My life in Madrid is nothing if not a quest for new experiences, specifically of the culinary variety. Thus, when a friend invited me to try an Indian menú del día in Lavapiés, I was excited despite having only eaten Indian food once in my life.
For one thing, Menú del día is a brilliant invention when you are very hungry. They exist all over Spain, so you’ve probably already seen them, but for one price, you get to choose a first course (primer plato), main course (Segundo plato – how unintuitive), and then bread, a drink, and sometimes dessert. All this, for somewhere between 8 and 12 euros in the majority of places, and you are stuffed with food but also still have a few coins to rub together.
Lavapiés was a special treat though. The restaurants practically come to you, because many of them have a promoter out front to talk to you, and talk you into eating at their restaurant. My friend and I entered Anarkoli, a restaurant that typified the 5 or 6 restaurants on the street Calle Lavapiés right next to the metro stop Lavapiés (means ‘footwash,’ literally). The first thing we got when we sat down was an appetizer of round wafer-like crackers (think a crispy version of a flour tortilla) with a bright green, surprisingly sweet sauce.
Then we surveyed the menu options; be prepared for the menu to have stipulations, such as only being valid on weekdays for the midday meal; since my first Lavapiés Indian-food experience, I have bent these rules in some of the restaurants. When someone approaches you and tries to get you to choose a particular restaurant, ask if they have the menu del dia at that time; if it gets you in the door, they may say yes.
At Anarkoli, with the vegetarian (8E) or the regular (10E) meal, you can have a soft drink, a bottle of water, beer, or wine. Then you generally get to pick from entrantes, or first courses: many of the restaurants have delicious vegetarian or chicken samosas, fried pockets made of thin, wonton-like crispy dough. I tried an onion bhajee at Anarkoli, which is a crab-cake shaped patty of fried onion and spices.
Next comes the main course, which can be anything from Chicken Tikka Masala to Sag Paneer to curry. Many people order rice instead of the menu-del-dia staple, bread; I personally often order garlic naan, a soft and savory round of pillowy bread, and pile my main course on top. It doesn’t get any points for classiness, but it is quite delicious.
Finally, you can have coffee or dessert, which can vary but the menu often includes a sugar-syrup soaked pastry that tastes like coconut. Another frequent choice is mango lassi, a yogurt smoothie that is my personal favorite despite being somewhat overwhelming for people who don’t like sweets as much as I do.
If you can’t get enough of the Indian cuisine, you can also go across the street after dinner to pick up Indian cooking supplies, like jars of masala or various kinds of rice, at the grocery stores that line that side of calle Lavapiés.