Casa Labra - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Casa Labra

This taberna has been frying up crunchy salt cod since 1860. 


The people of Madrid, firmly landlocked smack dab in the center of Spain, are huge fans of seafood, so much so that the city has a tongue-in-cheek reputation as “Spain’s best port.”

This fondness goes back centuries, and one of its more popular manifestations was pavías de merluza, battered and deep-fried hake. The cooking method was ostensibly brought to Madrid by Sephardic Jews from southern Spain, and is almost certainly a precursor to Britain’s fish and chips. When salt cod became ubiquitous in Spain starting in the 17th century, it eventually superseded hake, and is now the standard, served at a couple long standing Madrid restaurants that specialize in the dish.

The most famous of these—and the oldest, dating back to 1860—is Casa Labra. Today, customers form two lines – one for standing at the bar, another for the dining room—for a finger-sized cut of tender, moist cod encased in a crispy batter shell. Croquetas de bacalao (creamy salt cod croquettes), and drinks are also available. 

Know Before You Go

Over the centuries, Madrid-style battered and deep-fried fish has existed under a variety of names. When they were served with strips of roasted peppers, the dish was known as soldaditos de Pavía, allegedly for its resemblance to a Spanish military uniform. Today, some still refer to the dish as pavías de bacalao, while at Casa Labra, they’re known as tajadas de bacalao, “cuts of salt cod.”

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March 19, 2024

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