Before Jen and I left for Madrid, I asked my roommate Rhi for recommendations. She studied abroad in Madrid and has been back several times since. I knew I had made the right decision in domestic life partner when all she could talk about was the food. She even still had photos on her phone from her last trip.
So when Jen asked if I wanted to do a food tour in Madrid, it was a hard yes. She was a bit more hesitant, reasoning that we would already be eating our way through the city on our own. I could see her logic, given how much we eat abroad (and there *will* be a separate Madrid Menu post, fret not), but when she sent me the Madrid Food Tour website, I knew this was something we had to do. The only question was which one? The "Tapas, Taverns, and History Tour," the "Ultimate Spanish Cuisines Tour," or the "Huertas Neighborhood Food and Market Tour?" Given that we were staying in Huertas and the tour included cheese, we opted for the third choice (no really, cheese was a huge factor).
The Madrid Food Tours are part of the Devour Spain food tour group. I basically love these people. They're made up of people who recognize that eating great food is a huge part of good travel, and I kind of wish we had known about them when we went to Barcelona. I've never done a food tour before (how is this even possible?!), but I think what makes this food tour group special is that they focus on less touristy spots, and introduce you to locals, telling you their stories and backgrounds.
Also, they were super organized. In fact, in the info they e-mailed Jen before the morning of our tour, they made sure to tell us that we would *not* be starting with coffee, so if we wanted coffee, we had better get it beforehand. This is vital information, so Jen and I planned on grabbing coffee at a place we saw nearby the starting spot, Plaza Santa Ana.
Unfortunately, we are bad at navigating with maps and without GPS on a good day. We are utterly hopeless without proper levels of caffeine coursing through our veins. And even though Plaza Santa Ana is huge, close by our hotel, and we were there visiting a jazz club the evening before, we still couldn't find it, and by the time we arrived we were late and hadn't had a drop of coffee.
Luckily, we weren't the latest (in fact, we weren't even the second-to-last to arrive), and our guide was completely chill about it. In fact, Mette was pretty awesome all around. A student from Denmark, Mette spoke perfect English and Spanish, was incredibly knowledgeable, super friendly, and obviously a foodie. Loved her.
So besides all the good things I've already mentioned about this food tour, the walking aspect of it is great for getting the lay of the land -- you know, if you aren't directionally challenged. If you ARE directionally challenged...well hey, it makes for some good photo ops!
Anyway, the reason the food tour didn't start with coffee was because it started with hot chocolate. But not like Swiss Miss shit. It started with thick, melty chocolate that formed a skin on top when it wasn't being touched. NOMS A-FUCKING-HOY, AMIRITE? Instead of churros, we had our chocolate with a side of porras -- thicker versions of churros. Mette suggested dipping the porra in sugar first, then dunking it in chocolate because the chocolate wasn't super saturated with sugar the way we're used to it. But I like my chocolate on the darker side (heh), and it was perfect to me as it was. When my porra was gone, my chocolate wasn't and I still made a clean plate. In fact, I had to restrain myself from licking the goddamn cup.
Following the chocolate place, aptly named Chocolat, we visited a grocery store. Mette told us the store was so old and important in Madrid that it had earned a plaque on the sidewalk out front, designating it as a place of cultural importance. It also earned it the right to carry honeys and jams not found elsewhere in the city. So in the back we sampled honey, jam, a weird flat cookie thing, and chocolate-covered figs.
At this point, I was already on a foodie high, so the order of things gets blurry. Apologies to Madrid Food Tours if I am out of order. But I am pretty sure next was the cheese shop of our dreams. After Mette showed us a cheese map of Spain (awesomely titled "Explore the Soul of Spain!"), we sampled four Spanish cheeses from the mildest to strongest. Mette warned that the strongest, a blue cheese, would separate the men from the boys. Friends, I am happy to report Jen is a MAN'S MAN.
At some point (maybe next, maybe not), we visited a churro and potato chip factory. Really. It was basically a hole in the wall where they churned out bags and bags of fried goodness. Fresh fried potato chips are legit.
The bulk of our food tour was actually spent in the Mercado de Anton Martin. First we tried olives. A lot of olives. There are few foods in this world that I hate (five to be exact), and olives are at the top of this list. Little fucking balls of evil. And black olives? Why would you want something in your salad that looks like a roach? WHY?!
But when Jen and I started traveling, I promised myself I'd try all manners of local cuisine (actual insects excluded), and frankly olives are less terrifying than sushi that still moves, so I tried every single one of the varieties Mette offered us. I must admit -- olives in Spain are not as offensive as olives in the States. But I still don't like them and rewarded myself with multiple cloves of pickled garlic afterward.
We also stopped at an Italian tapas place (yes, you read that right) and sampled some Spanish-style bruschetta. We visited an organ meat counter and watched the butcher hack away at a goat head (we have video, anyone interested?) and then proudly hold up massive bull testicles (we did not sample balls or brains). And we visited a lady who helps disadvantaged youths start their own businesses and we sampled some solid chorizo from her.
As you may know, ham is kind of a big deal in Spain, so we stopped at a ham counter where they sell Serrano and Iberian hams for like 125 euros a pop. This Jewish girl sampled the shit out of that.
Once we left the market, we visited a spot called Los Gatos. It's called that because if you're a third-generation Madrid resident, you get to call yourself A CAT. COULD I LOVE THIS CITY ANYMORE? We visited Los Gatos for some mid-day Spanish vermouth.
A little early, you ask? Let me explain. When Jen and I were out the evening before (a school night), we noticed the restaurants were packed around 11 p.m. (past my bedtime). Mette explained the way meals go in Madrid: You get up around 7, have some coffee, head to work. Around mid-morning, you take a break for your typical breakfast -- chocolate con churros, or something equally fried, sugary, and decadent. Later in the afternoon, around 2 or 3, you grab lunch -- your biggest meal of the day. First you start with a drink (like vermouth), then you have a massive meal. Naturally, you'll want a siesta after that. Around 5, you return to work, work til 9, then meet your friends for drinks and a light(er) meal of tapas. Rinse, repeat. (I would make some major sacrifices to find a job that allows siestas.)
So we had our vermouth. It was a little strong for me, but we also had delicious "toasts," which were pieces of tapa-sized bread with all kinds of seafood on top. So. Good.
Finally, we finished the tour on a sweet note with a slice of cheesecake. Because cheese.
Guess who's a food tour convert?