Madrid’s Hidden Treasure: The Calamari Sandwich
Want to try something you might not expect to find in Madrid? Get yourself a calamari sandwich. In the inland capital of Spain, seafood is greatly appreciated, and this particular treat comes from an old gastronomic tradition. We recommend you let this “bocadillo” (sandwich or roll) become one of your closest friends.
The Origin of the Calamari Sandwich
Although for the calamari sandwich, it’s hard to place its exact origin on a map, it is believed to have originated in Madrid, the capital of Spain. One theory consists of a history where the sandwich was first created in the 1940s or 1950s in the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina, an area of the city known to host clubs and bars and where there were many seafood markets and taverns. In this version, the calamari sandwich was a quick and affordable snack that could be eaten on the go, and it soon became popular among the working-class population.
Even though the Spanish capital is a way away from the coastline, the tradition of seafood in Madrid dates back to the 18th century. It was during the religious period of Lent that Madrid became a seafood capital when meat wasn’t tolerated.
During the time of Lent, fish was a simple replacement for meat but over time, it has grown to become one of the most interesting characteristics of Madrid gastronomy.
Calamari: From Cantábrico to Madrid
With the passing years and the increasing seafood demands of the population of Madrid, the northern coast of the peninsula rapidly began improving its commercial relations with the capital.
It all started in Cantábrico where Calamari is a particularly easy catch. Stagecoaches would travel overnight with fresh fish and seafood to reach the capital so that no product would arrive spoiled.
Calamari Sandwich: The perfect snack on the go
Also known as “bocadillo de calamares,” the calamari sandwich, is a must-try while visiting or living in Madrid. It consists simply of a crusty white bread roll filled with deep-fried breaded squid rings. This sandwich is a classic example of what you might expect at a “tapeo,” which is the Spanish tradition of going from bar to bar to enjoy small plates of food (tapas) and drinks with friends. In Madrid, “tapeo” is a way of life, and the calamari sandwich is one of the most popular tapas dishes.
But another theory suggests the sandwich was invented by a street vendor during the 1930s or 1940s. The man would have been looking for a way to make use of leftover squid that he couldn’t sell. He decided to deep-fry the squid and serve it in a sandwich, and it proved to be a hit with the locals. If this second story is correct, all calamari sandwich and ‘tapeo’ lovers would love to see a statue to pay their respect to this unnamed street vendor…
No matter its origins, the calamari sandwich is an iconic dish in Madrid and is a must-try for anyone visiting the city. Having a calamari sandwich in Madrid is something special as it is a dish that is closely tied to the city’s culture and cuisine. What some would consider a simple piece of bread and squid should understand it is a big part of the “tapeo” tradition, and it is simply delicious.
How to enjoy a Calamari Sandwich?
With the squid rings typically deep-fried and coated in a simple batter, the sandwich consists of giving enough space for a generous amount of fried calamari on the bottom half of a crusty bread roll. You should then squeeze a lemon wedge over it and, of course, eat the calamari sandwich immediately, while the calamari is still hot and crispy.
If the calamari is too hot, a caña (short, cold beer) will always help cool you down. And as each element of the tapeo culture, this simple yet satisfying sandwich will be perfect for a quick lunch or a late-night snack while enjoying the best activities Madrid has to offer.
Photo credits: @KamranAydinov