Breakfast in Spain used to be divided geographically between olive oil on toast and butter and jam on toast, with Madrid in butter territory. Knowing Spain’s geography and traditional rural products this makes perfect sense: olive oil in the south and east (Mediterranean Spain and where most of the oil is produced) and butter in the north, where dairy reigns.
But that has changed. Now you can get olive oil even in dairy-intensive Galicia – they might think you’re nuts, but it can be done. And in Madrid, ah bliss! Now we can get tomato toast. We can even get GOOD tomato toast: toast with olive oil and crushed tomato.
So what’s the perfect tomato-toast? As any taste-test, this is rather subjective, but here are some guidelines.
When pondering your breakfast order look around, if lots of people are getting tomato toast, it’s good.
The toast must be bread-bread, not white loaf bread, usually called by brand name Bimbo (yes, really). The best bread is one with a moist, open crumb to better soak up the oil. Traditional white baguette style is ok if properly toasted on the “plancha” (iron grill), but rustic “chapata” type is better.
The tomato should be natural, skinned and crushed. Some places add a touch of garlic. Usually the tomato is served in a small bowl or cup with a spoon. Don’t get tomato toast if you see them serving tomato in sealed plastic mini-containers. That stuff is not very good.
Ideally there’s a bottle of olive oil and salt-shaker readily accessible for you to do your own thing. Some places pre-mix oil with the tomato, that’s usually ok, but separate lets you fine-tune to your own preference. If there’s no oil on the counter or table, ask the wait-staff.
My system: first poke holes in the toast all across the toast surface and drizzle on some oil (the holes let the oil soak in). Spoon on the tomato, spread it all the way to edges of the toast – these details are important – then take a bite to check your combination. Add a little more oil and salt if necessary, then ENJOY!
Note: Some places spoon on the tomato prior to serving. Hmmm. I really prefer to do that myself, but if it’s good tomato, that’s ok.
Where to try tomato toast in Madrid:
My neighborhood favorite: Cafe San Millan, Plaza de la Cebada, corner of San Millan. Excellent bread, perfect tomato. Only issue: early in the morning tomato might be cold instead of room temperature. Oil and salt should be on the counter (you don’t have to ask). Coffee is usually in a glass instead of cup, if you want it another way, specify when ordering.
Other favorites are on the city walks on eastern Alcala street and in Chueca’s market.
Cafe Matilda: Calle de Almaden, 15 (near Caixa Forum on Paseo del Prado). A very simple tostada with just tomatoes and olive oil. Bread is thick and crunchy, perfectly toasted.
Biotza: Claudio Coello 27 (near Jorge Juan, a few blocks from the Retiro). Crushed tomato, nothing added, good texture. Their “cafe americano” is very good, too.
Thanks to Kim Mozil for the photo