It began with a home baked soletilla dunked in warm chocolate. It just got better and better. Looking for something unique to do in Madrid? Take the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour and discover the city along the way.
Today my good friend Chris is moving to Madrid. I began drafting the post about our food tour from the trip we took last year and it has remained (among others) in my draft file since. Today I had to share it. Chris, this is for you.
I am so proud of you and the dream you are following.
I wish I could come visit and taste some of these delicious dishes once more. Before I get into the tour, I just wanted to say thank you for following your dreams and inspiring my own. And maybe some of the readers who come across this. Enjoy Madrid!
MADRID VIA FOOD
As we like to do here with Inspiring Wit, when traveling we look for unique and interesting activities to do and recommend to you. Everyone works hard, so on hard earned holidays it is important to explore, get among the culture and people of a new place and unwind discovering something new. When thinking about Spain, one of the first things that always comes to my mind is the cuisine. I knew right away that we would have to do a food tour to learn as much as we could and try as many things as possible. Best decision ever!
MADRID FOOD TOUR
We began our first day in Madrid with an early morning walk to meet our guide for the day in Plaza Mayor. It was already buzzing with tourists meeting to discover the city. Our guide from Devour Madrid gave us a little back story on the Plaza before we headed on to our first official stop.
Confiteria El Riojano, has been in business since 1855 when its founder, pastry chef to the Royal family told the Queen he wanted to go out and open a shop. The Queen surprisingly supported the idea and gifted furnishings and helped design the interior. Naturally it was a unique and lavish shop so they had the door built to be narrow so that its patrons could not steal any of its furnishings. I have to say that the Spanish have a pretty fun idea of how to start their day. Warm chocolate to dunk home-baked soletilla (dry, egg-based sweet sponge biscuits) into? All right! Of course, I also could not help but spy hundreds of glossy pastries in the cabinets that looked perfect to come back to… Can you blame me?
MY FAVOURITE PART…
Suitably livened from our espresso and dark chocolate cups, we walked over to El Mercado de San Miguel the Madrid markets close to Plaza Mayor. The beautiful markets are a one stop shop for all kinds of beautiful, fresh produce with restaurants and stalls. We were straight into the sweet red Reus vermouth on tap and olive skewers. Too early in the morning for vermouth? Never say no to vermouth like THAT! I think this became my favourite stop, reflecting on it. I had simply never tasted anything like it and loved the taste.
MARIO’S FAVOURITE DISH…
Walking toward the Almudena Cathedral, across the road we all sat down outside of El Anciano Rey De Los Vinos. A popular bar and spot to discover wines of the area, our guide showed us a wine map and talked us through the regions. Sitting outside we tasted the Marques de Grinon Rioja red wine, which I remember liking (though I knew I would quickly fall sleepy on red wine and that beautiful sun.) The highlight of this stop though, was the Bull tail Bailen. This became Mario’s dish of choice from the tour. The traditional dish has been remade into a modern tapas style, perfect to share and enjoy. Honestly these meals are over 100 years old and so so beautiful.
Walking on we passed the nearby Royal Palace, stopping to learn about the sculptures with their unique perspective. If you stop to look you learn that the proportions are all wrong, since the statues were made to sit atop the palace roof. However these were moved, after fears that they would fall and crush people (or something to that effect, DON’T quote me on that one! After the red wine and vermouth things were a little hazier! I am not a huge drinker. haha). The hands and feet are all the wrong size in proportion to the bodies and heads, so it’s very amusing to stand at almost eye level and take them in. :)
THE ORIGINAL GIRL BOSS
Taberna La Bola is one of Madrid’s true historical gems. I hope if you have visited Madrid before and are reading this post, that you can tell me you ate here. Please let me know below if you have visited!! La Bola has one of the most interesting histories of all.
Founded by La Rayúa, a woman in 1870 (think about this girl boss for a minute! WOW), the matriarch of Los Verdasco family dynasty. Go girl! It gets even more interesting. This girl boss decided to make one particular special dish, the cocido madrileño and serve it in a unique way. Still made in the same tradition today (in a tiny and VERY HOT kitchen), the chickpea and meat stew bubbles over the oak charcoal in its individual clay pot for HOURS. Tended to by its beautiful staff, and now six generations later, the dish is sublime. But that isn’t even the coolest part.
THE COOLEST PART:
Newspapers from the beginning of the century narrate that at La Bola you could eat three different kinds of cocidos. At 12:00pm, the dish cost 1.15 pesetas and was for workers and employees. At 1:00pm, the dish was served for 1.25 pesetas with chicken and preferred by students. From 2:00pm onwards, the dish was made with meat and bacon, as served to journalists and senators. I love that this woman allowed everyone to come and eat at her restaurant and pay what they could afford. She didn’t discriminate, but created an opportunity for each group to enjoy her food and have a good lunch. How cool is that? I look up to so many women now who are these amazing girl bosses, it is so cool to learn about a woman who did this back in 1870.
I kind of wish we had more time just to sit down for this as a proper lunch, it was a meal to be enjoyed fully. Go, if you are in Madrid and enjoy this one for me. The location is in the heart of the city and a beautiful place to soak up some history.
Along our journey through Madrid we were lucky to be taken into buy cookies from the nuns who bake them to sell to those in the know some days. Our guide talked her way inside and ordered the cookies through the service door inside the courtyard. It was so cool to hear the nun making the transaction, but not see anyone. Instead the money is placed on a turn table and spun around by the nun who places the cookie bag on the same turn table. It all happens behind closed little doors. The cookies were fresh and very tasty!! We had quite a few on our walk, though each of us were getting fuller and fuller as the day wore on.
Our next stop was a hole in the wall, La Despensa del Carmen, from which locals buy ready made dishes to take home as a kind of takeaway. We tried Carmen’s homemade Spanish Meatballs and egg and tuna empanadas (see below). They were not my favourite thing on the tour, but worth trying out if you are living in Madrid.
Madrid is of course known for its Jamon. You can get it sliced off of the leg at the local 7/11 store, it is everywhere. Of course, it does come in varying qualities, which can range from the super cheap to the LUXE expensive cuts. We checked out Ferpal located at Calle Arenal, 7. There we tried three different jamon slices, Jamon serrano, jamon iberico de recebo and jamon iberico de bellota. Of course, since I naturally have expensive taste, my favourite was the super luxe kind, but each were delicious.
BLINK AND YOU WILL MISS IT
Bar Cerveriz which is directly opposite the El Mercado de San Miguel (the markets in Plaza de San Miguel) is often overlooked for the markets across the road. It’s a good thing too because this spot is a treat and having it all to ourselves we were able to experience something all together different. The owner was such a happy and welcoming man, with the biggest of smiles. Mario and I shared one of the famous tortillas (an omelette made with potatoes) and some of the cider. The cider was an interactive experience I will never forget. At first I wasn’t sure I would give it a go, but I did and there is video footage to prove it. I’ll get around to cutting that together for YouTube someday!
MAKE YOUR OWN CIDER!
Essentially the cider does not have any fizziness to it until the bottle is poured at an angle from a great height into your glass which you hold tipped just so it hits the edge of the glass. Perfecting the aim was a lot of fun and some of us got a little splashed when we missed. The owner was obviously a pro at it and was happily laughing at our attempts, mop in hand.
If you aim for the markets and they are jam packed, turn across the road and know you are definitely winning!
IT KEEPS GOING…
TWO MORE STOPS! Gah!! You can see now why we were rolling out of there! Haha, the nap that lasted the rest of the day was certainly a food coma. Not that I would deny this awesome experience. We went back another night to share one of the cheap as chips squid rolls that are made here at the busy spot off of the Plaza Mayor, La Campana. The cute, tounge in cheek kind of fast food joint is so popular there is a line out of the doors almost always. They do make the rolls up fast and the calamari is delicious so don’t be put off by the line. If you want cheap but excellent food, this is the place to go!
Finally our last stop was to try a liquour and Turrones, a sweet dessert treat in one of the Turrones stores on Calle Mayor, Torrons Vincens. Personally I wasn’t into these, but I was full and more excited for savoury than sweet. A brick of the artisan nougat (soft or hard) would make for a good gift for a sweet tooth you know back home. The stores are franchised and you can visit them across Spain.
MY FAVOURITE DESSERT SPOT
In terms of dessert, I was more into the churros that you can get from Chocolateria San Gines. We visited that place another night and had an after dinner treat. Personally I had even better churros in Seville one morning, but this is probably because we had the experience of sitting up at the bar and watching the way the barmen made everything.
So, that was our epic introduction to Madrid and the food of this beautiful city. I will remember the food of Madrid fondly and continue to find vermouth that good until I get back there!
INFO ON OUR TOUR (AND HOW TO FIND IT)
Our tour was the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour with Devour Madrid Food Tours who kindly allowed us to join the tour in exchange for our review. Honestly, there was a lot of food on the tour but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our guide was a fun, energetic and knowledgeable young lady who explained everything very well. She was such a great guide that it felt like we were hanging out with a new friend who was taking us on a personal tour. This is one way to experience Madrid and get to know a little of the culture and history along the way. Starting here, we were able to get our bearings of the city and explore more in the days to follow.
Find the Devour Tours here, including for Seville, Barcelona and Malaga.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY: MARIO RECCHIA AND JENELLE WITTY
Find more of our trip to Madrid here:
Now, have you been to Madrid? What did you eat? Go to any of these places? Want to now? I should have written a disclaimer at the start that this would make you hungry. Have you been anywhere else in Spain and eaten something incredible? What was it?
I would love to know where you ate and what you just loved! Please comment below and share it with us!