Madrid Food Tour: A Must-Do in Spain’s Capital

Madrid-Center

When I first met my friend Lauren last year in Madrid, she told me how she was considering starting a food tour business in Madrid. For her, it was the perfect way to combine her passion for food with her budding entrepreneurship skills. A year later, the Madrid Food Tour is nearing its 1-Year Anniversary–and also happens to be ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for Things to Do in Madrid! I’m so proud of Lauren and how her business has grown, and couldn’t wait to try out one of her tours myself. So, when she invited me to check out her Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, I enthusiastically agreed!

Churros with Chocolate

Churros with Chocolate

 

We met Lauren on a day uncharacteristic of June in Madrid: rain showers taunted us throughout the tour, but we lucked out–most of the rain fell while we were indoors sampling Madrid’s epicurean delights! Our morning started off with a Spanish classic: Churros with Chocolate. While I tend to favor cinnamon-sugar Mexican churros, Spanish churros are delicious too; especially after a long night out. Lauren took us to Madrid’s most famous spot for churros: Chocolatería San Ginés. It’s been open since 1894 and is a Madrid churro institution. I was surprised to learn they’re open 24 hours a day–that’s a rare sight even in big Spanish cities like Madrid!

The chocolate itself needs its own mention, as I remember it intriguing me when I first tried it: it’s not like the hot chocolate we’re used to drinking with marshmallows in the wintertime. Instead, it’s thick–and perfect for dunking the churros into. 

 After we’d woken up our appetite with hot churros and chocolate, we moved on to see what else Madrid could offer, as Lauren gave us a fun Madrid history lesson. This girl knows her stuff–while the Madrid Food Tour focuses on showing guests the capital’s culinary scene, it’s also a great way to see the center of the city, and learn about its interesting past. 

A Modern Spanish Market

Our next stop was at a market that I had stepped into on a prior visit to Madrid, but had never actually eaten in. Lauren gave us a full tour of the market with stops for vermouth, stuffed olives, pintxos and more! Here’s a peek at some of the goodies we sampled:

Mercado-de-San-Miguel

The market’s interior

stuffed-olives

Delicious, stuffed olives!

Spanish-Vermouth

Vermouth

While I’ve had olives marinated in vermouth, I’ve never tried a full glass of it. Lauren described it as a fortified wine that’s flavored with herbs, spices and other botanicals and that it is super-trendy in Madrid to go out for a glass of vermú. El País, one of the nation’s biggest publications dedicated an article to the drink, shining the spotlight on its popularity. 

Pintxos & Tapas

What Lauren really emphasizes on her tours is how Madrid’s cuisine is distinct, while still embracing other Spanish regional cuisine. I was pleased to see a stop for pintxos and bacalao (traditional in Basque Country) included in her tour! I skipped the pintxos and savored a bowl of Salmorejo instead–one of my Andalusian favorites!

Bacalao

Bacalao bites

 
 

Olive Oil and More Olives

Our next stop was my favorite of the tour: an olive oil tasting! We went to a specialty shop that sells Spain’s highest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to consumers. We were given four varieties to choose from, ranging in olive oil’s three positive attributes: fruitiness  pungency and bitterness. Lauren explained that olive oil that can be described as fruity will have a freshly-cut grass aroma, while more pungent oils can have peppery kick to them that can tickle your throat and make you cough. She also explained that in a traditional tasting you’ll have a small blue glass, similar to a votive that you’ll rub in your palm to warm up the oil, and release the aromas, prior to tasting. 

Spanish-olives

Spanish olives: the best of the best!

Next, we downed some Spanish olives–always a tasty treat. I never really liked olives until I came to Spain, but Spanish olives have the tendency to turn people into olive-worshippers!

Jamón y Queso 

I’ve proclaimed my love for Spanish ham many times on this blog, and Lauren’s tours give you a full lesson on the distinguishing characteristics between each type of ham, the pig’s diets, and the various curing periods. We sampled slices from Jamón Serrano to the ultimate: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. The butcher also gave us samples of creamy Tetilla cheese from Galicia, and bubbly Cava to wash it all down. Mmm, ¡qué rico!

Carnicería-Spain

A Carnicería tucked inside a Madrileño market.

A Lunch Full of Spanish Classics

The tour included a sit-down lunch in a restaurant famous for its organ meats and fried pig’s ears. Thankfully, the group wasn’t too adventurous and opted for some classic choices like patatas bravas, pimientos de padrón and tintos de verano.

 The Grand Finale: Spanish Pastries!

Lauren ended our wonderful tour on a sweet note; with Spanish pastries! She took us to an iconic pastelería that was bustling with customers in search of a sweet treat.

MADRID_FOOD_TOUR

Lauren’s tour was wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. After living here for 3+ years, I’ve learned a good amount about Spanish cuisine, but still came away from the tour with new bits of knowledge! I think a food tour is one of the best ways to not only learn about the city you’re in, but also to get an authentic feeling for the culture you’re in. Most tourists don’t venture into markets or lack the language to get by, and joining in on a food tour is the perfect way to feel like a local! As I mentioned above, it’s not just a way to learn about food, it’s also the perfect way to get a sense of where you’re staying, and Lauren’s tours include a good amount of history and fun facts about Madrid as well.

Mil gracias to Lauren at Madrid Food Tour for the complimentary tour. All opinions are my own, and I can’t recommend this tour enough! It’s truly the perfect way to see (and devour!) the city.

To learn more about Madrid Food Tour, check out their website at http://www.madridfoodtour.com.

Spanish Cuisine Best in the World?

Is Spanish Cuisine best in the world?

Last night, San Pellegrino/Acqua Panna announced the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Five restaurants from Spain made the list: the top spot went to the Roca brothers for their worshipped El Celler de Can Roca of Girona (Catalunya), three out of the five were awarded to Basque restaurants; Arzak (#8) and Mugaritz (#4) in San Sebastián and Asador Etxebarri (#44) in Atxondo, and another award went to Quique Dacosta in Denia, Spain.

arzak-san-sebastian

This comes with a flurry of press covering regarding the status of Spanish food in the world. Both CNN and The Independent came out with articles praising the country’s cuisine just last month, while publications like Time, The Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times broke the news last night that the “Reign of Spain” in the culinary world, is not over.

So, is the praise of Spanish cuisine well-deserved?

Absolutely.

arzak-san-sebastian

Spanish cuisine is multi-dimensional. It’s as much about a simple, home-cooked meal made with fresh vegetables from la huerta as it is about molecular gastronomy made famous by Ferran Adrià, tapas and pintxos shared amongst friends, and gastronomic innovation. 

It’s about sobremesa: those late nights gathered around a table with full bellies and a little too much Crianza. It’s about savoring freshly-sliced Jamón Ibérico, sampling your neighbor’s homemade sheep’s milk cheese, plentiful olive oil, and never too much garlic.

It’s about the Basque sociedad; where cooking becomes recreation, a Sagortegia where the apple harvest is celebrated, ferias dedicated to the local specialty and Spanish men and women recreating passed-down recipes in their modern-day kitchens.

Spanish cuisine represents both ends of the spectrum; from simple and traditional, to innovative-creative, has something for all tastes, and is certainly deserving of such a distinguished award.

Congratulations to the restaurants selected!

 Do you think Spain is deserving of 5 World’s Best Restaurant awards?

 Photos via Gandhu & Sarah

Arroz a Banda: A New Favorite Spanish Food

 

While I consider myself fairly well versed in the likes of Spanish food and wine, my knowledge of arroces just wasn’t up to par. That is, until I left Andalucía and went to the proud home of Spain’s reigning rice (paella) in the region of Valencia; or more specifically, Alicante.

There, I discovered not only that there’s a devotion to rice way beyond paella (there’s even a rice museum in Valencia!), but that there are also distinctions amongst the rice dishes, that only amateurs like me confuse.

First there are “dry” rice dishes like paella. These are considered dry because the goal of cooking them is to have the rice fully absorb the stock. Then, there are rice stews, called arroz caldoso, which aren’t cooked in the traditional paella pan; instead they’re cooked in ceramic or metal dishes. There are also casserole-style variations, oven-baked rice dishes and fideuás, which are essentially a seafood paella made with noodles instead of rice.

Though in Alicante there are many recipes for rice-based meals, arroz a banda is one of the most typical, and beloved, of the province. Made of rice, saffron and seafood, it’s believed to have been consumed in Spain for as long as rice has been in the country; about the time the Moors invaded.

Originally created by poor fisherman, it was a way to use the cheap, common fish that were bony, but very flavorful, to make a filling lunch. Its name refers to the style in which it’s traditionally served: a banda means apart. Arroz a banda was eaten with the rice separate from the broth that it was cooked in because at this time, rice was considered an inferior food.

Nowadays, arroz a banda is served both together and separate (I had it together), accompanied by a dollop of ali oli, which complements the flavors perfectly. To find a restaurant that serves great seafood and arroz a banda, try the Nautical Club (Club Náutico) in the city you’re in. It will be a little pricey, but absolutely worth the splurge.

I highly recommend Restaurante El Puerto in Torrevieja and Taberna del Puerto in Alicante for delicious arroz a banda and excellent service. For extra inspiration on what to see and do, try this Alicante guide written by Teletext Holidays  and this one, written by yours truly.

*This post was made possible by a third-party, but all opinions, as always, are my own.*