With my mum headed hack to Rome with me after the Christmas break, I decided to take a few days off and take her somewhere.
She’d never been to Spain. I have, a few times.
I’d been to Madrid almost 10 years ago but honestly, all I could remember was, meh!
I think my younger self at the time was more impressed and excited by the colours, lights and boldness of the cosmopolitan Barcelona. But for a while now, a whole lot of friends have been praising the place.
Then there was the small tasty fact that my industry colleagues, Madrid Food Tours, had been running what I knew were authentic & fun foodie experiences for a couple of years now.
So I thought it might be time for a Madrid-aissance and my decision was made.
We spent 3 wonderful days in the Spanish capital and the highlight – hands down – was our Tapas, Taverns and History tour. We spent 4 hours walking though Madrid, eating and drinking like the locals do.
Here are 10 things I learnt:
1. Like Italy, food in Spain is seasonal and regional. The Spanish eat late. Your evening starts late – never before 9pm – and you eat on the move ‘en marcha’. You can find places for a sit down meal, but the majority of tapas are consumed standing up at the bar or on small pedestal tables.
2. In Spanish bars, it’s totally acceptable to throw your olive pips, prawn tails, you name it on the bar floor. In fact, the sign of a good bar is loads of rubbish on the floor!
3. I love vermouth. One of Spain’s aperitifs of choice.
4. An English guy with a passion for all things Spain and food is as good as any local to guide you on a culinary adventure! (Thanks Luke!)
5. I eat offal. Of course living in Rome, I’ve sampled my fair share of offal – everything from tripe and oxtail to heart, lungs and calf intestines. Truth be told, it’s not something I crave, but I’m always willing to try. The pan fried sweetbreads (cow glands) Luke had us taste were delicately delicious as was the egg and black sausage.
6. Tapas is a blanket term for any snack with a drink – from your olives and peanuts served with a glass of cava (Spanish version of champagne or prosecco) or Tinto de Verano (similar to sangria) to the more elaborate gambas al ajillo (pan fried garlic prawns) or divine mushroom snack we tried at Meson de Champignon. The Spanish will almost bar crawl for their tapas, heading to different bars in the one evening to sample the specialty dish each place offers.
7. Jamon Iberico is the only jamon (cured ham similar to prosciutto) you should consider eating. Shaved off the bone, it’s to die for (and eat the fat too – it’s the best part!)
8. Food tours are a unique and fun way to get to know a city. Wherever you are, I recommend doing one at the beginning of your holiday so that you can uncover food culture, traditions and find out where all the locals eat. My mum and I had a blast and met some lovely people.
9. My name is Maria, I live in Italy and I don’t eat tomatoes (or drink coffee, but that’s a story for another day!). Since I was a kid, fresh tomatoes ain’t for me. But when in Spain, I can’t go past pan con tomate. This bread with fresh tomato pulp can be found just about all over Spain and it’s too tasty.
10. The oldest restaurant in the world – yes, world – (Botin) is in Madrid (according to Guiness Book of Records). So historically it would seem the Spanish know a thing or two about dining!
Ah Spain, how I’m going to miss you.
Signing off from Trastevere,
Madrid Food Tours kindly hosted me on this tour, but I am never obliged to write nice things about anyone! Check them out for food tours in Madrid and now Barcelona. For food tours across Europe, contact Eating Europe Tours.