide the omelette back into the pan. It’s really important to know your pan, both the size and how it heats, and the different temperatures of your burners as you may need to vary the temperature during cooking. The tortilla artist who makes my favorite thick and juicy says temperature is the secret to making a great tortilla – then reflects a bit before saying that all you really need is a lot of practice.


*Tortilla photo taken  at Cabaña de Senen in the Casa de Campo



Coffee Like You Like it



En vaso / desayuno / mediana / cortado*



Having trouble getting the exact caffeine fix you crave? Feel you are lost in the world of words describing coffee? Here are some tips that will get you what you want, at least in Madrid; there may be some minor regional differences.

Café con leche: The well-known expresso coffee with milk. To fine-tune this basic term: largo de café for more coffee than usual, corto de café for less coffee than usual. Usually in the morning, cups will be taza desayuno, a bigger size for dunking churros; you can ask for taza mediana to get a smaller cup or vaso to get coffee in a glass. If the amount of caffeine kick is important for you (or if you don’t like milk), taza mediana is best, as the larger cups or glasses usually have more milk but not more coffee.  Check out what other customers are getting—some places always give vasos unless you ask otherwise, other places only if you ask specifically. If you want more quantity and that extra kick, your solution might be café con leche doble.

A cortado is black expresso coffee “cut” with just a bit of milk For some reason, this is rarely seen at breakfast, perhaps because there’s not enough quantity to accompany toast or churros. Saying just cortado is more frequent than café cortado

Café solo is just that, black expresso with no milk. Café solo can also be fine-tuned to taste: try con hielo in the summer (expresso on ice) or café americano (watered-down expresso, fairly close to weaker non-expresso coffee). For the brave or perhaps the foolish, a carajillo (expresso coffee with a splash of brandy) might do the trick.

Café americano is the not-expresso coffee usually found in the USA.

And there’s more:  at some coffee shops in summer café granizado gets you coffee ice-slush, blanco y negro coffee ice-slush with ice cream. Descafeinado is decaf, but you probably should specify and ask for de máquina—otherwise you might get a packet of instant Nescafé and a cup of hot milk. Some regions do café bombon, a coffee with condensed milk on top, sometimes with liqueur.

If coffee isn’t your drink of choice, you can get chocolate, though most places don’t have the thick Spanish hot chocolate and will offer ColaCao (powdered chocolate mix to dissolve in milk) or will heat up chocolate milk in single-serving bottles. Té is usually black tea; it’s still difficult to find green or red tea outside urban areas. If you want té con leche, it’s probably best to first ask for tea, then for a bit of milk in your cup with the brewed tea or else you might receive a tea bag steeping in a glass of hot milk.

Go herbal: Chamomile (manzanilla) tea is usually available and is a nice way to relax or settle your stomach after a stressful day. Poleo or poleo menta  is mint, another nice way to end a meal if coffee will keep you awake later on.


* Left to right:  Usual glass for cafe en vaso (umm. this is standard beer glass for draft beer, too), breakfast-size (desayuno) cup for dunking croissants or churros, middle (mediano) if you don’t dunk, small cup for cortado or solo. Thanks to friends at Cabaña Senen on west side of the lake in Casa de Campo.