Exploring Madrid on Foot and by Taste
Spain is a country of truly exquisite food. It’s the country that created the concept of tapas, paella comes from Valencia, it produces some brilliant wines and my favourite, tinto de verano (red wine with lemon added), it’s famous for it’s cured hams, jamón serrano and ibérico, and it was the Spanish conquistadors that first introduced chocolate to Europe after discovering it via the Aztecs in the Americas, which they now eat as a hot sauce with churros or porras. The culinary culture in Spain is one of my favourite things about living in Madrid. A few weeks ago I went on the Huertas Neighbourhood Food and Market Tour run by Madrid Food Tour, and I can safely say it was the best thing I’ve done since moving to Madrid. The tour lasts 3 hours, costs €65, runs on Mondays, Wednesdays & Saturdays and begins in Puerta del Sol, one of the city’s main plazas.
Not far from Kilometre Zero (the symbolic centre of Spain) our guide Lauren started us off with these small lemon-iced doughnuts, rosquillas, while she gave us an introduction to the tour and the history of Madrid’s connection to food.
We then promptly headed away from Puerta del Sol towards the pedestrianised literary quarter known as Barrio de las Letras, so-called for its heritage as home to famous authors Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Quevedo. Strolling around the streets you step over famous literary quotes embedded into the floor in gold, which I think is a fantastic idea that I might replicate in some future house or garden…
But we weren’t left walking for too long before our first pit-stop: Sevillian Inés Rosales (olive oil tortas) from Mantequeria Cabello, a tiny quaint grocery store that’s been open since 1877.
Next up we headed to a churrería called Chocolat, but not before stopping briefly to watch churros be made in a tiny little hole in the wall, which sold us some of their freshly-fried crisps.
As we turned a corner and Chocolat came into view, I was secretly hoping we’d be making a stop here, and Lauren didn’t disappoint! Instead of churros we tried their older brother, porras, with hot chocolate sauce charmingly served by owner & churrero Alfonso.
By now we were ready for some savoury flavours and Lauren lead us to the Antón Martín market, still in the literary neighbourhood. Lauren has lived in Madrid for 5 years and really knows her stuff – on the way there she was recounting an anecdote about the famous writers of antiquity at every turn. Having studied Spanish literature at university I particularly enjoyed this unexpected little feature of the tour!
Antón Martín market feels more authentic and madrileño than some of the other more renovated and busy markets such as San Antón or San Miguel, which are also nice to pop into for a drink or a nibble. We stopped at four of the stalls in particular: first sampling about 7 different varieties of Spanish olives; then beef that’s smoked and cured for 5 years known as cecina, from León; then some manchego cheese with a glass of red wine at Donde Sanchez, and finally comparing the tastes of three different hams, ranging from white-hoofed jamón serrano costing just 16 €/kg, moving up to an acorn-fed black-hoofed jamón ibérico costing a whopping 96 €/kg, washed down with a refreshing glass of Cava.
But there was yet more to come! Leaving the market we headed to a tiny Valencian paella restaurant called Azahar for a full sit-down meal with yet more wine (no complaints on my part!). The owner allowed us into her kitchen to see the magic happen and over lunch we all chatted about life in Madrid and food cultures in different places. There were 8 of us in total – the groups are kept small and there’s no horrendous coloured flag sticking up into the air, thank goodness.
Feeling full-to-burst I presumed the paella meal was the finale to the food-orgy, but Lauren lead us to one final place, Pandepi, an artisanal Galician bakery for a delicious slice of cheesecake (using a rich Galician cheese called tetilla). I could barely do it justice as I practically rolled my way along the cobbled streets with the rest of the gang. We finished up in Plaza de los Cortes, with everyone in a fantastic mood. I realised that a walking tour was exactly what I had been needing to orientate myself in Madrid – it still feels quite an unknown city as I haven’t done that much exploring yet, but I’ve now got my bearings and discovered a lovely neighbourhood that I’ll definitely return to.
I couldn’t recommend Madrid Food Tour enough to be honest. It’s a great introduction to the city for anyone on a short trip, combining a bit of city exploration with a voyage into Spanish cuisine, all without the need to resort to a map. You’ll need to book in advance and perhaps take a look at their other tours as well, they offer a longer Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour and a night-time Tapas, Taverns & History Tour which I’m very keen to try.