Monday, June 9, 2014

{food} madrid tapas, taverns, and history

If there's one thing you should know about me it is that I adore food. Obvious right? I also am extremely curious. I love to try new things and new restaurants, and love learning the history behind, well, everything! This is why I have so much fun going on food tours! Although I have lived in Madrid for over a year and half, I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the culinary delights that await at every corner. Did you know that Madrid has the second highest number of bars per inhabitant in Europe (just behind Cyprus)? Did you also know that each bar serves food as well as drinks? So how do you know which restaurants and bars are the good, local joints and which ones are run solely for tourists? This is where Madrid Food Tour comes in. Run by an American expat turned Spanish entrepreneur, Lauren, Madrid Food Tour offers guests with an unrivaled local experience. Not only do I read their blog regularly for restaurant suggestions and tips on Spanish cuisine, but I also have been working as a social media intern for them! I have been so lucky this year to be able get a behind the scenes look at a company filled with people passionate about exposing the best of what Madrid's culinary scene has to offer. 

Today I'm going to chat about a tour I recently went on with James, a Kiwi expat turned "The Spain Guy," who seems to know just about all there is to know about Madrid's history and the restaurants and bars that make it the incredible city it is today. Get ready to go all in with some tapas, taverns, AND history.

Stop One: After meeting the rest of my tour group in the beautiful Plaza Isabel II, James walked us over to our first stop. We sampled nutty jamon iberico, tostada con tomate, freshly made potato chips, and extremely green olives while James told us about the early days of Madrid. We washed it all down with a deliciously cold vermut del grifo and listened intently. It was the perfect way to start our tour.

Stop Two: After walking from the Opera house to the Royal Palace, we stopped again to hear some fun facts about the Spanish kings of days past, as well as an interesting tidbit on how Galileo helped to stabilize a Madrid statue. With our stomachs rumbling we continued on to La Latina, the tapas mecca of Madrid. One of the coolest parts about this tour was how James made sure to showcase tapas crawling as it should be done. First, pick a few bars that are ideally close together. Then, figure out what the house specialty of each bar is. Is it wine and manchego cheese? Order one plate and move onto the next place. The specialty dish at our second stop on the tour was an incredibly tasty and melt-in-your-mouth bacalao (cod) fritter. The best thing to wash down this salty, fried tapa was definitely a cerveza! As we took a look around the room it was clear that all of the locals were ordering exactly what we were eating and then leaving to move on to their next locale. Pretttty awesome.

Stop Three: Just around the corner from our second stop was our third. Instead of specializing in bacalao, this lively place specializes in a different Spanish favorite - mushrooms. These mushrooms were seriously OUT OF THIS WORLD. Before placing them on the hot griddle that awesome chef below (thumbs up for food!) prepares them with lemon juice, garlic granules, parsley, salt, and chorizo. I have no other words for this masterpiece except that I could happily eat these every day for the rest of my life. YUM.

Stop Four: With our hungers satiated and our thirsts quenched, James guided us towards Huertas, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Madrid. Huertas nickname is Barrio de las Letras, meaning the neighborhood of letters. Many a famous Spanish poet and writer lived in this barrio, including Cervantes: the most loved Spaniard of all time. No, really. There was a survey taken that showed that he edged out popularity votes over the (recently abdicated) King Juan Carlos. Long live Don Quixote! I thought it was going to be impossible to name something else the best dish of the night after chowing down on far too many mushrooms, but these shrimp might have seriously edged them out. The shrimp were flash cooked in delectable Spanish olive oil with chopped up garlic and parsely, and then served with chewy bread to sop up all of the excess oil. Goodness. Gracious. Have you ever seen a more beautiful plate of shrimp? We washed down the garlicky goodness with a specialty house wine that is a bit sweeter than your average red. It balanced the dish perfectly.

Stop Five: No photos have been allowed inside of our fifth stop since the Spanish Civil War days. The story behind this almost (current day) unheard of rule is so incredibly interesting! I'll leave the reason why as a surprise for the tour! This bar is extremely famous for its sherry options, so we saddled up next to the bar and ordered two different types. I had never before been a big sherry drinker, but the ones we sampled that night seriously changed my mind! They paired wonderfully with the assortment of dried meats James ordered for us. I can't wait to go back to this bar. It just oozes historical significance.

photo via

Stop Six: Our final stop of the night was at another tavern in the Huertas neighborhood. Although I was completely stuffed at this point, I knew that I couldn't pass up some piping hot pimientos de padron! We were able to sample a few other typical Spanish dishes after the pimientos, and then ended the night with a Spanish version of a crepe. 

Enchanting Madrid: My second favorite thing to eating all the things in Madrid is enjoying a beautiful day by wandering around the city at random. Whether it is a parade to honor the patron saint of Madrid, a perfectly preserved building, a Tio Pepe success story, or a couple chatting in front of the royal palace, I can always find something to admire; something that makes me yearn to capture it on film. Visit Madrid. You will fall in love, I promise.

I urge you to go on a food tour with Madrid Food Tour if you ever find yourself in this wonderful city in Spain. I promise that you will leave full and happy, and possibly with a few new favorite dishes and friends. 

This food tour was a gift from MFT as a result of my work for them as a social media intern. However, all opinions, as always, are completely my own. I 100% suggest their tours for Madrid locals and tourists alike!

xx, Jen

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