When there is no bread, shrimp are pretty good
The Casa del Abuelo opened in the year 1906 in the center of Madrid, not too far away from the Puerta del Sol, on Calle Victoria. This family run tavern has become a well loved place to stop in and have a glass of sweet red wine along with a shrimp appetizer. It might seem a little bit strange to see a tavern that specializes in shrimp, but there is a historical reason behind it. Apparently, in the years before the Spanish Civil War, they served sandwiches along with the wine, but along with the war, came food rations and monetary difficulties, so the family decided to solve their problem by adding a grill with shrimp. As for the famous sweet wine, this became a tradition in the 1950s when the family began buying their wine from a bodega in Alicante, and it was so successful that people started calling the wine simply “El Abuelo” (The grandfather).
Nowadays, when you walk past the glass windows of La Casa del Abuelo, the first thing you notice is that there is standing room only. In fact, the original tavern has expanded and there are now three locations in the area near Plaza Santa Ana and Sol in Madrid. You push open the door and you will be overwhelmed by the smell of shrimp on the grill, shrimp cooked in garlic butter, and fried shrimp ready to be dipped in a spicy sauce.
Now that your mouth is watering, the next step is finding a little corner to stand in. There are several little tables designed especially to rest your glass and a small dish with the precious shrimp appetizers, and if you are lucky you can stake your claim to one of these. We hung our coats on the little hooks underneath the tables, and immediately an eager waiter came over to ask what we wanted to drink. Of course, this being La Casa del Abuelo (or as a sign on the wall put it “The Grandfather´s House”) we ordered the classic wine of “el abuelo.” The sweet wine is very nice when paired with a salty shrimp appetizer. We tried the fried shrimp on a stick called “banderillas.” This dish gets its name from the little spikes adorned with ribbons that are used in bullfights to diminish the strength of the bull. Don´t let the name of these little shrimp put you off, though! The breading is light and the dipping sauce that comes with the shrimp is just spicy enough.
As you eat your shrimp, and sip your wine, you cannot help but imagine how this bar got its start over 100 years ago. There is something authentic about standing up with your friends and sipping on your glass of sweet wine. It´s almost like being part of a club dedicated to maintaining traditions, remembering what is important – family, friends, and good food, and the center of Madrid. On the walls there are photographs in black and white showing what the place looked like all those years ago, and surprisingly little has changed. Well, perhaps the fact that now, tourists are privy to this delicious secret. When we were there, two Japanese tourists asked us to take their photo with their grilled shrimp. But it´s also true that just as many natives of Madrid will be found at the bar of this well established spot having a glass of wine before lunch on a sunny Sunday afternoon, or meeting with friends after the work day has come to an end.
We Ruskommend a visit to the Casa del Abuelo with 4 boquerones for anyone who is looking to have an authentic experience in the center of Madrid. It evokes the Madrid of yester year, and a tradition like that, despite the fame and expansion of the tavern, is definitely worth preserving.