City Guide to Madrid, Spain: Part 3 | Traditional Food
The most traditional place to have churros, porras, and chocolate in Madrid, Spain is at the 125 year old Chocolateria San Gines. Read on to find out what the fuss over this mouth watering breakfast and late night snack is all about!
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Deep within Spanish culture but not too well hidden, you can find a very content child. It’s not hard to conjure up an image of a child begging to stay up late to spend time with friends, crashing in the afternoon to regain stamina to rush back out and play again, and dreaming of a breakfast of churros, porras, and chocolate. While most American’s, with the exception of many college students, refrain from indulging on these desires regularly, the Spanish not only embrace it, they do it with pizzazz!
While in Madrid, it didn’t take long to notice that Madrileños stay up into the wee hours of the morning and that even though it’s the bustling capital of Spain, the city slowed almost to a pause during the mid-afternoon hours. And most curious of all (to our tummies that is!) it wasn’t hard to find locals having the traditional breakfast of churros or porras accompanied by hot chocolate that was thick enough to use as a dipping sauce!
So, being the strong proponents of inquiry (for science of course!), we headed to the famous Chocolateria San Gines to see what this tradition was all about!
Chocolateria San Gines
Not only has Chocolateria San Gines been a part of Madrid’s history for over 125 years, it’s also known as one of the best (if not the best) spots for churros, porras, and chocolate in the city. Plus, it’s open 24 hours a day, making anytime (not just breakfast time) a good time to indulge. Furthermore, since it’s located near the popular public square Puerta del Sol and at the end of a street lined with cafés and restaurants, it’s common for people to stop here for a snack after a late night on the town.
Our Traditional Late Night Snack: Porras, Churros, and Chocolate
We made our way to Chocolateria San Gines at about 9 pm, and while it was ‘late’ in the evening for us, it was still the ‘early bird hour’ for most Spaniards. The streets were waking up and the evening was just beginning in Madrid. By 10 pm Puerta del Sol was filled with street performers and so full of people that if it’d been our home town we’d have thought it was time for 4th of July fireworks or the clock was striking midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Chocolateria San Gines is incredibly popular, so it was no surprise that every outside table was occupied and there was a line out the door. We were lucky enough to score a spot at a table in the corner of the main dining area, although there’s additional seating space downstairs. When it gets really busy, they open a second door (to the left of the main entrance) that leads to a second order counter and dining area.
The line to order moved very quickly, probably because the menu is relatively straight forward, only offering a few items in addition to their specialty. Plus, most people know exactly what they want, ordering either churros and chocolate or porras and chocolate.
In our case, we weren’t so sure what we wanted to order, we’d gone back and forth all day on whether we wanted churros or porras with our hot chocolate. So, when we got to the front of the line, we asked if we could have both. For reference, one order of hot chocolate can come with either six churros or two porras. The person taking our order was happy to oblige and we ended up ordering three churros and one porra for just €4.30 (only €0.30 more than if we hadn’t split our order).
Once we paid we moved into the dining area where someone was standing by ready to take the receipt and fill our order. All in all, from standing in line to receiving our order, it took no more than ten minutes!
The Churros, Porras, and Chocolate
We were served a plate of steaming hot, fresh churros, porras, and chocolate and it took everything Shannon had not to immediately stuff her face! Instead, in the name of sharing with you and in experiencing the fine details and exquisite tastes of each element on the plate, she calmed herself. (Sergio here! It was getting dicey; I nearly had to restrain her after she threatened to go all Teen Wolf and flip the table! Shannon here! Are we talking Micheal J. Fox Teen Wolf or the reboot?)
Spanish Vs Mexican Churros
If you’ve had Mexican churros, then you’re probably imagining a long, thin, rope like piece of dough that’s deep fried and covered in sugar and cinnamon. The Spanish churro is similar, all except for the sugar and cinnamon.
The churros from Chocolateria San Gines were fresh from the fryer, so they had a satisfying crunch to them, and a soft doughy inside. And since the dough is unsweetened, they’re scrumptiously paired for dipping in hot chocolate, or the perfect palate cleanser after drinking the thick, rich, sweet chocolate.
Tip: Lauren Aloise over at Spanish Sabores has a delicious recipe to make Spanish Churros at home. She uses a piping/pastry bag for the dough, but you may want to get fancy and use a churro maker (a churrera)!
We had no idea what porras were before our Madrid trip, so unlike our preconceived notion of what to expect a Spanish churro to taste like (based on a Mexican churro), we had nothing to base our expectations on with porras.
As you can imagine, since a standard plate at Chocolateria San Gines comes with six churros, but the equivalent for porras are only two, porras are much larger. They’re about as long as a churro, but about three times as thick. And much like the churro, porras have a crispy outside and doughy inside, but their texture is much chewier. They too aren’t sweet, and instead, seemed to have a slight salty taste to them, again making them a perfect pairing to the sweet hot chocolate.
Spanish Hot Chocolate
Although only referred to as chocolate (or drinking chocolate), it’s actually steaming hot chocolate, and it’s not your grandmas hot chocolate with marshmallows that you had as a kid. It’s rich, thick, and just the ‘perfect’ sweetness.
Some chocolaterias (chocolatiers) make their chocolate with a powder base and you’ll want to stay far away from those places, but Chocolateria San Gines makes it fresh. It’s thick enough to leave a thick layer of chocolate on your churro or porra. Which is great since the last thing you want is for it to absorb into your pastry and leave you with a soggy mess.
Tip: Can’t wait until you get to Spain to try the real thing? With just a bit of milk, cornstarch, sugar, and Spanish chocolate (of course!) you can make your very own at home. Amanda over at I Am Baker has a delicious recipe for Spanish Hot Chocolate that you need to try!
Anything deep-fried is bound to be good, and since chocolate is irresistible, we knew going in that we’d like churros, porras, and chocolate!
We were curious as to it being a breakfast tradition in Spain, but understood a bit more when we discovered that it’s nowhere near as sweet as its Mexican counterpart. Plus, most countries we’ve been to, including the US, have some type of bread or pastry item as a ‘traditional breakfast’. However, it’s a bit too good, so whether it’s for breakfast or snack at the end of the night, sadly for us it could only be a (very) occasional special treat.
On A Personal Note
When Shannon tasted Spanish hot chocolate, it wasn’t only incredibly rich and delicious, but also a bit familiar. After looking online for recipes on how to replicate Spanish hot chocolate at home, she realized that this was exactly how her father made his ‘special hot chocolate’ when she was a child. So, we’d like to dedicate this article to Papa Smurf. We love you dad!