On a recent chilly Saturday morning, James and I set out on one of the city’s best ranked activities, Madrid Food Tour. I had never been on a food-inspired tour before, let alone in a city whose food culture I’m quite familiar with. Yet the chance to meet local honey and jam specialists, indulge in chocolate-soaked figs and hop from butchers’ shops to tapas bars while learning historical tidbits did indeed change the way I look at the city I’ve called home for the past seven years.
While Madrid Food Tour offers a bunch of different gastronomic routes throughout the city, we went on the one I consider the most enticing — Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour. The home of the tour was Barrio de las Letras, a central neighborhood named after the famous Spanish writers who once resided, scribbled and drank together there in the 1600’s, such as Cervantes, Lope de Vega and Quevedo.
Those of us who live here today know the neighborhood as Huertas, coined after the bar-filled street that runs through it. Unlike many areas surrounding Sol or Plaza Mayor, this barrio upholds a charming and unchanged spirit thanks to its thriving delicatessens, tapas bars and traditional markets. Offerings of old and new spins on local cuisine await you as you walk through its gorgeous cobble-stoned streets. And Madrid Food Tour will let you in on all its secrets.
Our tour guide, James Blick, was not only an expert on Madrid’s history and gastronomic scene, but also made each and every person on the tour — which consisted of a young Scandinavian couple, two parents from Alabama visiting their daughter on her semester abroad and a group of middle-aged women from Ireland — feel comfortable by asking personal questions, encouraging conversation and creating a wonderful vibe throughout the three and a half hour event.
I also want to note that my husband, also James, doesn’t like cheese (weird, I know) and had told the guys at Madrid Food Tour beforehand. His eyes lit up as he saw a plate of cured meat awaiting him at the cheese tasting, showing how they clearly make it a point to accommodate different tastes and dietary needs.
James (the tour guide) also engaged in friendly chit chat with all the local market vendors and shop owners — something quintessentially Spanish, I must add. Wherever we stopped for a story and a bite, James knew the locals by name and the stories behind their businesses; those close-knit relationships make the tour truly delightful and offer insight into the city’s day-to-day life. This kind of rapport and insider know-how can only be attained with a great deal of time and care.
Overall it was clear how much attention was put into designing this tour; every detail was planned to perfection, from the food portions and variety to the timing and storytelling. We had more than enough tapas to fill us all up, yet paced and served up just right so we never felt too full to keep us from walking or having a few more bites at the next stop!
Since I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll have to wrap things up here. The last thing I’ll note is that I had walked by absolutely every place we visited on the tour on many occasions. Most of these places I had never stopped to think about nor even enter. Now I know that as I stroll along the streets I often frequent such as Calle Huertas and Calle Leon, I’ll see a different side of my adopted city. I’ll also enjoy a handful of new eateries that are now going straight to the top of my list.
So whether you’re coming through Madrid for a weekend or already live here, don’t hesitate to have the Madrid Food Tour show you around for a few hours, especially if you’re a foodie like me! Buen provecho!
To book a tour or read some of their tips on where to find the best food in the city, check out Madrid Food Tour’s web