I’ve found that once I stumble upon a place I really like – whether it’s a coffee shop with character, a lush park, charming street, lively plaza, or intriguing restaurant; I return to the same area multiple times to continue the discovery. It feels as though I’ve hit the tip of the iceberg and there’s much more that awaits discovery.
Well, the flavor of the week was La Latina, a neighborhood known as being one of the more historically-preserved parts of Madrid (although to me, most are), distinguished by many large plazas and windy, narrow streets (also, like most.)
That week, I discovered El Viajero, a three story bar/restaurant whose best feature is a magnificent rooftop bar adorned with ferns, lined with misters, and serves ice-cold mojitos. If you’ve ever been in Madrid in the summer, you’d understand that this exhilarating trifecta of relief is just what the doctor ordered in this hot concrete jungle.
Naturally, I returned to this neighborhood, seeking more places like El Viajero. As I wandered through La Latina one day, I found a little booklet sitting on top of a garbage can. It read – La Latina Pincho Week.
— Before we go into that, what is a pincho? How is it different from a pintxo? Or a tapa? I’ve learned that the original word is pintxo, which originates in the Basque country, and is derived from the verb – to pierce. Traditionally, the Basque people are known to make very elaborate pintxos, where several ingredients are piled onto a piece of bread and a toothpick pierces each layer in an effort to hold everything together. Pincho is just the way to spell pintxo in Spanish. Regions outside of the Basque country now have their own variations of pinchos. A tapa, on the other hand, is a more simplified version of a pincho, and is typically free. Usually this is in the form of a piece of bread with jamon (ham), or a croquette. Something else seen frequently is a racion, which is a larger tapa or a serving of multiple tapas (not free.)
Here on the left, pintxos. On the right, tapas. The difference isn’t that obvious, but just be careful to never (ever) order a tapa at a Basque bar or restaurant, especially if you’re in the north!
Back to La Latina Pincho Week… First off, to my pure enjoyment, I found out that La Latina is known for having a very high concentration of tapas bars. I knew there was a reason I liked it here! Second, the neighborhood bars and restaurants were participating in a pincho contest. Each place had crafted a special pincho for this week, which can’t be found on their regular menu. For 2.50€, you could sip on a cervecita (a baby beer) and try a specialty pincho.
So, of course, I phoned an adventurous friend and we returned the next day to start our gourmet journey.
A few highlights…
If you enjoyed this, read about my favorite gourmet experience in Madrid so far, here.