The Madrid squid sandwich has been a custom for more than 100 years, something that tourists and residents of the city take very seriously. places like the ideal and La Campana keep the business alive, with waiting lines that hardly give their workers a break, even in times of intense heat, when sales are down and profits are declining.
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In the case of La Ideal, its beginnings date back to 1880, a time when Benito Pérez Galdós was walking there and, as a source of inspiration, decided to publish some writings dedicated to the place. The legacy of this custom is maintained with more than a century of life and now, under the June sun, from twelve in the morning you can breathe the most Madrid atmosphere: lines of families, friends and strangers wait to order their squid delicacy .
At the gates of the Plaza Mayor, with nearly 300 sandwiches sold during the festival season (they are still reaching these sales thanks to the throbbing of San Isidro) and with occasions in which they do not exceed 200 during calm seasons, La Ideal gives the welcome to its customers: both the new ones, as well as the curious ones and, especially, those of a lifetime. “It is a well-known place, but day to day you have to put up with it. You have to work hard to solve this and pull it up. You sell cheap because a few do a lot”, says Santos, of the managers he has been in this bar since 1988.
“It’s my first time here,” says one of the customers waiting at the doors of La Ideal. “I came once before, we have heard a lot about him and we approached him because of my favorite cover. It’s easy, cheap and you can eat quickly, ”says his companion. Neither coffee nor milk: squid sandwich. The price does not vary much in the bars that surround this very Madrid square: 3.50 euros in La Ideal, 2.70 euros in La Campana, 2.95 in Casa Rúa and 3.50 euros in Magerit. But when the restaurants that cross the walk up from Calle Toledo get closer, the prices increase: they reach around 4.50 euros in places like cantalejo, The Tender wave Corrientes Tavern.
The popular squid tapa began its tradition in sandwich shops, above any restaurant, something that Santos highlights: “Bar 21 on Toledo Street began, now it is El Extremeño, it was one of those that started, they say. That changed owners and now they are not dedicated to it. It spread a little around the square and other bars, like the Rúa, which is also very old, another one called Bar Rojo, which is now a restaurant and has nothing to do with it”.
There are still bars that remain faithful to the beginning of this custom. “We were the pioneers at that time, apparently, much more was thrown away from the menu, there was more money and people have now gone from squid sandwich shops to restaurants. Many have died, El Mar de Plata was next to us and was also dedicated to sandwiches, others have endured, our bosses have endured the pull. People cling to economics, too”, narrates Santos about his squid sandwiches, the essential ingredient that they get mostly in Mercamadrid or, also to a large extent, come directly from Galician waters.
“It was sold much more before, a lot of beer too, in the time of Tierno Galván”, he remembers. In the eyes of Santos, “everyone was working and this crisis that exists now was not seen. When there were parties that was horrible, at that time there were up to 6,000 sandwiches. The drop in the sale of sandwiches began to be noticed with the crisis, then the war came – worse – and then the pandemic and, well, much worse still”, and, now, that’s how they are: it’s not even half of what they came to sell before despite having remedied it a bit with San Isidro.
At the door of La Campana, a woman waits with her family and asks the manager, considering whether to order to go or to eat, since the number of people varies depending on the option. For take out, they serve pretty fast. To serve at the table, between those historic walls, time is already a little more complicated. And that they were not yet in the middle of rush hour: they still finished serving those foreign tourists, whose lunch time is much earlier than usual.
Not far away, Conchi and Vicki wait to enter the bar: “This place is very famous and I’ve been here many times. I like it, maybe it’s because of habit.” A tradition highlighted by several of its customers, as well as the speed of its preparation: “You order the squid sandwich, you order a beer, they give you some olives… it’s very good.” To avoid long waits in the afternoon and evening, both have decided to go a little earlier. A decision that seems to be common for several.
With the patron saint’s day, sales were very high, especially for two days for La Ideal. But the holidays are over and there won’t be much more. “When the heat comes, people look for open places, like terraces, and sales go down. In fact, we have taken vacations in the summer months because there is not that kind of work that there is in winter”, explains Santos, so for those interested in enjoying a good squid sandwich in summer, they will have to hurry. La Campana and La Ideal usually take turns closing their doors: while one has come to close in July, the other has stayed for a few seasons with its closure during August.
“The squid sandwich is typical, I am a good Madrilenian”, as Vicki declared. Customers of these bars continue to come for their favorite tapas, others try it for the first time: “I’ve never been here, but the typical thing around here is that sandwich.” Many are residents of the outskirts and take advantage of their visit to reach the gates of the Plaza Mayor, before the summer holidays are ahead of them.
For those who want to walk through these sandwich shops full of history, close to number 11 of the Cava de San Miguel where the Fortunata and Jacinta de Benito Gómez Galdós exchanged their fictional talks, they only have to follow the lines and the aroma of this tapa. As the author would say, “to live is to relate, enjoy and suffer, desire, hate and love”. And eat squid sandwiches.