Strangely enough, I’ve written a lot about food lately. My story with learning to love food abroad (and in general) is long and complex, but the more I eat and the more I travel, the more I get obsessed with food abroad. From unexpectedly falling in love with the quality food in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and the French fries in Belgium last year, to myth-busting Berlin’s food myths and discovering the best flavors of Rome this spring, my taste buds and I have definitely come a long way lately.
And food was definitely one reason I was thrilled to travel to Madrid this spring. As it turned out, I had every right to look forward to eating in Madrid: I have rarely eaten so well and so authentic (read: ahem, I only got McDonald’s in the airport on the way home) during a trip before, because I had the best possible conditions: In Madrid, I met up with three girls who all deeply love food and all of them inspired me to try something new. Jessica, who was an expat in Madrid at the time, introduced me to tinto de verano, my new favorite Spanish drink. Amanda took us to taste different craft beers (for research purposes only, of course) and Ashley knew exactly which goodies we had to buy in the local supermarkets to stock up the fridge in our beautiful GowithOh apartment, because she did a homestay on the island of Mallorca once.
Thinking about everything we ate in Madrid is a bit embarrassing, because we clearly over-indulged. But then again, how could we not have tried everything? We were in Spain after all! Plus, we were guided by Lauren of Madrid Food Tour on our very first night and she taught us how and where to find the best culinary highlight and especially all the great tapas Madrid has to offer. From the start, we knew exactly what to look out for.
Churros con Chocolate
I’ve been waiting for years to finally sample these heavenly greasy, sugary icons of the Spanish desert cuisine. Although probably not the best food health-wise, they are so worth a little sin. Plus, we had them in one of Madrid’s oldest churros places and it was a cold and rainy spring day in Madrid, so those warm sweets accopmanied by a café con leche were pretty much the best thing that could have happened to us.
Patatas bravas were probably the very first thing I ever had in Spain: I adored them on a Costa Blanca family vacation when I was 15, I adored them just as much twelve years later on the side of a cold beer. Well, actually, beer on the side makes them even better. Fried potatoes and a spicy sauce, what else would you need to be happy?
Just like the patatas breves, croquetas are the perfect meal to go with a drink. From what I learned, basically anything can be turned into a croqueta — meats and ham, fish and seafood, or veggies. These are all puréed with potato and then deep-fried. As a pescitarian this still left plenty of options for me, but if you order a mixed plate of croquetas it might feel a little like playing Russian roulette (careful, beef and mushroom croquetas look very much alike on the inside!). Personally, I think I liked the tuna ones best. Or the mushroom ones?
This specific tapa is a bit hard to grasp, because apparently anything can be served on toasted bread (or is it even a little bit fried?) in Spain. From seafood to foie gras, there’s basically nothing you couldn’t find on a tosta. My personal favorites were the ones with mussels, salmon, or shrimps.
Aceitunas de Campo Real
Honestly, all olives I had in Spain were amazing — even the ones in the most random little beer tavern: I loved that whenever we had a beer somewhere, we were also served a few olives on the side. Really, who knew beer and olives go SO well together?! But among all the olives we had, one kind stood out: the campo real olives. Lauren introduced these to us at Mercado de San Miguel on our tapas food tour, and I couldn’t have asked for a more flavorful introduction to Spanish olives!
Having lived in Portugal, bacalao was definitely nothing new for me and when Lauren took us to a traditional balcalao place I was just looking forward to a reunion with an old favorite. But Spanish bacalao has little to do with the Portuguese one, and – I’m so sorry, Portugal — the Spanish version was way better, or rather mind-blowing, because of one simple difference: They fry the fresh fish in dough and it. is. so. good. Really, we had this bacalao on our first night and we could literally not stop talking about it during the whole time we were in Madrid.
Tortilla de Patatas
Not to be confused with a Mexican tortilla, this ultimately Spanish dish can be found in pretty much any restaurant all over Spain. However, ingredients, taste, and moistness can vary a lot. The perfect tortilla would be creamy and taste like its main ingredients: Potatoes, eggs, and good olive oil. Just like many of the other foods in my list, it can be served as a tapa on the side of a beer, but I also found it perfect for a quick lunch and a little pre-museum protein. Spanish tortilla is definitely a classic for a reason!
Boquerones en Vinagre
I hope I researched the name right, but I loved this specific tapa so much I had to include it here. In our case, it was basically a super simple combination of a handful of salty potato chips with marinated anchovies on top. Salty plus greasy plus salty and greasy makes simply delicious. Perfect to wash down a beer, you get the idea.
Pimientos de Padrón
When I told my roommate, who had studied abroad in Galicia, that I was planning a trip to Spain, her very first reaction was: “You have to eat pimientos de padrón!!” I had no idea why she would get so excited about those little green peppers, but I was looking forward to trying them anyways. Luckily, the first restaurant Lauren took us to on our tapas food tour is famous for their pimientos padrón. Just like many other Spanish foods I tried, the pimientos are again a dish with simple and few ingredients, but if those are just high quality olive oil, slightly hot pimientos, and coarse salt, that’s all it takes. I now definitely know why my roommate recommended those little green peppers now.
I know I probably didn’t try proper main courses in Spain and I know you probably think I massively missed out by not eating any jamón, but every single bite of food I tried in Madrid was absolutely delicious. I loved that most of the dishes above are served in most restaurants, and that you could find the most delicious tosta in the most random little tavern. Also, I was quite relieved that not eating meat in Madrid is way easier than I thought it would be — and I adored every second of learning more about the tapas culture in the Spanish capital.
Madrid, you didn’t just make me fall in love with you through architecture and pretty balconies, but also through your food!
What are your favorite tapas in Spain?
Note: Madrid Food Tour kindly offered us a complimentary tapas tour, but all opinions are entirely my own. Lauren did an amazing job and I truly loved this foodie experience in Madrid!