Epicurious: Gourmet Shopping in Madrid

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Dateline: Madrid, Spain

By Sofia Perez

[Published by Epicurious.com, March 27, 2006]

Over the past five years, the world has taken notice of the many playful and often extraordinary dishes emerging from Spain’s restaurant kitchens, but most Spanish chefs will tell you that their creations would have been impossible without the country’s top-notch ingredients. Luckily, many of these gourmet foods are readily available, and no city is more of a central clearinghouse for them than Madrid, which benefits both from being the capital and from its location in the geographic heart of the Iberian Peninsula.

At the upscale Mallorca, you can purchase everything from prepared foods and luscious bars of dark chocolate laced with coffee, to cured ham in a can (which is tastier than it sounds). There are several locations around the city, but first-timers will want to visit the emporium on Calle Serrano, a street where you can do some high-end shopping (gourmet and otherwise) and then relax at Mallorca’s bar with a café cortado, the Spanish version of a macchiato. (Calle Serrano 6, 011-34-91-577-1859, www.pasteleria-mallorca.com)

If you want to follow in the footsteps of the city’s leading chefs, visit Gold Gourmet in the upscale Salamanca neighborhood. Owner Luis Pacheco will enthusiastically guide you through the wines, condiments, and meats that he sells in his densely packed shop, and he’ll regale you with a dissertation on mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables available in the second storefront next door. His carefully chosen inventory includes an exquisite smoked salt that chef Sergi Arola serves with bread, butter, and olive oil at his Michelin-starred restaurant, La Broche. (Calle Ortega y Gasset 85-87, 011-34-91-402-0363, www.goldgourmet.es)

Patrimonio Comunal Olivarero sells one thing and one thing only, but far from offering a one-note shopping experience, this elegant retail outlet stocks more than 150 brands of Spanish virgin olive oils, from all of the country’s various producing regions. Run by a nonprofit arm of the agriculture ministry, it was conceived as a place to educate consumers about the full spectrum of oils. From those that feature the nutty flavors of Catalonia’s arbequina olives, to the fruity notes of the verdial variety from Andalusia, there’s one for every taste. (Calle Mejía Lequerica 1, 011-34-91-308-0505, www.pco.es/usuario/tienda.htm)

Looking for something sweet? Casa Mira is the place to sate your cravings. The boutique is particularly known for its artisanal turrón, the almond nougat candy that appears on every Spanish table come Christmastime. Get some (year-round) for your sugar-addicted friends back home, and then buy yourself a few flaky pastries, glazed chestnuts, and marzipan to satisfy your hotel snacking needs. (Carrera de San Jerónimo 30, 011-34-91-429-8895)

If all this shopping has made you hungry for something savory, head to the venerable Lhardy and bask in its old world grandeur. Located in the heart of the city, this Madrid institution has been in business since 1839; it has been visited by Spanish royals throughout the ages, and has even made it into works of literature such as The Fencing Master by best-selling novelist Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The lavish restaurant is upstairs, but for a more informal taste of bygone days, you can snack at the upscale tapas bar on the first floor or shop there for Spanish wines, prepared foods, and confectionery—everything you’d need for a picnic in El Retiro park. (Carrera de San Jerónimo 8, 91-521-3385, www.lhardy.com)

For a casual experience—complete with toothpicks and crumpled up napkins scattered all over the floor—refuel at the Museo del Jamón, right next door. It’s not a real museum but rather a tapas bar and takeout joint where the hams that hang from the rafters are both décor and pantry staples. With various locations around the city, this shrine to pork is a laid-back place to gorge on all manner of cured meats and other snacks as you decide whether or not you’ll try to smuggle any of them through customs. (Carrera de San Jerónimo 6, 011-34-91-521-0346, www.museodeljamon.com)