Chinese food in Madrid is nothing new. For over two decades now restaurants bearing well known clichés such as the Great Wall, Grand Cantonese, or Forbidden City have been a much loved key to a quick n’ easy meal for many Madrileños. After all, why even bother cooking when for 3.50€ you can pop down the road for a questionably looking but otherwise harmless Chow Mein or Tres Delicias, and still be back you can say Chop Suey.
The general concensus is that Chinese food in Madrid is just unfranchised fast food. We find find this tragic. China is an enormous country that encompasses an almost infinite range of geographies, climates, and cultures. A civilisation that stretches back more than four millennia that nonetheless we have somehow come to mistakenly believe can be summed up with the prawn cracker and potsticker.
Luckily, this may be coming to an end. The Community of Madrid has seen an increasing influx of Chinese immigrants since the 1990s: now numbering over 50,000. Granted, not everyone moves to the Spain to become a chef, but what this has given light to has been the increased diversification of Chinese food, reenforced by China’s increased cultural as it’s economy has been catapulted from rags to riches in a mere quarter of a century. Without stepping foot outside of the capital we can now find sizzling hotpots from Sichuan, mouth watering Dimsum from Guangzhou, heart warming lamian noodle soup, and chicken from tropical Hainan. This time the Mad4Madrid team set off at a sprint to bring you our favourite Chinese restaurants with difference. Pack your chopsticks, we’re about to take a journey.
Chinese Food in Madrid: A note on the flavours
An important bit of information before we hit the road. Chinese medicine traditionally divides flavour into 5 main categories, a balance of which is considered key to good health. As the climate varies greatly across China, different regions prize different flavours:
- 苦 “Ku” Bitter: Used in cooking but generally never served alone, this is the flavour of Chinese medicine
- 辣 “La” Spicy: Expels cold, and damp from the body. Popular in humid central and south western China.
- 酸 “Suan” Sour: Sour flavours are said to whet the appetite and help digestion. Popular amongst minorities as these groups are often very poor and pickle ingredients to avoid waste
- 甜 “Tian” Sweet: Alleviates illness and improves the mood. Sweet in China really refers to a lightness of flavour. Popular in the East and South
- 咸 “Xian” Salty: Said to dissolve stagnation. Popular in north eastern China
- 麻辣 “Ma La” The Bonus flavour: They say that in China there are 5 flavours but in Sichuan there are 6. A hot flavour produced by Sichuan peppers that numbs the cheeks rather than burning the tongue.
Concept: Hot Pot. Regional: Sichuan
Perfect for: Groups
Average price: 10-20€
Our first stop is a Madrid classic. Frequented by a mix of Spaniards and Madrid residing Chinese, Nihao 您好 (Actually pronounced “Ninhao”) may look like your typical cafeteria cualquiera but beneath the underwhelming veneer there is so much more. The restaurant specialises in dishes from the province of Sichuan 四川, in Western China. Home to Tibetans, pandas, towering Buddhas and incredible national parks, the Sichuanese diet prizes it’s infamous local pepper and most dishes have a “Ma La” flavours. Caution advised as some of their dishes are very hot, but don’t worry if you’re not into the spicy, there’s something for everyone here.
An excellent option if you’re trying out Nihao for the first time as a group is the hot pot (huo guo 火锅 in Chinese). A gas burner is brought to the table on which sits a large bowl of bubbling soup divided into two halves (Be warned, the red is very spicy). Next pick what you want to eat à la carte, Nihao has an extensive list of options. Fried tofu, pak choi, dumplings, Korean rice cakes, the list spans over a page so get ready for some tough decision making. An excellent Winter option for when the temperatures get low, we’ve never finished one to date- especially as the waiters will come by to top up your soup if they see it getting too low!
Calle de la Silva, 20 <M> Callao
Open: Daily 12:00 – 17:00, 19:30 – 00:00
Contact: 915 22 20 59
Concept: Regional: Guizhou
Perfect for: Bruce Lee fans
Average Price: 15 – 20€
Head south of Sichuan and you’ll find your self in Guizhou. It was once said that in this province “no three days are clear, no three li [of land] are flat, no person has three cents.” Guizhou is one of China’s poorest regions and is frequently skipped by travelers, eager to reach the sights of neighbours Yunnan and Guangxi. Ironically, Guizhou is dominated by dramatic, tropical landscapes, karst peaks, and national parks. It is also home to a miriad of ethnic minorities (such as the iconic Miao tribe), which has a profound effect on it’s cuisine, which the Chinese consider to be sour.
We were really excited when we heard that the owners of Kung Fu had succeeded in bringing a taste of this forgotten backwater to Madrid, and then confused on entry. The entire restaurant seems to have been put together in memoriam of martial artist, actor, and noted Hongkonger Bruce Lee. Every bit of free space was taken up by posters, action figures and other memorabilia, with little reference to Guizhou but nonetheless giving the whole place a fun, kitchy vibe.
Kung Fu’s star dish is the Lubina Qiang (13.95€), a famous regional dish made by combining sea bass with a sauce made of chile, mint, garlic, and scallions. A foodie opportunity not to be missed, Kung Fu is one of the few restaurants Chinese restaurants in Madrid to serve Lubina Qiang. The flavour is excellent, quite spicy but you can ask for them to turn down the heat (as with most of the dishes there). Other recommendations include Black Egg and Tofu Salad, and Miao Style Panceta.
Calle De La Luna 12 <M> Callao
Contact: 911 63 31 15
Open: Wed – Mon 12:00 – 16:30, 19:00 – 00:00
Lamian by Soy Kitchen
Concept: Trendy, Fusion
Perfect for: Gourmet lover
Average price: 25€
Literally meaning “stretched noodles” lāmiàn 拉面 is often mistaken to be a Chinese take on the popular Japanese dish, but it’s actually the other way around. Long noodles served in a meat broth and accompanied with pork, boiled egg, and vegetables. Delicious though it is, the recipe is ubiquitous and has has become somewhat a same-y template for stock Asian restaurants across the globe.
Not in Chef Zhang’s kitchen. With a career that kicked off in Hong Kong, and developed in Pamplona, Zhang, also known as Julio, brings together east and west with a menu that draws on regional delicacies from Saigon to Seoul, recreated using ingredients local to the Iberian Peninsula.
“So what does this do to my lamian?” we hear you snarl. Try the Jackie Chan no es Bruce Lee for starters. The name, a tongue in cheek stab at Westerners for thinking all Asian food is the same, the dish far from anything we could consider generic. Tender Spanish oxtail, cooked in a chick pea broth, and accompanied with miso, Sichuan peppers, mu’er seaweed, and chipirones (squid). Another brilliant option is Nuestra interpretación del lamian (Our take on ramen), which features cuts of Iberian pork cheek and muscles from northwestern Spain.
Also on the menu are Har Gow from Southern China (the best we’ve tasted in the city), mackerel tataki with piquillo peppers, and pig’s ear with kimchi. Essentially a list of foods you won’t find anywhere and all for a price of roughly 25€ a head. No wonder Julio was featured on the 2016 season of Spanish Masterchef!
Plaza de los Mostenses, 4 <M> Plaza de España
Contact: 91 039 22 31
Open: Tue-Sun 13:30 – 16:30, 20:30 – 00:00, Fri-Sat until 00:30
Precio medio: 25-30 €
Concept: Street Food
Perfect for: playing with your food
Street food has become something of a trend in Madrid recently. From Tuk-Tuk’s South East Asian snacks to the monthly Madreat street food festival in Nuevos Ministerios. Everyone is going bites on the move. And though many of us have had our fair share of take outs, it’s easy to forget what a marvellous contribution China makes to this little corner of cooking.
This is where Chan Street comes to the rescue. Kitchy and camp (this is Chueca after all), this delicious little find specialises in bites on the go. From your run-of-the-mill guotie 锅贴 (Fried dumplings), to exotic Hainan chicken (practically unheard of Madrid). Whether you’re looking to push the boat out, or habour in somewhere closer to home. There’s something for everyone on the menu here.
We started with the Beijing Duck (Beijing Kao Ya Guo Bao 北京烤鸭割包), steamed Chinese bread filled with the capital’s signature lacquered duck. Delicious as always. This was followed quickly up by a cheeseboard, laden with build-you-own-dish style Hainan Chicken (Hainan Ji Fan 海南鸡饭). Originally from the Middle Kingdom’s most southerly province, but also popular snack in Malaysia and Singapore. Boneless chicken thighs poached at sub-boiling temperatures are served cold with a soup of it’s own stock. Alongside come three dipping sauces: ginger, yellow pepper, and dark soy sauce. The chicken is submerged in the stock, absorbing flavour and heat. And then dipped in one of the sauces. What did we think? To die for. And Hats off to Chan for bringing such a novel dish to Spain.
By now we were pretty full. But no rest for the wicked. With so many one-of-a-kind bites to choose from, we just had to cram more in. Last came You Po Mian 油泼面. Also known as Biang Biang Noodles, which gets kudos for having the most complicated Chinese character in existence. From Xian, home to the Terracotta Army and one of the oldest cities in China. These noodles are as memorable as the place that produced them. Thick rice noodles (we’re talking really thick) served with minced meat, pak choi, garlic and chillies. Hot. We found ourselves torn from within as we tried to push through the thresholds of fire to finish this. Without a doubt one of the best dishes on the menu.
Calle Barbieri, 4 <M> Chueca
Contact: 910 52 87 20
Open: Tue-Sun 13:00 – 17:00, 20:00 – 23:45, Fri-Sat until 00:30
Chi Dim Sum [CLOSED]
Concept: Dim Sum, Regional: Cantonese
We end out journey in Guangdong. A fat, southwestern province that spills out from the border Hong Kong and houses a population of over two times the size of Spain. Here food is king. We “eat everything on four legs except the table, everything on two except for friends and relations,” goes the saying.
Cantonese cooking has made a name for itself internationally. But no dish has captured the hearts of foodies in quite the same way as Dim Sum. Those gourmet dumplings that emmerged in Guangzhou and were perfected in Hong Kong. Increasingly, Dim Sum are becoming a must have stuff for any true food quarter. And Madrid is by no means an exception.
Our visit to Chi Dim Sum 吃点心 (<M> Gran Via) was something of a flyby. But boy did it leave a lasting impression. Open for less than a month, this perfectionist dumpling delicatessen brings the best of Dim Sum to Madrid Centro. Serving everything from burgeoning Baos to steamy Shao Mai.
Dim Sum being Cantonese, we started out with a local classic: Har Gow 虾饺. A pleated shrimp dumpling presented beautifully on a single carrot slice. Melt in your mouth delicious. They lasted less than a minute. Next we tried out Shao Mai 烧卖, Har Gow’s never failing sidekick (though it actually origionated in Inner Mongolia). Stuffed with pork and mushroom, I shed a tear popping it into my mouth. Could things get any better?
Silly question because last on our list were the Xiao Long Bao 小笼包. A popular snack in Shanghai, these are steamed and have a pork filling. Most interestingly of all however they are referred to as the “soup dumpling” as each one contains a tiny serving of soup inside. So don’t go to heavy on the soy sauce!
Plaza Pedro Zerolo, 12 <M> Gran Via
Contact: 649 89 60 23