Secret Food Tour in Madrid
Food tours are one of my favorite things to do when traveling, so even though I have been to Madrid many times before, I decided to try Secret Food Tours, as I always hope to find the secret local spots.
Just before 11, I met the guide Jorge by the “Oso y Madroño” statue at Sol. Not sure what to look for? You have probably seen it many times already, as it is the emblem of Madrid, and you can find it on the local flag, on trash cans and taxies, to name a few. Anyway, aim for the statue of the bear and the tree. We later learned that madroño directly translates to strawberry tree, even though strawberries grow on bushes. And even later we found that the “tree” is actually used to make the licor de Madroño, which according to Jorge taste like kids cough syrup.
Our tour started sweet, in several ways, as the first stop was a cute pastry shop. And it was not just any pastry shop; it has been run by the same family since 1855, and is the provider of pastry to the royal family of Spain. Walking through the narrow wooden door, we entered a small room with cakes and candy on all sides. The room was oozing nostalgia; Chandeliers were hanging from the decorated ceiling, and the heavy wooden counter was decorated with marble and figures, with cast-iron claw-feet to hold it up. After soaking in the atmosphere, Jorge led us to another room i the back. The walls were painted in a calming red colour, with whitely framed lights on the wall alongside classical paintings and stained glass windows. As the windows were not actually getting light from anywhere, several chandeliers were lighting up the room. We found a table in the rear corner, and while we continued soaking in the atmosphere, Jorge arranged for the sweet sponge cake breakfast. The Ponche Segoviano originates from Segovia, a roman city with a large aqueduct, about an our from Madrid.
To make the breakfast even sweeter, I opted for the hot chocolate to drink. I must admit I did regret it for a second. That statement deserve an explanation though; I am not that much of a cake person, and certainly not for breakfast. But hey, I have a philosophy that I want to taste as much as possible when visiting another country, so I had to suck it up (in a good way, that is).
The hot chocolate was in reality liquid chocolate with a bitter-sweet taste. I am usually a fan of hot chocolate, but apparently my taste differ from the taste of the king. Explanation time again; back in the days the king decided that he liked the thick melted chocolate, so that was the way it was going to be. It seemed to be the trend at that time, so the hot chocolate in France and Belgium is lighter, as their kings were more on my side. While south of Italy used to be a part of Spain, so theirs is also thick. Let’s move from one sweet thing back to another. The Ponche Segoviano was standing in front of me on the white marble table, begging to be tasted. Covered in marzipan and with lines of caramel between the layers, it sure is a sugar bomb and a kick start of the day.
With the newfound energy, it was time to get moving. Since the Secret Food Tour had more to it than just the food, we stopped outside the oldest hotel in Spain – Posada del Peine – dating back to 1610. The hotel got its name after the silver comb you could find in each room. It sure sounded fancy, but the comb was necessary to pull out the lice from the hair! Everyday baths were absolutely not the norm, and women usually took a bath once a month, and the men more seldom.
From one smelly thing to the next – but a very nice smell. Legs of cured pork were hanging on the walls at out next stop. We were offered two types of sliced Jamón Iberico and Jorge asked us to taste them and decide which we liked better. The two kinds come from the same type of pig, but the taste difference is because of what the pig ate the last months of its life. Another factor is also how long it is cured. It was a close call, but I ended up voting for the one that turned out to be the cheapest kind. Good for me and my wallet…
We hurried across the square, and found a cozy place to taste calamari sandwich. While seafood is not the first that comes to mind in an inland city, apparently the calamari are very popular. On a regular day they sell more than 1500 calamares bacadillos, and in weekends 3000!! That is a lot for such a small place! So why is it that popular, you may ask? The answer was obvious once we were told; the calamari was the type of seafood that survived the journey from the ocean to the inland best! And someone did a hell of a job marketing it in the 1960s – it was a slogan saying “come to Madrid and have a calamari sandwich” – basically meaning you have not been to Madrid if you haven’t had one. So we did. While Jorge queued up, we found a table tucked in a corner and sat down at the low stools. The surrounding walls were covered in shiny white tiles, decorated with painted green leafs and proverbs written in a neat font.
After the filling sandwich, Jorge took us on a short walk passed the worlds oldest restaurant – Restaurante Sobrino de Botin – dating back to 1725. Their specialty is suckling pig, and it is said that Hemmingway loved to visit. He is not the only famous person that has set his foot there. The painter Goya used to work at the restaurant. This was by far the most touristic place we stopped by, so we quickly moved on.
A stone throw away we sat down in a quiet side street and enjoyed the warming strokes of the sun. Jorge soon arranged a bottle of cider from a local brewery paired with Manchego cheese. Pouring the cider was an act of art. You should hold the bottle high with one hand, and pour it in the glass you hold low with the other to get it mixed nicely and get natural carbonation. You only pour a little in the glass each time, and consume immediately for the best taste experience. After Jorge showed us how it was done, we had to pour our own glasses. Let’s just say there were quite a lot of wet spots on the ground afterwards…
Feeling a little bit tipsy after the cider in the sun, we walked slowly towards Mercado de San Miguel. For a second I was a bit worried we were going there, but Jorge’s Secret Food Tour would of course not include one of the most touristic markets in Madrid, so soon we sat in a local bar with a cold red Vermouth on the rocks with lemon in our hand. I must confess that I felt a little bit satisfied sitting in a quiet corner overlooking the crowded entrance of Mercado de San Miguel.
To eat we had mejillones en escabeche (mussels with olive oil, vinegar and sweet paprika. They were not my favorite, so I stuck to my Vermouth, but the others loved them so they were gone in a heartbeat. We complemented each other well. The Vermouth used to be considered an old mans drink, but it is now very popular for everyone.
Before our last stop, it was time for some more history along the way. Antigua Farmacia de la Reina Madre is the oldest pharmacy in Spain (dating back to 1578), and has an underground tunnel from the Royal Palace. The king did not want anyone to know if he was sick, so medicine was brought through the tunnel. Apparently women were smuggled through the tunnel from time to time as well. For a different kind of medicine…
No food tour in Spain is complete without croquetas and tortilla (Spanish omelette). Almost all the bars serve the tortilla, and our last stop was no exception. The crocquetas were nice and smooth, but the tortilla was quite ordinary. But then again, it is always a matter of personal taste.
Before we left, Jorge sent an e-mail with a recipe, so I better get started in the kitchen now!
You can book the Secret Food Tours online. The price is 69 Euro per adult, while a small discount is offered for youth and children.
The tour runs every day all year at 11.00, but you can also book private tour at other times.
Not going to Madrid anytime soon? Not to worry, Secret Food Tour has tours all over the world!