MADRID — In Spain, the land of tapas, it’s awfully easy to make food a theme for a holiday.
During my recent visit to Madrid with a small press group, the sightseeing included traditional elements, like the Prado, the Royal Palace, the Plaza Mayor and other monumental and historic attractions.
However, our itinerary was laced with lesser-known choices that may hold special appeal for foodies, including the following:
• Casa Mira, Carrera de San Jeronimo 30, is a top spot for turrones, a Christmas sweet made with almonds, honey and egg white. It resembles marzipan.
A plaque on the sidewalk in front of Casa Mira tells passersby it has been in business more than 100 years in the same place, using an unchanged decor, making and selling the same products.
Madrid presents these plaques to all local businesses that satisfy these criteria. Casa Mira originated on its current site in 1855.
• La Violeta, a candy shop on Canalejas Square since 1915, won’t wait long to get its plaque. This tiny shop, where many things are the color of violets, has made candies, including one using violet petals, since its founding.
We admired and photographed the goods, then bought a sample.
• A visit to Lhardy Restaurant, Carrera de San Jeronimo 8, is a trip to
1839 — or a movie set — a little overdone by modern standards, with wood-paneled walls, red velvet upholstery, gaslights (now wired) and silver sets on sideboards.
That describes the upstairs dining room, said to have hosted a 19th century queen and her lovers.
The ground floor was a tiny space where customers helped themselves to sweets from circular display boxes, as well as coffee, then paid on the way out.
• Our group gleefully sampled churros dipped in thick chocolate, which the Chocolateria San Gines, on a sliver of a street next to the Church of San Gines, has served here since 1894. As it should, the decor provided a sense of its Gilded Age origins.
There were others in the 100-plus club, including a cape maker (where we were told then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shopped for herself after daughter Chelsea had spotted the business on a tour), a shoemaker and a tavern.
We lingered at Boton near the Plaza Mayor because Guinness crowned it the world’s oldest restaurant. It has had the same decor, same kitchen, same menu since its founding here in 1725, and its specialty is suckling pig.
However, by Old World standards, Boton isn’t terribly old, and the Guinness listing has many challengers.
Also just outside the Plaza Mayor, we visited San Miguel Market, a beautifully refurbished old covered market site. It is a glass-sided Beaux-Art ironworks structure dating from 1916. The food displays were gorgeous and, it seemed, endless. Visitors and locals take meals here, too.