Following research, we loved what we saw about Madrid Food Tours and asked to join a tour and document it. They were kind enough to provide us with the following tour, however all thoughts and opinions are – as always – formed independently and without agreement to be favourable.
After leaving our fantastic three month pet and housesitting experience in central Spain we’d decided that a small jaunt around Spain was going to have to happen before we made our secret trip. The following week we passed through the ancient city of Cartagena and met a lovely Couchsurfing couple there, fallen in love and never wanted to leave Granada and stopped off rather briefly in Seville, but we left the longest stretch of our time to stop in Madrid to hopefully put together a fantastic vegetarian and vegan guide for travellers to Madrid from the suggestions you all sent us.
One suggestion we were really eager to try was to join one of the highly rated Spanish cuisine food tours put together by the team at Madrid Food Tours to catch a glimpse into the varying foods on offer, eating habits and to learn a little more about how the pattern of eating in cities like Madrid govern and determine their whole day.
Joining The Tour As Vegetarians
Prior to joining the tour we enquired with the team and found that they can cater to vegetarians and a couple of other dietary requirements during the course of their tours so that we are still very much part of the group as it navigates the city learning its habits. We were especially grateful to hear about the accommodations they could make as we were slightly worried that in a country with a diet highly based on meat and fish consumption, that we could find ourselves being left a little out in the cold.
For an insight into Spanish veganism, read our Best Vegan Restaurants in Madrid post
The Day Of The Tour
With all arrangements taken care of prior to our arrival we were well prepared to be at our meeting point in Placa Mayor ahead of time so as not to miss meeting with the rest of the group and our food tour guide for the day.
Precisely on the dot we met with the rest of our small group (smaller groups always make for better experiences in our book) and also with Luke, a fellow Brit who has spent the past few years living and travelling around Spain, immersing himself fully in the local culture and the food that governs each morning, afternoon and night.
After giving us his personal introduction to how he sees life in Spain, Luke proceeded to give us a small lesson on the unusual multiple eating times that make up a day in Madrid and the rest of Spain as we made our way to the first of what would be number of stops during our four hour tour of the city.
Breakfast, and Second Breakfast
Much as I’ve experience myself from my many months of living in Italy, the day in Spain starts very much the same and begins with small espresso to get the day off to a bright start, most commonly on its own, perhaps accompanied with a single slice of toast; but breakfast doesn’t stop there, in fact, some in Spain might not even call that breakfast at all but instead a snack. Breakfast for most in Madrid doesn’t actually begin until after at least an hour or so into their working day when they’ll be given a short break from their workplace to pop downstairs from their office or out of their shop to locate the nearest Pastelería (a Spanish bakery) to drink another espresso as they stand at the bar – and as we were about to try for ourselves – accompanied by an incredibly sweet pastry, flat in appearance called a ‘Napolitana con Chocolate‘.
As we watched locals crowding into the bar Luke picked up for us a few of these local specialties for our group to try, straight from the oven and hot to the touch.
Alongside the stuffed chocolate pastry was my personal favourite, ‘Napolitana con Crema Pastelera‘, stuffed with a heavy sweet cream, my eyes said yes, and my mouth was happy to comply.
Sweet Treats For Christmas
Still licking our lips to clean up all of the chocolate and cream that we could manage, our group was navigated further down the road to a small sweet shop that I rather swiftly fell in love with.
The specialist we stopped at deals solely in the creation of a Spanish sweet called Turrón, though thought to orginate from the north, this shop in Madrid has been making this marizpan-like product since 1775 in one capacity or another, and after trying some of the numerous samples on offer of the many varying types we can completely understand why.
Though this shop might typically do most of its business at Christmas time due to the specialty of its sweets, I’d be more than happy to sample these treats again given the opportunity, especially Turrón Blancos, my own personal favourite. Also, it’s perfectly fine for vegetarians too, and there was a liquor to sample too.
Hidden Food You’ll Never Find
Our next stop on our food tour around Madrid was unexpected and utterly off the map.
Rounding a couple of corners and after knocking on a door you’d most likely not notice and probably walk straight past, we were informed that we’d be taking a brief step away from the street of Madrid in favour of a local convent – unexpected to say the least.
As Luke began to explain, we were now within a local convent of Catholic nuns who have sworn an off never to step outside the convent walls to explore the city of Madrid that surrounds it – or even to allow their faces to be seen by outsiders! – so our purpose here would not be to meet and greet these ladies who’ve taken a solemn oath, but rather to purchase some of the biscuits they make. “But how can we without seeing them?”, we all thought to ourselves. Luke was more than happy to demonstrate.
Using a turntable and screen, Luke was able to converse and purchase a box of biscuits for our food tour to sample and enjoy, and as it was explained to us how the nuns still manage to live without any direct contact with the people in Madrid we each took a biscuit or two to sample.
A simple recipe, the biscuits are delicate, but delicious and apparently are rather nice dipped – which thankfully we had the chance to try later on in the day and enjoyed.
Not Our Idea Of Local
Next up for our vegetarian experience of the food in Madrid was a short walk around another corner where we found the now highly popular Mercado San Miguel.
Thousands of tourists descend upon Madrid every day with the market of San Miguel amongst the top of many of their ‘must-see’ lists due to the fantastic work a group of local businesses have made on taking Mercado San Miguel from the edge of neglect and an impending destruction to the flourishing centerpiece it is today; however, as full-time travellers who often seek out local markets rather than the sugar coated and overly photogenic experiences of popular examples such as Barcelona’s La Boqueria, we were a little downhearted that we wouldn’t be exploring a more local market, say more similar to Mercado de San Fernando or El Mercado de la Cebada.
However, given the fantastic architecture work of Mercado San Miguel and the brilliant restoration it has received, we couldn’t help but stand in awe at the structure as our tour stopped inside to sample a collection of tapas from one of the local vendors inside.
Unfortunately, as appealing as the tapas was, for us as vegetarians it can be quite difficult to find anything that doesn’t come with a side of, or contain, either fish or meat; so when we were offered a skewer to sample on the expectation that they would be fit for consumption, it only took one bit of one of the olives for Franca to discover that it contained anchovies inside. A rather unfortunate accident we’re sure.
Accompanying these skewers were also a plate of delicious Spanish olives that I couldn’t help but pop in to my mouth repeatedly as I finished one after another. Also there was a plate of almonds that’d had been prepared in a marinade of olive oil, salt and rosemary that had a lovely tang to them as salt and sweet combined for a lovely taste.
Paired with our tapas we each took a vermouth that was dark, but softly sweetened with orange. Incredibly easy to drink it didn’t take either of us long to get to the bottom of our glasses.
The Best Tortilla de Patatas In Town
Next up for our vegetarian food tour of Madrid was probably the highlight of the walk through a day of Spanish cuisine.
Though not much to look at from the outside, our travellers experience told us that regardless of the location, this small bar looked about as local as you can get in Madrid and once inside it was quite easy to see that these were very much locals serving only locals, with the occasional curious tourist dropping by.
Though simple in most peoples minds in preparation, the Spanish tortilla is actually almost entirely made incorrectly and sometimes even with the wrong products in order to have a tortilla that lasts as long as possible to sell tomorrow if not today, but perhaps even the day after. The husband and wife that own this small bar have been preparing their most famous dish unlike so many others that we’d sample not just in Madrid, but throughout our entire total time in Spain, sticking to a recipe that never changes, that always uses fresh products and the taste is unbelievable.
Served on it’s own, the tortilla is hot, soft and the egg is still slightly runny inside of its barely fried outer shell. It’s as far away from the oily and incredibly heavy tortilla that we’ve tried in bars across Spain during our four months in the country, and we’re so glad that as vegetarians we were still able to sample it.
The husband is also recognised as a champion pourer of cider in the Spanish style of pouring from above the head with one hand to a collection of glasses held at waist height below. Fascinating to see, even better to taste along side some delicious Manchego cheese.
Spanish-Style Take Away
Our next step on our food tour around Madrid was to what we soon discovered was the Spanish equivalent to all of the Indian, Turkish and Chinese takeaway restaurants that I’m used to seeing on every street in the UK.
For those in Spain who don’t quite have the time to cook for themselves because of their own busy lives of working long days, or due to the size of their small apartments, having to rely on eating out; there are a number of ‘dispensa‘ where cooks prepare a variety of different meals that change from day-to-day of classic Spanish meals that their own mothers and grandmothers used to make for them when they were growing up. This great service allows people to drop by on the way back home after jumping off the Madrid metro to grab something wholesome and delicious without having to take the time to prepare it, and though meat makes up the largest part of their menu, the lovely ladies at this particular dispensa were kind enough to prepare some baked peppers for us two vegetarian travellers to enjoy – and delicious they were!
Famous amongst not only the people of Madrid, but celebrities, travellers and tourists from Spain and the whole world over, La Bola has seen even royalty as one of their most prized customers thanks to their highly successful menu of meat dishes that will make every omnivore salivating.
Though of course not to our tastes due to our vegetarian diet, what we did find quite charming was the history of the location as described to us by Luke, but also that the recipe used today for their signature dish is identical to how it was prepared and served when the restaurant first opened more than 150 years ago, even in same style clay pots.
Whilst the omnivore side to our food tour group enjoyed one of the starters that comprises part of the restaurants special broth, both Franca and I were able to refresh our palates with a refreshing vegetarian-happy tomato and fresh-cheese starter that did just the trick. On top of that, one of the staff members of La Boca was kind enough to explain that should we wish to return later on in the day or at any time during our visit, they’d be more than happy to create something vegetarian for us which we were really pleased to hear, especially in a country where meat makes up so much of the menu.
The New Cucine of Madrid
As with every capital city there is a new generation who wish to try something different with the staples of their national kitchen, and Madrid is certainly no exception as we came to find when we stopped next at a small newly opened bar no more than a stones throw away from the main ‘Gran Via‘ of Madrid.
Tapping into regional dishes from the north of Spain and pairing them with local delights such as the many options of differing olive oils to pair with the food was a wondrous treat for the senses, and just by dipping a little freshly baked bread into the three differing extra virgin olive oils, we could both get more of a sense of the importance of good quality olive oil, especially in comparison the the plastic bottled brands you find in every supermarket.
Together with the oils our group also tried another liquor and some other very typical Spanish tapas dishes, Braised Spinach and Chickpeas and Salmorejo (which we adore) and they are both vegetarian on request, and our American omnivores had ‘Croquetas de Pescado’, a potato and fish filled roll covered in fresh breadcrumbs and then lightly fried.
A Little Something of Everything
One of the last stops on our vegetarian glimpse of the Ultimate Madrid Food Tour was at a highly typical scene from the streets of the city which is the delicatessen.
Though probably not the highlight for most vegetarians given the high quantity of meat on show inside, there are a number of other interesting items on display that have been brought from all over Spain in order for people to really mix up and try different things, and for our group that was to be a selection of typical Spanish ‘jamón’ cured meats (that we quite obviously passed on), and a small selection of Spanish cheeses that were much more to my liking.
Final Stop, Final Meal
As the Ultimate Tour came to an end so did we come to the ultimate stop in a lovely old restaurant where we ate upstairs together with only a couple of locals for company.
Here we’d be sampling a number of things from the menu in order to get our final grasp of how the Spanish night time meal isn’t so much one plate for yourself, but rather a collection of plates to share over drinks with a friend of five, or in our case, our food tour group.
To cater to both us two vegetarians and our American friends the decision was made to select a handful of mixed dishes that all could sample and try, and I’m so glad we did.
Paired with a refreshing glass of Tinto de Verano – similar in its sweet taste to sangria, but without such a numbered mix of flavours – we chose some deep-fried green peppers which with their little sprinkling of salt to taste were incredible, the group tried some cooked medallions of ham, whilst we settled to order and share a plate of grilled setas mushrooms with a fresh squeeze of lemon on top. Neither of us are joking when we saw that those mushrooms were some of the best we’ve ever had.
To finish we took another small pouring of moscatel to salute the end of an enjoyable tour and perhaps to help some of us to take a siesta to help digest all the food we’d eaten in just those few hours together.
Having spent several months in Spain during the course of 2014 we knew that trying to enjoy real traditional Spanish cuisine was never going to be easy, especially considering almost everything comes topped with fish or meat as a guarantee, so we were really thankful to at least catch a glimpse into the life of Spanish people and their eating habits even if we were quite restricted in what we could actually eat and enjoy so we do take our hats off to Madrid Food Tour for that.
We’re both also highly thankful to our guide Luke for making the tour enjoyable and for not faltering for an instant in helping us to try at least a little something from the narrow choices for vegetarians.
Our highlights we’re most certainly the incredibly different tortilla, buying biscuits from nuns that we could only hear but not see, and testing the differing oils that we can still taste on our lips now.
The only real problem we could find with the tour is that as travellers we were perhaps hoping to experience a more ‘off-the-beaten-path‘ experience to a day in the shoes of a local of Madrid, perhaps further out from the heavily tourist trodden streets of the centre of the city, but that’s perhaps more about our preferences for travel than the tour being bad in any way. In fact, for people who are only in Madrid for a day or so then it’s perhaps the best way to not only experience local life and the food they consume, but also to bring some of the most famous culinary attractions into an easily manageable tour so that you see all and miss nothing.
Thanks to Lauren and Madrid Food Tour
We’d both really like to thank Lauren from Madrid Food Tours for allowing us to join along with their Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour during our time in Madrid so that we can see that there is a may to experience the food, even if meat is such a dominant quantity of the local menu.
Perhaps one day we’ll be able to come back and experience the tour from the viewpoint as vegans.