Tapas, TAVERNS AND HISTORY TOUR
by: Raquel Guerrero
Under a full moon, I strolled along Madrid’s busy and festive streets. It was the 26th day of September, half past six in the evening. The air was filled with the aroma of sweet vermouth, spices, and hyacinth. Retracing my steps along the Royal Palace, I couldn’t help but notice all the taverns that lined the streets. It was here towards some remote place faraway from home where I set out to enjoy a wonderful evening with my family.
Throughout history, Spain has been inhabited by Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Although there are many cultural and political as well as dietary laws and fasting differences, there is a distinctive union in the gastronomic world with each religious group contributing important influences based on spices and style of cooking.
Madrid is known as “life-giving water, because on water it was built, with walls made of fire”. It is the capital and the largest city in Spain. It is here in Madrid that we can explore hundreds of taverns and restaurants with some established before the Spanish Civil War. Whether snacking on tapas or indulging on an eight-course traditional feast, Madrid’s restaurants serve delectable cuisine sure to pamper even the most sophisticated palates.
My family and I discovered Madrid after dark as we partook on an enchanting Tapas Historical Tour. Our guide James Blick who is a very talented freelance and travel-writer led us through the old city showing us historical sights and indulging us with amazing authentic Spanish cuisine.
Our first stop was at the Taberna Real by the Royal Palace. We were welcomed with a toast of a sweet, red vermouth miro on tap from the Reus region which was made of sweet white wine, fortified with caramel and steeped with different botanicals that gave its unique flavor, sweetness, and deep color. The kids drank freshly squeezed orange juice as we sampled some Manchego cheese, Royal field black olives from Madrid, and a nutty Jamon Iberico de Bellota from Guijelo, Spain, served with salted Marcona almonds, freshly made potāto chips, and tostada con tomate.
Did you know that the black hoof Iberian pigs were acorn fed and lived under oak trees? The jamon is typically aged for three years and that is why it’s known to be the best ham in Spain. So when buying Jamon Iberico, choose the one with a black label. It’s the best!
Our second stop was at the modern La Concha located at La Latina, the tapas mecca of Madrid. It is here in the cava area where you see streets lined with taverns. We were escorted to a basement and served a refreshing Ribeiro wine, a white wine from Galicia made from Trexauia grapes grown near Portugal. The kids drank a very dry cocktail made of different juices.
Presented within a Chato glass, salmorejo which is similar to a gazpacho, was served with bread and ham. Then came the Cecina cured smoked beef, followed by Picillo peppers garnished with leeks, Galicia cow’s cheese, and pimiento relleno de Titilla. In Spain, bread is used to scoop and soak up sauces, which is my favorite way to enjoy a scrumptious meal!
Our third stop led us under the Plaza Mayor to a tavern popular among the Japanese! Meson del Champinon, a lively tavern that specializes on mushrooms! Its amazing chef served us champinons stuffed with chorizo, garlic, parsley, salt, and lemon! This was to die for and will keep you coming back for more. There was a style of eating the mushrooms using two toothpicks!
Such a fun place indeed! We guzzled the mushrooms down with a refreshing red wine con casera while the kids drank a sweet, non-alchoholic Mosto grape juice. Did you know that this tavern consumes 300 kilos of mushrooms a day? Mama Mia!
We then made our way to the area called Sol at the La Casa del Abuelo! They specialized on Gambas Al Ajillo. Superb and one of the best I’ve ever tasted! We of course devoured and soaked it with lots of bread and paired with a fruity Vino ala Bueno; a sweet Alicante red wine!
Casa Toni was our final stop and this is where I decided to just go full throttle as my stomach succumbed to more amazing and rich tapas! Filipino griller Alan prepared for us a gift of chorizo from Salamanca, pork with cumin marinade, Callos Caseras homemade tripe, beer battered cuttlefish, Boquerones en vinegre which are anchovies marinated in vinegrette, mollejas (sweetbreads), and Beregenas de la Casa which are a delightful lightly battered and fried aubergine drizzled with dark Spanish chestnut honey.
We washed them down with Valdepeñas crianza red. At the end of our final supper, James thoughtfully surprised us with a box of coconut Nun’s cookies freshly made in Andalusia and paired them with a Muscatelo.
A visit to Madrid would not be complete without experiencing a Tapas, Tavern and History Tour. This nostalgic stroll down the city streets of Madrid offers not only the historical romance of what it was like in a remote civilization of some distant past, but perhaps gives us a taste and feel of how the Spaniards gathered together to the simple pleasures of tapas.