It’s easy to find tapas in Madrid, but finding the best bars and knowing what to eat at each spot is more difficult. Devour Madrid can help.
I have always felt that one of the best parts of traveling is the food. When I was little, I used to get into full blown arguments with my parents about which restaurant to go to on vacation trips to the beach. I would always search for the local delicacy when we traveled around Europe, and in my own city, I always search out the new restaurants, local favorites and off the beaten path cafés. In short, I consider myself an amateur foodie. So when our blogger friend Lauren, founder of Spanish Sabores and Devour Madrid, offered to let us tag along on the Tapas, Taverns and History Tour, we jumped at the chance!
We met our guide, Debbie, in the Plaza de la Ópera. (I’ve always been partial to this plaza because the first time I lived in Spain it was on a summer study abroad program and the university housing was just around the corner from Ópera.) The plaza must have been lucky for me because we wound up with a private tour that night! The other couple who was meant to take the tour with us cancelled last minute, so after a quick phone call to HQ, Debbie whisked us off to our first stop: The Taberna Real.
Interestingly, after five years living in the capital neither Pedro nor I had been in the Taberna Real. It sits on the corner of the busy Plaza Isabel II, and I guess I just always assumed it would be packed with tourists. Not the case. Debbie stared us right up to the bar and asked the waiter for a round of vermouth, some delicious olives and, of course, jamón. You actually can’t have a food tour in Spain without jamón (and why would you want to!?!) Debbie explained to us that vermouth is actually a fortified wine flavored with different botanicals and herbs. I’m pretty sure I never knew that, although we’d been visiting El Anciano Rey de los Vinos in Madrid for years. (You can visit them too on the Ultimate Devour Madrid Tour, by the way.)
After this little aperitif to start our evening, Debbie strolled with us through the Plaza all the while giving a running history of Madrid’s streets. If there is anything I believe in, it’s the story of a place. The people who walked those same streets hundreds of years ago, hurrying past the palace, living their daily life and constructing what has now become one of my favorite cities in the world. “Look,” Debbie was saying, “this statue of Philip IV on a horse…It dates back to the 1600s and it was the first one to be built like that; with the horse raised up on his hind legs. In fact, the sculptor had to contact Galileo to find a way for the statue to stand upright.” We must have walked past that statue hundreds of times while living in Madrid, but I had no idea Galileo had helped to construct it!
We hurried on through the historic streets until we found my favorite stop of the night. It was a little bar tucked away behind the Plaza Mayor, again, a spot I must have passed on a weekly basis as I walked from the Puerta del Sol to La Latina for some tapas with friends. But here, on this very street was a little bar with a green painted door. A family run off the beaten path spot that managed, defying all logic, to be located right on the beaten path, hidden right under our noses. Debbie pulled out a map of the wine regions of Spain as the man behind the bar poured us three glasses of dry white wine.
As Debbie explained where the different wines in Spain came from, my eye flitted to the little dish of pickled anchovies (boquerones en vinagre). This was going to be a good stop. Pedro is an expert on boquerones since they are very common in Málaga. In fact, people from Málaga are affectionately called “boquerones.” These were delicious enough to turn even the most skeptical into an instant convert. Then, the clincher. The waiter brought over some of the most delicious home made, off the menu meat balls that you could imagine. Pedro’s favorite food in the world is the meatball. It must have been fate. We left the bar happily and moved on to the next stops on the tour.
After a few more delicious stops (seriously, every bite on this tour is mouthwateringly good), we found ourselves seated at a little tavern near the Puerta del Sol. Debbie knew we had lived in Madrid and asked what we’d like to order. We told her to surprise us, and wound up with a plate of sweetbreads. I had never been brave enough to try sweetbreads up until that point, but Debbie assured me that I could not say I’d lived in Madrid until I at least had a taste. I’m so glad I trusted her because she was hands down, 100% right. Savory and salty and perfect little bites that almost made me forget what I was eating.
Just as we were finishing up our round of raciones (plates of food to be shared with the table), Debbie pulled out one last surprise from her bag. It was a box of cookies. Nun cookies to be exact. (Just a little aside: The nuns in Spain bake some of the best sweets ever! You can buy them in the convents, and many people do!) So there were the nun cookies and a little glass of sweet wine to end the night. There couldn’t have been a more perfect taste to end the evening.
Overall, we really enjoyed our evening with Devour Madrid. It was fun to rediscover some old favorites, and find some surprising new stops on the tour. Best of all, we learned lots of really interesting facts about the city where we’d met, fallen in love, and lived our lives for five years. Madrid will always be our city, and oh, what a delicious city it is! We ruskomend Devour Madrid with 5 boquerones.