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.

Unexpected Madrid

My first few visits to Madrid were always brief stints; an overnight stay at a friend’s piso before an early run to the airport, a quick tour before heading to a different vacation destination. It’s not that I didn’t want to stay longer, anyone who knows me knows how much I adore big cities, but I never met the right set of circumstances to extend my stays.

However, a couple of friends from Seattle who were taking a break from volunteering in Romania wanted to meet up—and who I am to resist a weekend of sight-seeing?

I took the 5-hour scenic train ride up from the south (WAY better than flying might I add) and met them in Madrid’s heart: Puerta del Sol. We were staying at a cute, affordable hostel up one of Sol’s many branching streets, complete with a balcony perfect for home-cooked dinners and splitting bottles of wine.

Our weekend was spent exploring Madrid by foot: hitting the essential sights and scouting out the best tapas bars to introduce them to Spanish cuisine.

Toma La Calle (Take the streets) the slogan used by Madrid’s youth to spur the 15-M movement.

Looking back, I don’t know what I was expecting of Madrid, except for it to fulfill its reputation of being boiling-hot in the summer. I wasn’t expecting the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) to be so grandiose, nor the architecture in the center to be full of little beautiful details. Madrid is a sprawling, modern metropolis still blossoming from its post-Franco renaissance.

The Ópera

And though its sights are fewer than that of Spain’s other big cities, Madrid is a world-class center of art. If you’re a culture vulture or not, a stop at one of the cities main 3 (The Reina Sofia, the Thyssen, or El Prado) are essential in Madrid’s art-circuit. Together they feature impressive collections heavy on Spanish artists like Picasso, Velazquez, El Greco, Dalí and Goya as well as everything from neoclassicalism to avant garde.

Here’s what I recommend for a first-time weekend in Madrid:

The Reina Sofía: Like most, I went here specifically to see Picasso’s Guernica. It’s an awe-inducing, chilling piece of art capturing war in Picasso’s signature modern style. The painting depicts the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by Germany’s then-new air force—approved by the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. This happened in 1937, when the Spanish Civil War was ravaging on and killed a town of mostly women and children. It’s huge, haunting, and absolutely worth seeing.

(Keep in mind this is a modern art museum, so if you’re more inclined to enjoy classical paintings, head over to El Prado. I’ve been to both and enjoyed The Reina Sofía more.)

Tip: It’s free Mon, Wed-Fri after 7PM and Saturdays after 2:30PM and all day on Sunday.

Palacio Real: After Versailles and Vienna’s Schonbrunn, the Royal Palace of Madrid is the third largest in Europe. It’s HUGE. It was originally a Muslim fortress, which was burnt down in the 18th century and was rebuilt in a very French and Italian style commissioned by King Philip V.

The Spanish royal family doesn’t actually live here—they live in a separate mansion nearby, but the palace is still used for formal functions and state affairs.

Tip: Head for some shade in the gardens (Jardines del Campo del Moro) behind the palace.

Experiencing the madrileño nightlife: A visit to Madrid wouldn’t be complete without experiencing its world-famous nightlife. Madrileños (and all Spaniards) are known for partying late, so don’t expect to eat dinner until at least 9PM and for clubs to open until after midnight—or really be exciting until around 4AM when most bars are closed and a surge of people come in!

Tip: Try the battered and fried bacalao (cod) at Casa del Labra on C/Tetuán 12, Buenísimo!


Puerta del Sol: This is Madrid’s pulse. It is the absolute center of action and has been the stage for the 15-M movement, a packed annual New Year’s Eve celebration and is kilometer 0 from which all distances in Spain are measured from.


Plaza Mayor: Don’t eat here and watch your pockets carefully (pick-pocket alert!), but do come here at sunset and take in the atmosphere and the lit up buildings.

This large square, set away from main streets and found by going through any number of its medieval passageways features buildings with hundreds of balconies, designed as a public theater of city events. This is the spot where the awful autos-de-fé (trials of faith) occurred during the Inquisition, where kings were crowned, executions, bull-fights, theatrical performances and more.

Today, it serves largely as a tourist mecca, with many overpriced outdoor cafés and restaurants but also as the site of many fiestas, outdoors bazaars and concerts.

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Like any big city, it’s impossible to see and do everything in one weekend, next time I go on my to-do list is: the Thyssen Museum, El Park de Buen Retiro (weather-permitting of course!) C/Cava Baja and C/Cava Alta in La Latina for nightlife and El Rastro Flea Market.

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