Gallinejas and Entresijos: The Melancholic Mesentery of Madrid

"If we didn't suffer, we wouldn't be ourselves". Words and photos by Abbas Asaria

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When I was assembling the Vittles compilation on the match day ritual, looking at the food eaten in and around different football stadiums, a very clear pattern started to emerge that you didn’t need to be Neo from The Matrix to read: pies. It turned out all of Britain’s regional food culture could be contained in small, handheld pastry ─ from haggis pies to chicken balti pies. These are ideal stadium food due to their ease of warming up on site, as well as their suitability to being eaten while standing up.

Yet there is another type of match day food which surrounds the stadium, and has everything to do with the ecosystem which it is a part of. Stadia don’t exist in a vacuum ─ they form the hub for a network of pubs, caffs, merch shops, street food stalls, and restaurants which rely on match day income. When football teams move, the result can completely unbalance this ecosystem. It’s a reminder that while football is a global, all-consuming force, at its heart it is anchored to the specificity of place and of neighbourhood.

Football teams tend to try to move down the road when they have to, but what happens when a team moves to the other end of the city? What happens to this ecosystem? Today’s newsletter by Abbas Asaria is about this very conundrum, and the identity crisis a team, a fan base, a neighbourhood goes through during a particularly tumultuous move. This is a time when many football writers and fans are trying to grapple with the question of who football is really for; as Asaria shows this question is inextricable from the much larger question of ‘who are our cities for?’ And though he isn’t the first to make this point, perhaps he is the first to do it via the medium of crispy intestines.

If we didn't suffer, we wouldn't be ourselves, by Abbas Asaria

I will never forget 21 May 2017. I had been lucky enough to get a ticket for Atlético Madrid's last-ever competitive game at the Vicente Calderón, which had been the football club’s home stadium for the last fifty-one years. I remember the Calderón was an undulating sea of red and white, the colours glittering in the mid-afternoon sun. I remember the songs continuing throughout the game, which couldn't have gone more perfectly: a win with two goals by club hero Fernando Torres, who first captained the club at nineteen. I remember Tiago, who was playing his last game before retiring, was substituted off a few minutes from time to give him the opportunity for an emotional farewell and standing ovation from the crowd. I remember how the name of the road heading out of the stadium never felt more appropriate, knowing we'd never return: Paseo de los Melancólicos, the Promenade of the Melancholic.   

I also vividly remember the pre-match lunch at El Mirador de San Isidro, a restaurant about a ten-minute walk from the stadium. The restaurant was filled with fellow melancólicos saying goodbye before the move to the new stadium on the other side of Madrid. We were mourning our connection with the area as much as the stadium itself: its location along the Manzanares river; the many bars and restaurants where people had become match-day regulars, and had drunk to both good results and bad. 

We were a large group, and hence ordered an assortment of raciones (think tapas, but bigger) predominantly focused around simple Spanish classics such as croquetas, huevos rotos and patatas bravas. My friend Jorge and his father, however, were there for two things only: gallinejas and entresijos. Gallinejas are the deep-fried small intestines of a lamb, while entresijos refers to its mesentery, or abdominal wall. Places that serve them traditionally do an assortment of other offcuts, all deep-fried together in the lambs’ own fat, which not only contributes to the unique taste but also the instantly recognisable smell of the restaurant. Done well, these platters are on the right side of light, crunchy and tender, with a beautiful array of visuals and textures. There will be crispy canutos – the small bits of the intestine that look like little tubes – and tender chorrillos (the small muscle between the neck and heart), while the accompanying gallinejas swirl and spiral around like a seashell, and the entresijos curl and crisp up on the outside. 

At places like El Mirador de San Isidro you can enjoy these dishes with chips, fried in the same lamb fat and with the most wonderful flavour. Some places will serve them in a simple sandwich; Jorge and his father would particularly enjoy them with a baguette and some salad on the side. At some point during the meal, they asked me if I wanted to share a portion of gallinejas and entresijos with them. ‘It was an occasional pre-match tradition for us,’ they told me, ‘and we thought it would be a really fitting goodbye to the Calderón to have them one final time.’

‘I’m the fifth generation of women in my family dedicated to this dish,’ Berta Enriqueta tells me on a quiet Monday afternoon, handing me a little plate of olives and lighting a cigarette. Berta is the owner of Casa Enriqueta, a restaurant just across the river from the Calderón, and one of the best places to eat gallinejas in Madrid. I had never had gallinejas and entresijos this crispy yet tender until my meal there a few days earlier, when Jorge had taken me, showing me his favourite place to have them before a game. 

Berta and her family are a special part of Madrid’s cultural landscape, and the history of this dish – which goes back almost a hundred years to the Legazpi Matadero, Madrid’s main slaughterhouse and meat market in the twentieth century. Traditionally, Madrid’s slaughterhouses would give out offcuts to the city’s poor, but gallinejas and entresijos became so popular that when the Matadero was constructed in the 1920s, the Madrid City Council felt the need to regulate their supply. From then on, they were mainly distributed to poor women and widows, who would then fry and sell them on street corners: this was a way of giving them a livelihood. ‘My great-great grandmother was from that original group of women,’ Berta continues, ‘and had a stall just up the road, like the ones you see these days where people cook chestnuts. She passed the business down generation after generation, and we bought this restaurant in the 50s.’

As a cheap, filling and tasty dish, gallinejas became increasingly popular among Madrid’s traditionally working-class communities, predominantly in the southern neighbourhoods around the Matadero – slightly upriver from where the Calderón would be built in the 60s – and also other working-class areas like Vallecas, even further south. Gabino Domingo, owner of the Freiduría de Gallinejas Embajadores 84,remembers this period, having fried gallinejas since his teenage years in the 50s. ‘Back then it wasn’t a sit-down meal,’ he tells me. ‘People would bring saucepans to take them home in or have them on the street, in a baguette or right out of a newspaper cone, sometimes sitting on the pavement with a flask of wine.’ 

Over time, gallinejas became synonymous with the popular festival of Madrid’s patron saint San Isidro, and what started as a staple of Madrid's working-class neighbourhoods became one of the city’s iconic dishes. ‘San Isidro is the busiest time for us,’ Domingo continues, ‘and during that weekend alone, I’d usually fry 15-20% of the gallinejas and entresijos I do per year.’ The gallinejerias around the Calderón, however, always saw an increase in traffic on match days as they became a particularly Atlético (or Atleti) pre-match ritual, even for those travelling to games from further out. 

Yet despite their place in Madrid’s culture, and their importance among certain groups of Atlético fans, the culture and consumption of gallinejas and entresijos has drastically changed over the last few decades. In the 1960s there were over seventy businesses dedicated to them, a significant number of which served only gallinejas, entresijos and other fried offal. Now there are fewer than ten. Out of those, I count three that primarily focus on those ingredients (Casa Enriqueta being one), but none remain purely dedicated to them.

‘We’ve had to expand our menu from just gallinejas and entresijos, given how hard they are to source,’ Berta tells me. ‘The Legazpi Matadero has closed, so our suppliers have to get them from elsewhere, and people outside Madrid generally don’t know how to prepare the intestines for this dish. People’s tastes have also changed over time and we’ve had to adapt to that, too.’

Recently Madrid’s offcuts have worked their way into the city’s haute cuisine, a world away from its original context. La Tasquería – one example of a restaurant whose menu is almost entirely offal – was awarded a Michelin Star in 2019, while SALINO, on the Michelin Guide, is known for its gallineja and mango taco. 

As brilliant as my meal at La Tasquería was this summer, it was jarring to view the difference in fortunes between newer places serving ‘elevated’ takes on Madrid’s traditional offal dishes alongside the gentrification of the Embajadores neighbourhood, a twenty-minute walk north of the Matadero. It was here that Freiduría de Gallinejas Embajadores 84 had stood for over sixty-five years – it shut up shop just two weeks before my meal at La Tasquería and three years after a real-estate company bought the building, which made it increasingly unviable for Domingo to operate there. One of Madrid’s most iconic restaurants, and the last one solely dedicated to the world of gallinejas and nothing else, has been lost for good.

It seems like Madrid is changing, but when hasn’t it? Atlético’s move to the Wanda Metropolitano in the East of Madrid isn’t the first time we (or our cross-town rivals Real Madrid) have hopped around town. The old Estadio Metropolitano, where we played prior to the Calderón for forty-three years, was in the north-west, and is merely one of six different stadia we’ve been able to call home. Although our teams haven’t always been separated by geography, there has undoubtedly been a north-south divide since the 1960s owing to our locations, which has also contributed to the historical class divide between the clubs. Real Madrid’s home for the last seventy-four years can be found in the affluent Chamartín district, home to many company HQs and government buildings, and with Madrid’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant (DiverXO) just around the corner. It is not an area in which, on your way to a game, you’d be likely to find many gallinejerias, and it’s a stark contrast to Atlético's identity over the years: as former goalkeeper and assistant coach Mono Burgos put it, ‘Atlético is synonymous with workers. Atlético fans are brickies, taxi drivers, and churros sellers.’ 

While these days it’s a little simplistic to divide the two clubs along the same class lines (both the King of Spain and the Mayor of Madrid are Atleti fans), there is something incredibly fitting about gallinejas, with their origins rooted in humility and adversity, being an especially ‘colchonero’ pre-match ritual in the context of our rivalry. Real Madrid are one of the most successful clubs ever to exist, whose fans’ famously high standards have seen them boo all-time greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas in moments of poor form. A large part of being an Atleti fan, on the other hand, is how we react to the bad times – as demonstrated by our centenary hymn, which eulogises ‘How we suffer! The way we lose!’ and ‘Crying in the Calderón’ just as much as our successes. We have bred a loyalty that in 1999 saw our attendances increase after relegation to the second division, and Juanfran’s shirt sales go up after his decisive penalty miss in the 2016 Champions League final against our nemesis, Real Madrid. 

Our last derby in the Calderón a year later underlines this difference perfectly: ‘I always say my best memory [of the Calderón] is a defeat,’ recalls Saúl Ñíguez, who scored the first goal that night. ‘We won but we were knocked out. And yet the whole stadium stays, no one goes. There’s a deluge and all the [Real] Madrid fans have raincoats on. Ours are just in shirts, soaked and they sing in the rain.’ It perfectly embodied the pre-match tifo (choreographed fan display) aimed at the visitors: ‘Proud to not be like you’. As beautiful as that night was for colchoneros following around the world, it was bittersweet because of what it represented: the end of our time at the Calderón – a charming stadium with lots of character, memories and a great location. 

Yet I struggle with leaving the Calderón for another reason. The last few years have felt like a period of change, where we’ve had to question our identity and who the club is actually for. The same summer of our move saw our owners change our badge to make us more marketable, while earlier this year they took part in the failed European Super League. I couldn't help but see the relocation as the physical manifestation of all of this: a move away from what we cherish about Atleti, and what we want it to represent. 

Nevertheless, there are some things that always survive and evolve– the same way Atlético did when moving to the Calderón in the 60s, and the same way gallinejas have throughout their history. Gabino confides in me that gallinejas now taste better than they used to, as the modern-day version comes from suckling lambs. ‘Before, when we’d take the leftovers from the Matadero, they usually came from older animals and would be the size of my forearm. The taste was a lot stronger, and they could be incredibly chewy.’ Offal has also seen a turnaround, not because it was adopted by haute cuisine, but because of a wave of Latin American immigration which revived Madrid’s offal culture. Instead of dying out, the traditions and culture around gallinejas have merely adapted with it, all the while keeping their essence.

Berta was incredibly nostalgic about the atmosphere in the restaurant on match days when we spoke, but thankfully she has enough loyal clients to keep going. While Casa Enriqueta doesn't have the same atmosphere as before, she tells me a lot of locals still stop by on match days for their traditional meal. She’s also enjoyed the challenge of expanding her menu: ‘We’ve become somewhere that loyal customers can bring their vegetarian friends, and funnily enough our soy burger is my favourite thing on the menu right now.’ Meanwhile Jorge and I, in trying to find some sense of continuity before our first game together at the Metropolitano, were thrilled to discover the Freiduría El Chaval – one of the few remaining gallinejas and entresijos specialists who has been frying them up for the last forty years ─ that was thankfully a short walk from the stadium. 

I couldn't have chosen a more perfect first visit: surrounded by fellow fans dining out on not only gallinejas and entresijos, but nostalgia and the happiness of being able to hold onto a part of who we are for years to come. Calderón, Metropolitano, and even a closed stadium during the pandemic: nothing can take that away. ‘We are Atleti,’ our captain Koke said after an extremely agonising game last season, ‘and if we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t be ourselves.’


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Abbas Asaria is a Madrid based supper club host and food writer. You can follow his work on Instagram at @talkfoodwithabbas.

All photos are by Abbas Asaria.

Many thanks to Sophie Whitehead for additional edits.