A Latin American tour of the Spanish capital

Luisa Belchior Moskovics

Anna Carolina Negri, Gabriela Mohamed, Rodrigo Vásquez, El Moderno Concept Store, ccommons_Casa de América Arte Popular Contemporâneo de México, ccommons_Kost as Limtsios, Getty Images, Publicity

Madrid is experiencing a cultural revolution, with a wave of South American and Caribbean influences


Tropical patterns are now almost as common as the paintings of Goya and Velázquez. You’ll hear reggaeton blasting at the hottest parties. Arepas, ceviches and tiraditos can be found alongside tortillas and paellas on the menus at all the hip restaurants. The Mediterranean blends with the Caribbean in the city’s recipes, drinks, clothing and even its vocabulary. Welcome to Madrid, the newest “capital” of Latin America.


The city, which up until five years ago was one of those most faithful to traditional Spanish customs, is now open to influences from the other side of the ocean. And which now arrives in bold, modern clothing, not only gaining prominence but also taking on new life. The difference is in the places these references occupy: they’ve gone from exotic and distant to hip and highly coveted.



Anyone visiting the capital won’t need to venture off the beaten path to experience this trend. Attentive tourists can see the New World all over downtown Madrid in bars, restaurants, shops and museums. The references are so plentiful that we’ve prepared a guide so no one will get lost looking for traces of the continent that now fits inside Madrid.



It’s in the kitchen that the most harmonious encounters between Madrid and Latin America occur. It’s hard to find a modern restaurant in the city that doesn’t feature these references on the menu, most of them combined with traditional Mediterranean ingredients or dishes. 


These days, Madrid is one of the few places that allow this marriage to take place in such a productive manner. Something like a ceviche, the most famous recipe from Peru, made with octopus and scallops from Galicia and Asian seaweed. This dish is served at Chifa, one of the restaurants to pioneer this kind of fusion and still its ultimate representative. Another big name in this movement is Punto Mx, a hip Mexican joint that uses Spanish products to display a bold, contemporary side of the country’s cuisine. Be sure to make reservations in advance.



For something a little quieter, but still offering the Mediterranean-Caribbean blend, your best bet is Goiko Grill, a luncheonette that opened in 2013 and has since become a phenomenon. Aside from the great burgers, it specializes in blending flavors like the cheeses and peppers of Basque Country in the north with banana flambé, rum reduction and tequeños, cheese rolls of Venezuelan origin.


One tip is to get to know the world of so-called gastrobars – establishments known to serve sophisticated tapas made with good products in no-frills settings. At Navaja Restaurante, for example, you can have a draft beer while snacking on shellfish with Peruvian ají. All this in Malasaña, the neighborhood that gave birth to the Movida Madrileña. Now the capital’s hipster epicenter, Malasaña hasn’t escaped from the Latin American Movida.



In Malasaña, incidentally, visitors will find the heart of authorial Spanish fashion, which is quite bold and – guess what – takes inspiration from the same influences. Tee shirts and dresses with monstera deliciosa and banana tree patterns line the display windows of stores like Magpie and Popland. Interior décor buffs shouldn’t miss out on the throw pillows, posters and vases at the El Moderno Concept Store.



There’s also no shortage of options in the adjacent and more upscale neighborhood of Salesas. It’s a purveyor of the blend of tropical motifs in its storefronts and on the walls of its modernist buildings. “Traveling to Latin America is in fashion here. Practically all the new establishments that opened in Madrid in the past year have bright patterns and colors. This is a characteristic of the city nowadays,” says Italian national Piero Furia, owner of Pinkoco, a shop that sells handbags, handkerchiefs, tables, chairs and cosmetics. And you can also enjoy a drink at the bar inside, among the banana trees that make up the décor.



You can find mojitos, but only ones made with cinnamon, nutmeg or haba tonka, a seed from the Amazon and the Antilles. Gin and tonic, the quintessential Madrid drink, now comes with drops of Brazilian passion fruit. Even the yerba mate of Argentina has invaded the once traditional world of mixed drinks, which now toasts to new references.


It all started when the Spanish economy tanked and Latin America showed signs of vitality on the world stage. “All of a sudden, immigrants started feeling proud and natives came to appreciate us in a different way. We’re selling an image that’s young and fun,” says Argentine bartender Diego Cabrera, who’s built an empire out of bold creations and, of course, references to his homeland.


The latest ones came out last month on the menu at his bar, Salmon Guru, a lively hangout installed in one of the city’s cuevas, former medieval hideaways that were eventually converted into bars and restaurants. Hordes of fans head there to try such concoctions as the Cóctel Mate, made with chili peppers, Dutch gin and Argentine yerba mate. The mixture is served in a frozen drop, one of the menu’s big hits.



Drinks with southern accents also liven up the nights at Habanera, a large restaurant/bar/nightclub with two floors of colorful décor, dishes and cocktails filled with potent ingredients and salsa music. Order the daiquiri made with rum, pepper tonic, mango and lime juice. Looking for something more local? Pick one from the extensive list of vermouths, the aperitif wine that’s a fever in the country. To go with it, try the sardines with guacamole and Mexican jalapeños, the perfect snack to give you some energy to hit the dance floor.


If you feel the urge to experience some nightlife, try El Bombón. The place pays homage to the movement born in New York in the 1960s which introduced salsa to the world and, as such, was christened BomBronx, in reference to the borough. Negra Tomasa, another Caribbean establishment popular among Spaniards, features live shows by groups from Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela.



Those who prefer to view European art also came to the right place. Madrid concentrates, almost on the same street, the country’s three main museums, which rank among the most visited in the Old World: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Even among the many Dalís, it’s possible to come across examples of Latin American art. 



Visitors to the Reina Sofía, the house of modern and contemporary art, can see an exclusive exhibition on Brazilian critic and thinker Mario Pedrosa. Until October, it is displaying works by the artists who permeate Pedrosa’s critical writings, like Candido Portinari and Di Cavalcanti. They’re right there, nearby Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and the colors of Joan Miró, adding new brushstrokes to the recent flirtation.


Outside the classic circuit, the biggest representative is Casa de America, a cultural center filled with Latin American works on Spanish soil. Inside a stately manor on Paseo del Prado, at the corner of Plaza de Cibeles, one of the main tourist spots in town, the art of Latin America has its own space and shows that it’s here to stay. 


LATAM has direct flights to Madrid departing from: São Paulo, Santiago, Lima and 2 other destinations.