When I was planning a spring break vacation with my son, I originally planned to meet him in Oxford and from there we would fly to Amman, Jordan. But my plans were complicated by my husband’s business trip schedule and I was forced to cancel the whole trip.
Story of my life….
I moped around, threw a pity party for myself, and cried like a toddler on temper tantrum until my son, who was on his way to the airport to begin his European adventure, called me. He told me that we didn’t have to completely scrap the whole trip and we can certainly work around my husband’s schedule. He also suggested to change our destination.
“You can still come to Oxford and visit me,” he consolingly said.
“Yeah but I also want to go somewhere else besides Oxford,” I told him.
“We can go to Madrid!”
I’ve already been to Madrid several times before. And I’m sticking to this inspirational quote by the Dalai Lama:
And thus I’m crossing Madrid out! “Been there, done that!” I stubbornly said.
“We can go to Madrid for a couple of days and then fly to Morocco from there. Morocco has been in your bucket list for years now right?”
Smart kid. He had me at Morocco. Okay, I told him I’d include Madrid but in one condition:
“I’m only going to Madrid to eat!”
And we did just that for the two days we were in Madrid.
Getting into Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas Airport is probably one of the most daunting airport experiences I’ve had in several years. It took us at least over twenty minutes to get from one terminal to another by tram! I’m still confused thinking about it to this day. I don’t remember this airport to be this huge. But then again, the last time I was there was probably twenty years ago! It was when my husband and I were trying to have our first child. I wanted my baby to be “made in Spain” which of course didn’t happen. And now that first child is with me, here in Madrid, helping me navigate this complex airport. After several guessing game, we finally got on the right train (they have two different ways by train—the Cercanías or by metro). When we were transferring to another line, a woman tripped over my luggage as we were entering the train. I turned around to look at her, she gave me a smile then apologized. My son and I sat as soon as we got inside the train, the woman walked away from where we were sitting. A few minutes later, she walked towards me holding my pink passport holder (it was one of those covers that had slots for credit cards). “This is yours,” she said in Spanish. I was surprised and thanked her but she didn’t respond. She continued to walk away from us. I opened my passport holder and saw that my passport and debit card were still there. But then I realized later, she wasn’t giving me back my passport holder out of the goodness of her heart, but actually stole it. If my passport holder had fallen out of my bag, then it should’ve been where I was sitting. But she was coming from the other direction and I wondered how it could’ve fallen from there. Great! I became a victim of a pickpocket on my first day in Madrid! The irony is that I was grateful that my thief had a conscience! 🙂
Our hotel, Hyatt Centric Madrid, was not too far from the train stop. The reception gave us suggestions on where to go for dinner. She told us that although we shouldn’t miss out on Mercado de San Miguel, we should consider going to a less touristy one such as Mercado de San Ildenfonso. I already had my heart set on San Miguel and that’s where we went for our first night of my foodie adventure.
As soon as I stepped inside the market, my body experienced a thrilling sensation. I thought I was going to pass out from extreme excitement.
I think I just died and went to heaven!!!
Be right back……
Empanadas in different varieties
Bocadillo de calamares
churros con chocolate
This is the face of someone who died and went to foodie heaven! Lordy, if that’s what heaven is like, I don’t mind dying at all!
As you can tell from the pictures and on my face, the first day of my foodie-filled Madrid adventure was definitely a resounding success! I decided that Mercado de San Miguel is one of my favorite food destinations! I don’t care if it’s catered heavily to tourists, it certainly did a great job catering to my palate.
If my first night of culinary heaven wasn’t enough to blow the taste buds out of your mouth, well then my second day will get you salivating and begging for Spanish food. A few weeks before coming to Madrid, I signed up for a walking food tour with the company, Devour. Their most popular tour, the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, captured my stomach heart. It initially sold out but I emailed them and asked if there’s a possibility of opening up another tour to accommodate me and my son. They immediately emailed me back and said yes, they will have another tour that will start at 9:45am on the day I requested. This is what I call excellent customer service!
So let me begin this four–hour walking food tour adventure…
We met at Plaza Mayor with our tour leader, Arantxa, whose name sounds nothing like Español. Although a short woman, she’s bold, opinionated, and definitely big in character. I loved her story telling ability that surely made this tour entertaining.
Our first stop was at Confiteria El Riojano, a family–owned pastry restaurant where we tasted a home-baked soletilla dunked in thick hot chocolate. A soletilla is a soft biscuit or cookie similar to a lady finger. The rich thick chocolate is heavenly delicious. For you history buffs out there, chocolate made its way to Spain from Mexico in the 1500’s but it was flavored with chili peppers that didn’t appeal much to the Spaniard conquistadors. As a result, they sweetened the cocoa with sugar cane in which the Spanish were the first to popularize in Europe. It soon became a popular drink in Spain and was served to its monarchy. Chocolate in Spain was the equivalent to the tea in England.
Another interesting fact that Arantxa pointed out is if you see a plaque in front of any of the establishments in Spain, it means the business has been standing there for a hundred years or so.
Our second stop was at Mercado de Jamon Ibérico. We were presented with three different types of hams: jamon Serrano, jamon Ibérico de Recebo, jamon Ibérico de Bellota. Serrano is the most common, packed in salt and cured for two years. It is what the Spanish use instead of bacon. Ibérico de Recebo is a different breed of pig from the Serrano, less fatty, and cured for three years. The Ibérico de Bellota is the leanest, most expensive, organic (only fed with acorns), and are cured for 4–5 years.
The hams were paired with a tempranillo wine. Tempranillo grapes are native to Spain. We also tried two varieties of olive oil (coupage and picual). Did you know that Spain is the #1 producer of olive oil? They sell their olive oil to Italy and Italy bottles them up and sells them as Italian olive oil (if your olive oil doesn’t say “product of Italy” then it is most likely from Spain). Be sure to buy virgin or extra virgin because their acidity (pH) have been tested by scientists in labs. If the acidity is less than .08, it is extra virgin; if it’s between .08 to 2, it is virgin; and if it’s just marked as “olive oil”, its acidity is more than 2 and considered unhealthy like canola, peanut or sunflower oil.
The food at the third eatery, El Anciano Rey de Los Vinos, was probably the most unforgettable. We had shredded oxtail meat with vegetables simmered until almost puréed. They were wrapped in filo dough and topped with piquillo peppers. I’ve never had anything like this before. It was so delicious that I wanted to have the whole plate all to myself.
This dish, called bull tail regalito, is a modern twist on the traditional beef stew. It was paired with a red sweet vermouth.
The fourth stop was at Taberna La Bola. This tavern is one of Madrid’s oldest kitchens specializing in Cocido Madrileño, a stew consisting of flavorful broth with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizos, and pork. We were allowed to come inside the kitchen and watch the ladies make this famous stew that has been simmering for hours.
Cocido Madrileño is eaten in three ways. When it is cooked, the broth is separated from all the ingredients and the soup becomes the first course. The second course is served with a plate of all the chickpeas and vegetables. The stewed–to–perfection meats are served last. Eating this dish takes a considerable amount of time and unfortunately we only got to taste the first course, which was the stew’s flavorful broth.
By this time we were all “complaining” of being almost full. But we still had three more places to go! Walking towards the fifth one, Arantxa told us we would make a brief stop at a convent where the nuns bake lemon cookies. She knocked on a window and spoke to a lady inside. Then the window opened and a box of cookies was placed on it and the window was immediately shut right after. We never saw who the lady behind the window.
Onwards to the fifth establishment—Bar Cerveriz is a small bar owned by Carlos who makes the best tortilla de patatas. Although the bar is located in front of Mercado de San Miguel, it is still a hidden spot from tourists. Tortilla de patatas is a simple dish (it is basically an omelet filled with potatoes) but it is a staple in Spain. I’ve eaten this before but Carlos’ version is made with runny eggs and the ones I’ve had were more firm. I like his version so much better. We were also given slices of Manchego cheese to try and a shot of Trabanco Asturian cider. He demonstrated how this cider should be poured: holding the bottle close to the head while holding the shot glasses below the waist. He asked each of us to try (I didn’t) but my son did.
By now, we were all full! They could’ve ended the tour after the fifth stop and we would’ve all been happy and content but no trip to Madrid is complete without tasting the city’s most famous sandwich: Bocadillo de Calamares, or calamari sandwich!
So here we were.. still eating even after complaining of being completely full! But the bocadillo was so good in spite of having only two ingredients: crusty bread and fried squid. I have no idea why something so simple makes this as one of the most delicious sandwiches I’ve ever eaten!
And thank youuu Jesus, we have finally reached our very last stop at Torrons Vicens. The staff came Out with a big plate of four different types of turrones and shot glasses of Madroño liqueur. With my stomach about to explode, I was no longer interested in eating and all I wanted to do by this time was walk off all the calories I’ve consumed, perhaps do a little of my favorite cardio: shopping! 😀
After the tour, my son went back to the hotel to practice the art of siesta! And as for me, I forgot to mention in the beginning that I’m also in Madrid to shop! My seven pairs of Toni Pons shoes were heaven in my feet.
After a few hours of cardio shopping and my son’s exposure to Spanish culture siesta, we were ready for more food tripping. We wanted to try the less touristy market that our hotel’s reception had recommended. She boasted that Mercado de San Ildenfonso is the place where all the locals go. That got us curious…what do locals eat? So we had to go and see for ourselves. It was smaller than San Miguel and less selection. It was underwhelming to say the least. They had tacos and Asian style dishes that didn’t appeal to me one bit. If this is what the locals ate, then I prefer to be a tourist in Madrid lol!
FYI, Devour had suggested 7 Must-Try Typical Foods in Madrid:
1) Cocido Madrileño
2) Huevos Rotos
3) Bocadillo de Calamares
4) Callos a la Madrileña
5) Churros con Chocolate
6) Oreja a la Plancha
7) Pincho de Tortilla
If you are in Madrid, you might want to look for these foods. Happy eating!!