Madrid Food Tour

Madrid Food Tour January 14, 2016 · 10 min. read

The following is a guest article by Sally Elbassir, the owner and food taster of Passport and Plates, originally titled "The Tapas, Taverns and History of Madrid: A Food Tour". Be sure to drop by her blog for culinary treats from around the world!

I've always been a foodie. Long before the term "foodie" ever existed, I was that kid who was always eager to try something new.

Things haven't changed much in the last couple of decades. My palate has expanded, and I discovered that my dream job does exist; it just happens to be occupied by Anthony Bourdain. Now I satisfy my foodie obsession by writing on Yelp, and on my blog... there's plenty more where that came from.

I'd always wanted to go on a food tour, but being the budget traveler that I am, could never justify paying for it. Luckily, I left for my first solo trip not long after my birthday, and my parents decided to treat me to a belated birthday present. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

So that's how I found myself standing in Plaza Isabel II at 6:30 pm in the middle of August, ready to embark on a Madrid Food Tour titled "Tapas, Taverns, and History." We were a fun yet eclectic bunch: a Canadian family of four, an American girl living in Germany, an older French woman, and of course, our lovely tour guide Luke!

Since I don't eat pork or drink alcohol, I was intrigued to see how my dietary restrictions would be accommodated, especially in the land of vino and jamón. They did an excellent job of offering me equally delicious modifications.

What I loved most about the tour was its informality. I felt like I was spending the evening following a knowledgeable Madrileño friend around the city, albeit one who is as passionate about eating as I am. That evening, I was a Madrileña.

And now without further ado: tapas, taverns, and history.

Our meeting spot was in the middle of a touristy plaza, so imagine my surprise when our first stop was a mere 300 feet away at Taberna Real. Here I munched on marinated olives, homemade potato chips, pa amb tomàquet (Catalan tomato toast) and tosta de atún con pimientos rojos (tuna toast with red peppers). We were off to a good start.

Stop #1 - Passports and Plates Taberna Real - Passports and Plates Marinatedo Olives - Passports and Plates Tuna with peppers - Passports and Plates

Fun fact: tapas in Spain refer to the small food bites that you get for free when you order alcoholic drinks. The more drinks you order, the "nicer" the tapas become. The idea originated long ago in Andalusia, when a waiter covered the king's wine glass with a piece of ham to keep bugs away. He liked the idea so much that he implemented the idea of serving a free "tapa" (or "top" in English) with all alcoholic drinks in Spain. And thus, the tapa was born! Tapas are not always free (it depends on the city), and portion sizes can vary significantly.

Another fun fact: in Madrid, once you finish with an olive (or with your smaller trash in general), you toss the pit on the floor in front of the bar. The dirtier the bar, the more popular it is. Back in the day, competing bars used to send employees to steal trash from Taberna Real to make their bars seem more popular. Sneaky, sneaky.

On our way to the next stop, we walked by the Palacio Real and Plaza de la Villa, where we learned about the tumultuous and incestuous history of the Spanish royal family. Talk about drama! Luke was filled with knowledge and fun tidbits about the city and its history, and he did a great job of covering both food and culture.

Our second stop was Bodegas Ricla, a small mom-and-pop shop I would have never thought to visit. We started with boquerones en vinagre (white anchovies in vinegar), which were deliciously citrusy and significantly less fishy than their standard brown counterparts – almost like a ceviche, in fact. All the ingredients were purchased from the market that day, and this was clearly evidenced by the fresh taste. Accompanying the fish was mosto (grape juice) for me, tostas de cabrales (toast with cooked Asturian blue cheese), and albondigas (beef meatballs). Apparently the meatballs are a secret menu item. The shop owner buys a limited amount of beef at the market so you have to know and ask for them. Definitely felt like a bit of an insider.

Anchovies in vinegar - Passports and Plates Anchovies and mosto - Passports and Plates Toast with blue cheese - Passports and Plates Meatballs – a secret menu item! - Passports and Plates

At this point, my stomach was doing a happy dance as we followed Luke to our next stop called Meson del Champiñon aka the house of mushrooms. On the way, we passed both Mercado San Miguel (a slightly overpriced foodie market) and the world's oldest restaurant, Sobrino de Botin (insider tip: apparently it's expensive with mediocre food). The mushrooms we ate were heavenly. I'm quite ambivalent towards mushrooms and don't generally understand the fuss, but these were bursting with flavors of spices, herbs, and butter. Perfection. Luke was in the middle of telling us that this restaurant was featured on a famous Asian food show when a group of Korean tourists flooded the bar – the timing couldn't have been better.

In case you can't tell, mushrooms and peppers are popular here - Passports and Plates The best mushrooms I’ve ever had - Passports and Plates

Next we passed through the famous Plaza Mayor for a short history lesson and a warning – never eat at a restaurant here! Not only is the food terrible, but it's also ridiculously overpriced. Instead, we continued to El Abuelo, a small bar specializing in gambónes al ajillo (shrimp with garlic). This, my friends, is sizzling shrimp with caramelized garlic drowned in an herby olive oil. It tastes just as amazing as it sounds.

Prep time! - Passports and Plates Fresh and sizzling - Passports and Plates

For our last stop, we walked through a beautifully lit Plaza de Santa Ana over to the restaurant where we were having a sit-down dinner. Yes, we had dinner after all that eating. Totally got our money's worth!

Plaza de Santa Ana at night - Passports and Plates

The restaurant, Casa Toni, had a table ready for us upstairs. Suddenly, just as we were starting to get food, one of the men on the tour spilled his entire glass of red wine on me. D'oh! Luckily I managed to get the wine out of my clothes, but I unfortunately missed my opportunity to take good food pictures. I did link recipes and wiki articles for visuals, though.

The storefront of Casa Toni - Passports and Plates

We ate a huge variety of food including patatas bravas (fried potatoes), spiced tomatoes, a shrimp and pepper omelet and lamb sweetbreads. Can I just say that I've never had sweetbreads before and was extremely impressed by how good they were? To end the meal, we were presented with secret cookies baked by cloistered nuns. It was the perfect conclusion to an amazing tour. Food inevitably creates bonds, and our group parted ways just a little more in love with Madrid and its food and culture. Special thanks to Luke, who was a knowledgeable and passionate tour guide.

Our tour group at dinner - Passports and Plates

For those of you who write off Madrid as "just another city," or who think tapas are simply small plates, think again. While Madrid may not be where the tapas sensation started, the culture of shared plates amongst friends is alive and kicking. Go out and explore, and you may just find that an unassuming tavern is actually home to some of the best food in town.

For a self-guided version, check out this list by the owner of Madrid Food Tours and this list of typical Spanish tapas.

Don't forget to pin it!

Madrid Foot Tour - Passports and Plates

You might also enjoy

Is it Safe to Visit Ukraine?

Several months ago I visited Ukraine for the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. I spent a few days in Kyiv and learned about Ukrainian culture, their heritage, their history and their place in the world. It also happened to be Orthodox Easter Sunday when I was there, so I took part in some of the festivities.

While in Kyiv I also saw plenty of soldiers, many coming and going from the subway station, while others were patrolling the streets.  There was also plenty of anti-Russian propaganda. Although there is no war in Kyiv, there is in Donbass, in Eastern Ukraine. Since 2014 pro-Russian forces have been shelling Donbass. Death tolls on both sides of the conflict are approaching 10,000, with over 22,000 people wounded and almost two million displaced.

This conflict is often skimmed over by the media but many sections of Donbass have limited water, food and electricity. Buildings are shelled out and abandoned apartment complexes are used as military bunkers. There are also reports of prisoner of war camps where prisoners are being tortured by the rebels.

Read More

My 2016 Adventures in Review

Unless something major happens within the next two weeks, it's probably safe to assume my travels for the year are over. At the beginning of the year the only adventure I had planned was a trip to Eastern Europe, but as the year went on I ended up going on several more adventures too.

Because so much has happened this year, I thought it would be a good idea to write it all down. I'm hoping 2017 will take me on even more adventures, as it will be Canada's 150th anniversary, but before we talk about 2017, let's go over what happened in 2016.

Although I arrived in Krakow first, my only full day in Poland was put aside for Auschwitz. It was pouring rain the whole way to the death camp, and the tour was packed full of students, teachers and tourists. While it was great that so many people still visiting the camp, there were almost too many people and it seemed to lessen the experience.

Read More

8 Places to Visit in Montreal

Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".

Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.

Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada.  Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade.  The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.

Read More

8 Places to Visit in Quebec City

I was recently asked if I preferred my time in Montreal or Quebec City more, and while Montreal is a gorgeous city, decorated with thousands of green copper spires, hosts incredible festivals, has some of the most fantastic food I have ever tasted, and is spotted with beautiful parks, there was just something about Quebec City that spoke to me. Being over four hundred years old, Quebec City is one of the last remaining "walled cities" in North America, and is the only one north of Mexico.  Quebec City was the location of some of the greatest conflicts in Canadian history, including the Siege of Quebec by the British.

Belonging to three very different countries (France, England, and Canada) in its four hundred year existence, Quebec City is a mixing pot of old traditions, new ideas, cobblestone streets and modern architecture. Since there is so much to see in Quebec City, I figured I would narrow it down to a couple and let you discover the rest! Here is "8 Places to Visit in Quebec City".

Old Quebec envelopes several locations listed below, and will be where you are spending the most of your time. This historic neighborhood was first developed during the early 1600s and has since expanded to become two separate areas: Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville).

Read More

Like what you see?

Then sign up for more!