The two easiest things to plan before a trip to a new city are flights and accommodation. And that’s pretty much all I do when it comes to planning since I have this urge to approach every new destination as a blank canvas. Sure, I sometimes scribble down a list of highlights and points of interest. I’ll probably even visit some of them (at least those with historical and cultural significance to better understand the place I’m at). Most of the times, though, I find myself roaming around.
In Madrid, I wanted to do something different. Something with a little more structure that might resemble a plan. What would be the best way to be properly introduced to the Spanish capital? Through food, of course.
Food is not just what you see on your plate. It’s a blend of History and cultural influences and character and love (lots and lots of love).
When it was time to pick the right tour to guide us through the culinary delights of Madrid (beyond paella and bland tapas), Devour Madrid passed all my requirements with flying colors. They are 100% Spanish owned (and I do my best to support local businesses with Tripper), they are ethical (the tours always takes you to local family-run businesses), and they have a tour that perfectly fit what I wanted (and they delivered).
The Tour Specifics
I picked the Hidden Madrid Food & Market Adventure for two main reasons: it sounded like it would put me in contact with a piece of the soul of the city that is usually overlooked by tourists (and it did) and it could accommodate my friend, who’s a pescatarian.
Make sure you read the detailed description of each tour before you book. The description included all we were eating at each stop, so my friend knew beforehand what her options were, beyond the jamón and the slow-roasted pork. Now, considering there were five of us in the tour group (six, with the guide), and she was perfectly fine with skipping two of the tastings, Devour Madrid didn’t have to go the extra mile to accommodate one person’s options.
But they did. And this makes all the difference in great service.
This wasn’t even an insistence on her part or mine. At the beginning of the tour, I simply explained she wouldn’t be eating with us at two of the stops but we had forgotten to mention that when we booked the tickets (as we were supposed to). I understood that changes couldn’t be made on such short notice and I just wanted to let our guide know that my friend would be fine with it.
Instead of slow-roasted pork, my friend was able to join us at the table with an option for vegetarians: olive spread on homemade bread with a side of pecorino cheese.
At 9.30am, we stepped outside the hotel into another hot day in Madrid. In the early morning, we had a strong feeling of what the rest of the day would be like. Had I made the right choice in booking a walking food tour for three-and-a-half hours?
We decided to walk the 1km (0.63 miles) distance between Calle de las Fuentes and Plaza Santa Ana, our meeting point. Madrid may not have stolen my heart at first sight (more on that in a couple of weeks), but there was something about these winding, narrowing streets taking us from Puerta del Sol to Huertas that struck a chord. I knew, then, that my future explorations in Madrid must take me here, to the Literary Quarter.
A few minutes before 10.15am, the scheduled time for the tour, the five of us were meeting Caitlin, our Devour Madrid guide.
The Devour Tours website describes their tour guides as passionate experts and storytellers, and Caitlin never ceased to entertain us with facts, anecdotes and making sure we were well fed (trust me, the portions aren’t bite-sized). She knew her way around Huertas and she never made us feel like we were just visiting these local businesses and tasting their products. Caitlin gave us the back story, tested our food knowledge, and was genuinely marveled at our newfound love for local cuisine.
Side note: also, any person who convinces me to try anchovies promising me they’re not what I expect, has my eternal appreciation. Yes, they were not what I expected.
Churros for Breakfast, the Backroom of the Oldest Mantequeria, and a Hidden Cat
Our group was a diverse bunch of people with a profound desire of getting to know Madrid through food, and snap the must-have Instagram-worthy shot of every mouth-watering dish we had that Saturday. The purpose of the tour is to allow you to focus all of your five senses on the food, so we were all relieved when Caitlin told us she would email us the detailed menu and the names and addresses of the places we were visiting later. After all, after tasting all that delicious food, who would remember to take notes?
We started with churros and a cup of creamy, dark chocolate for breakfast (second breakfast, that is) at Chocolat, continued with tasting jams, different kinds of honey, and olive oil at the backroom of Mantequeria A. Cabello, got into the market life at the Mercado de Antón Martín, paired wine and cheese at Vermú, found the hidden cat at Los Gatos while eating tostas and drinking red vermouth, and topped it all with the most amazing piece of cheese cake I have ever tried in my life at Pan de Pi.
In the breaks before the next tasting, we wandered the streets of Huertas, with their painted-tile street name plaques, discovered mysterious urban art on street signs, visited the house (well, the original location, at least) where Cervantes lived and died, and learned that not all must-see tabernas live up to the hype.
As always in my trips, people play a great part in making an experience memorable. Caitlin and the group, first. Then the old lady who’s a regular at Chocolat every day for churros and chocolate; the owner of the Mantequeria who prepared a selection of his favorite products for us; the owner of Charcutería Ismael who gladly stepped from behind his jamón-filled counter to be in the group photo with us; the olives expert of fifty plus years at Aceitunas Juanjo, genuinely happy with our delight over the different types of Spanish olives; the love and care of the owners of Fiaschetteria La Saletta who source all products for their dishes from the vendors right there at the Antón Martín market; the wife and husband duo who own Vermú (hers) and Los Gatos (his), two bars at Calle de Jesús, side by side, with a decoration that, we were told, matches the different personalities of the two.
As for the hidden cat at Los Gatos, I won’t spoil the game. You’ll have to find it yourself. And, no, it’s not the poster of the black cat above the counter.
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Devour Madrid. Any opinions expressed are, as usual, my own.