Show up in the Huertas neighborhood of Madrid at noon in search of almuerzo and you’ll be severely disappointed. Lunch may be the main meal of the day in Spain but, like dinner, it begins much later than American appetites are accustomed. Oh, there are loads of tapas bars, snack joints, and fast food – especially in Huertas, the most buzzing, culturally rich (and noisiest) of Madrid’s barrios – but for a proper sit-down meal you’re going to have to wait, as I reluctantly did. Starving and strolling the cobbled streets of Barrio de las Letras, the Barrio of the Letters within Huertas where many a great Spanish writer once lived, I eventually darkened the door of La Vaca Veronica at half-past one to find that I was the only person at the restaurant. An empty restaurant in Madrid, however, is less a barometer of the kitchen’s quality than a sign that you’re just really, really early, I soon discovered. By two o’clock every table was full and I was halfway through a gorgeous plate of mollejas, or sweetbreads, and onto my second glass of Tempranillo. For dessert I couldn’t pass up a plate of Manchego, which came with local honey and membrillo – the Spanish quince paste that’s practically a national snack. Suitably sated – and still just a little bit jet-lagged – I walked back to my hotel intent on taking part in another national custom, the siesta.