Of Tapas and Tours: A Night in Madrid
Madrid has always been one of the most frequented tourist spots in the world. It’s like a dream as you walk through its wide and beautiful streets, and as you look at the palatial buildings. The culture is just as interesting, from the sizzling flamenco shows to the raging bullfights.
But what if you had only had a few days in Madrid, what’s the best way to experience Spain’s capital? My answer may surprise you. But let me walk you through it.
It was a whirlwind. In less than five hours, we made our way through 5 different places, sampling around 9 gastronomical delights and drinking 7 (though I later felt it may be like 10 or more) delicious alcoholic beverages — from vermouth, to sherry, to Tinto de Verano. Our tour guide, made sure that our stops really showed us what the city has to offer. The food was so good that it felt like we were introduced to what Spanish food could be like right at the onset of our 3 month trip. This is something I recommend you do on your first day in Madrid! You won’t regret it.
That was the main memory I will be taking away from the Devour Madrid tour. It’s not the most enchanting of the city’s tours in the common sense of the word. We did not visit the more obscure hidey-holes of the huge city. But we did gain something that not many other tours can give us in such a short span of time: local knowledge. After all, what best way to experience a place than like a local?
If you’ve got more than an evening to spend in Madrid, it is still advisable to take this tour during your first day. It’s the perfect primer for the rest of your stay.
The Best of The Tapas
There’s an inside joke that there are more tapas bars in Madrid than there are trees. And it may be true. Tapas, those little varied appetizers served with drinks, are very influential in the Madrid culinary scene. And only a true local knows where the best tapas bars are.
Or, barring a local, at least someone who has taken the Devour Madrid food and history tour.
Our evening started at the Plaza de Isabel II, a smallish public square that embodied the busy Madrid vibe. Many people were walking about, either on their way to one of the many cafes in the vicinity or to the Opera nearby.
The first stop also happened to be near the Opera — the Taverna Real. Here we tasted the finest of all Spanish hams — the Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. The sumptuous ham was paired with the interesting taste of vermouth and some of the best rosemary olives I’ve ever had. I know Spain has an abundance of olives, but there is something different in the ones I had here. This was the perfect start to the tour. We also met a Filipina waiter in Taverna Real. It’s always nice to know some people of our own while abroad.
But of course, the other half of Devour Madrid was a history tour. Joy, our tour guide, regaled us with her knowledge on Spanish food culture. We were taught to distinguish between Jamón serrano and Jamón ibérico. And here’s a pro tip: when entering a tapas bar, one of the most foolproof ways to know what the place’s specialty is will be to look at the floor! Spaniards have a custom of tossing leftovers of the food on the floor. It made sense — the floors are cleaned regularly anyway, so they clean the tables by moving stuff to the floor. There you’ll see what people frequently order, and what they love. It’s a different custom, but when in Spain, do what the Spanish do.
After knowing all there is about the culture of Spanish bars, Joy led the way to the Royal Palace. Here we learned more about the city we were in. Up next was a plate of delicious grilled mushrooms from Meson del Champinon. The mushroom was topped with chorizo, and boasted a unique flavor. We were taught the proper way to eat it, in order to taste all the flavors. It turns out that you have to hold both toothpicks and spread them apart as wide as you can. Then, pop the whole thing into your mouth to savor the goodness.
Before arriving at our fourth stop, we went through the Puert0 del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, both famous tourist attractions. Joy was a local of Madrid, so aside from flawless recommendations, she also had a lot of local stories. One of these stories concerned the Gambas al Ajillo that was served to us at the third Tapas Bar ( La Casa del Abuelo) . These garlic prawns are cooked in front of you, and served with fresh bread to soak up all the hot oil. Joy mentioned that the place has been perfecting the gambas for around a century! And perfect it was. The fresh prawns and the strong garlic taste went perfectly together.
The last stop was a famous Casa Toni. It was famous not only for its drinks, , and we were served a variety of tapas. I especially loved the buqarones. It was a more casual restaurant, quite busy but still good enough for people to chat. We tried several dishes and I loved them all.
A Madrid Must-Try
The end of the four hours came, and we all bid our goodbyes. But we were all indelibly imprinted by what we had learned and tasted that night. Joy also left us with recommendations, to make sure we could head off on our own and have just as enjoyable an experience.
It was a superb tour. Come to think of it, it was an amazing opportunity to enjoy great Spanish tapas like any local would. There’s no stress in planning where to go or what to order.Everything fell into place, and we all went away blissful.
I absolutely loved Devour Madrid! Do yourself a favor and experience it yourself.