We at Wagoners Abroad see our fair share of tourist things, but what we really enjoy is finding those gems that show the interesting cultural items of a city or country. This includes not only seeing, but experiencing how the locals do things. Spending a few hours in their shoes is a fantastic way to better understand people. With the help of Paula at Devour Madrid Food Tour, she was able to show us a few of the gems in her neighborhood of Huertas.
To highlight my favorite parts of the Madrid food tour, I’ll use a handy-dandy guide to indicate what type of gem to which I’m referring. The gems are:
- K – Knowledge
- F – Food
- L – Local
Now obviously, there’s some overlap, and I’m just having a bit of fun, so don’t take the categories too seriously. I won’t cover every part of the tour, but just my favorite parts.
Starting Off in Huertas
What good is a tour without an awesome tour guide? Right off the bat we could tell that Paula was going to be fun. Her enthusiasm was infectious. When we first met our group, she gave us a quick run-down of what we would be doing.
Huertas translates to Vegetable Gardens or Orchards depending on who you ask. Huertas is the Barrio de las Letras (Neighborhood of Letters), and is considered the literary neighborhood of Madrid. That’s two gems for the price of one.
As we started our journey, Paula pointed out a building painted in dark red. She asked us what came to mind when thinking of this color. We all drew a blank, and she explained that long ago, when people were illiterate, having a sign that said, “Restaurant” or “Bar” wouldn’t help. So tavern owners painted their establishments the color of wine to let people know where they could get some vino.
I Hear My Stomach Growling
Now what’s the most important thing to bring when you’re searching for gems? Why your appetite of course! Paula didn’t disappoint on this front. She showed us some of the best restaurants in Madrid.
Our first (and most important!) meal was at a cute cafe where they brought us a typical Madrid breakfast. Initially I thought they were just big plain churros. In the U.S. and other places we’ve been, they’re covered with sugar/cinnamon, or filled with chocolate. In Madrid however, they are served with this thick hot chocolate. Not the typical hot chocolate, but it was like melted chocolate pudding served in a cup. In a word…divine! I had to remind myself to share it was so good.
We got our sugar fix, time for a little salt!
With our energy up, Paula showed us around Huertas neighborhood, bringing us to a tiny little nondescript shop.
Hermanos SANZ is run by the Sanz brothers (Gregorio & Miguel), and they make potato chips. While one brother cooks the freshly cut potatoes, the other brother bags them up. They get shipped out to stores and restaurants throughout Madrid. Normally when I think of food production, I think of industrial scale machines and technology, so this was an excellent counter-example.
The bag was full of fresh, warm potato chips when we got it, but they were quickly eaten. Even though food was involved, this is one of those cool places that your everyday tourist would just walk by, and not know what goes on in this tiny little corner of Huertas.
Since Huertas is the Literary center of Madrid, there are many literary references and quotes on the walking paths, such as this one.
The translation (not mine) is:
I looked upon my native country’s walls,
if once they were strong, now they were decayed,
fatigued by time’s inevitable race,
by which their former valor now must fade.
Feeding My Brain
As we’re walking through the neighborhood, we keep on seeing references to Cervantes. In case you didn’t know, Miguel de Cervantes is probably the most notable of all of Spain’s authors. His Don Quixote is one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. He was born in Alcalá de Henares, which is about 35 kilometres northeast of Madrid. In 1607, he settled in Madrid, where he lived and worked until his death in 1616.
If you didn’t know the details of this store A. Cabello, it would be easy to walk right by this small building, but the kicker is this is one of the oldest food stores in all of Madrid. Unless you were a local, you probably wouldn’t even see the small plaque on ground commemorating the store’s presence since 1877.
Inside the store are so many different food items. Jellies and jams with all sorts of different fruits. Different meats and morsels that are making me hungry again. We got to meet the owner, and in the back there are some jars set out for us.
Paula has us taste the first one, and asks us what it is. Everyone got it right…except me. It was banana, and I guessed apple. Hey, I was just warming up.
Then she threw down the gauntlet. She said that no one had guessed the correct answer. Ever! Challenge received, and challenge accepted. So we tasted it, and I thought I knew what it was, but after the banana fiasco, I was hesitant to answer. And Lars says, “Chirimoya!”. The look on Paula’s face was priceless. Lars was correct. Score one for Wagoners Abroad! Even the store owner was impressed.
Living (and Shopping) Like A Local
When you think of doing what the locals do, what comes to mind? For me, it’s going to the market. Experiencing the local market in Huertas was a fantastic way to pretend we were locals.
Olives are a big food item in Spain. There are so many different varieties, and they can be prepared in so many different ways, not to mention the heavenly oil they produce. The folks at Aceitunas Juanjo, and they had 8 types of olives waiting for us.
Look at the picture, and you can see they love their olives. I’m not a huge olive fan, but I did like a few of the milder ones. Anya and Heidi are the olive aficionados, and went back for seconds and thirds.
Hamming it up with a little something extra
Paula brought us over to Jesús at Charcutería Ismael, who is passionate about ham. Ham is another huge thing in Spain. Heidi and the kids enjoyed the Jamón Serrano and Jamón Iberico, and this is where Paula introduced me to a gem of an alternative.
Now I’m not a big fan of Spanish ham, so what Paula suggested was a cured/sliced beef called Cecina. I’ve seen this a hundred times, and thought it was ham, so had never sampled it. It was very tasty, and I’ll be trying that again.
We’re Becoming Big Fans of Madrid
Throughout Huertas, the street signs are these beautiful 3×3 tiles with various pictures on them. I can’t remember the name of the artist, but they all have a great story behind them.
I’ll admit that this next gem was my favorite part of our experience. At Montanera Selecta, we were greeted to wine glasses, cheeses, and meats. Heidi said all of the sheep and goat cheese was divine! Oh and no, those aren’t fries! They are crackers.
As far as the meats go, there was Jamón Serrano, salchicha (similar to sausage), and chorizo (similar to pepperoni). I’ve tried salchicha and chorizo, but if something looks like pepperoni, it should taste like pepperoni. The Spanish typically eschew spicy things, so their chorizo is not spicy. But the owner had a huge surprise for me.
I tasted the chorizo, and it had a good kick. My face lit up as I was eating it, and he and Paula smiled. This was fantastic chorizo! Not only did I eat mine, I ate Anya’s, and finished the community plate. We’re ordering some of that and having it shipped to Almuñécar!
On the wine front, we had a red wine, and a white. The red was based on the Tempranillo, but it was the white wine that won me over. It was a nice little number made from the Verdejo variety. It was light and sweet, and introduced us to a new type of wine that we’ll be having again.
Here’s a little tidbit. If you ever meet someone, and they say they’re from Madrid ask them:
“Eres un gato?” AIR-ez oon GOT-oh?
Chances are, they’ll give you a surprised look and a smile, and they’ll tell you “Yes” or “No”. Madrid is an amazingly diverse city which brings in people from many countries. A Gato (cat) is someone from Madrid, vs. someone who has moved there.
It’s A Madrid Food Tour Wrap!
What a fantastic adventure and we visited a few more places as well. I hate to call it just a tour with all of those great places Paula took us to. So remember when you travel, that is cool to see the “big stuff”, but don’t forget the easily-overlooked gems that show the true culture of the area you’re visiting.
Devour Madrid – Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour
Disclosure: Our experience with the Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour was provided by Devour Madrid, and all opinions are our own.