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Trendy tapas. Where better to try them than in Madrid?

A drink and a ‘tapa’ have long been THE Spanish way of getting together in the evenings or at lunchtimes on weekends. Decades ago, in less affluent times, people from all walks of life would escape from their apartments, hit the streets for a stroll and meet up with friends in the bar to linger over an inexpensive drink or two and an on-the-house bite-size morsel. The wealthy could then go on to a restaurant, the less so, back home for a good lunch.

Nowadays tapas have become an all-together more sophisticated affair and while in smaller towns a canapé is often still complimentary, in the big cities you usually pay for a ‘ración’, or small portion of a tasty dish. Many bars have their own ‘special’, from economical ‘patatas bravas’ (spicy potatoes) to luxury grilled langoustines.

Tapas tasting is a pan-Spanish pastime, from north to south and east to west, with many regions having a ‘tapas week’ where local restaurants compete to see who can come up with the tastiest snack. However as the capital, Madrid brings together the various regions’ specialities, and you can find anything and everything here including pigs ears, tripe, snails and octopus.

For those who prefer to stick to something more recognizable, try the tastefully converted Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel) near the Plaza Mayor. Once a market selling fresh produce, it is now a swish centre of bar stalls offering delicious ‘jamón’, seafood canapés, oysters and even caviar with vodka. Go early as it gets seriously crowded.

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