When in Madrid, take a break from the tapas restaurants and make time to go to La Bola and enjoy Madrid's traditional chickpea-based stew for lunch. And do yourself a favor: eat very little for breakfast and don't schedule anything rigorous for the afternoon. Your stomach will need the room, and afterward you'll need the siesta.
La Bola, founded in 1870, is famous for its Cocido Madrileño. Once you find Calle de la Bola, it's not hard to spot the bright red painted walls of the taberna. Step inside and you step away from the bustle of modern Madrid into a charming old-fashioned dining room with gleaming dark wood paneling, red-and-white dressed tables, walls covered in bullfighting photos going back through time. Being Americans in Spain, we unsurprisingly arrived somewhat on the early side for lunch, which meant we had no problems getting a table. (Reservations are recommended, however.) And of course, our waiter, a man with an obvious sense of humor who enjoyed correcting Joe's Mexican Spanish, knew why we had come to La Bola.
Cocido Madrileño is brought to your table in a clay pot that looks misleadingly small, one per diner. The first thing to come out of that pot is a fragrant saffron-colored both with thin noodles, which I ate enthusiastically. I should have slowed down because I could hardly make a dent in the feast that followed, a huge plate of chickpeas, with beef, chicken, and pork and cabbage — I don't know how it all came out of that pot — with fresh onions and peppers and sauce on the side. Our waiter teased me about how little I was able to eat. He pointed to a table with two small Asian women and said that they were able to eat the entire stew. I looked at him apologetically. Dessert was, sadly, out of the question.
We stumbled back out into the Spanish sun and somehow found our way back to our hotel. Cocido Madrileño is one of those meals where you wonder how on earth you'll ever be hungry again...
Taberna La Bola
Calle de la Bola 5
91 547 69 30