Though Madrid is Spain’s capital, nowadays one might say that the city has a bit of an inferiority complex next to its country’s more popular tourist destination, Barcelona. “Everyone’s always talking about Barcelona!” Madrid might say if it had a face. “Barcelona! Barcelona! Barcelona!” But don’t let the fact that everyone loves Barcelona dissuade you from visiting Madrid, which has plenty of charms of its own. In Madrid you will find history, Manchego cheese, royalty, cured hams, Goya paintings, vermouth and sherry, lovely parks, and insanely delicious olives. Now I’m hungry! Let’s go get something to eat!
Morning: Markets of Madrid Tour
Times: 10 AM, Every Day But Monday and Sunday
Madrilenos know how to do many things, but one of their primary areas of expertise is knowing how to eat well for minor ducats. That is why I was so excited about going on the Urban Adventures Markets of Madrid tour. I would get to sample the goods at three of Madrid’s most delicious markets, as well as some other assorted snacks from Madrid’s many wonderful pastry shops. As you will see, I got more than my money’s worth, and I also ate enough for 12 men. Let me whet your appetite with…
the Approximately Top Five best snacks in madrid
1) The first thing you must eat is the classic Madrid breakfast, Churros and Chocolate from Chocolateria San Gines. Our amazing guide Cecilia told us that they have been making chocolate and churros here since the late 1800s. The chocolateria is very popular in Madrid, which is why the walls are covered with photos of celebrities whom you probably will not recognize unless you are super up on your Spanish gossip mags.
We learned that there are two kinds of churros: the thin one that looks like a rope and the thick one that is darker in color. The thin one, as you can probably guess, tastes lighter. The way you eat these churro treats is by dipping them in the rich melted chocolate. Be careful, because the dipping chocolate isn’t like a cocoa. It tastes amazing, but it’s a bit too rich for me to want to drink it.
2) Our next stop was at the Mercado de San Miguel. Cecilia told us this was a more gentrified market catering to tourists as much as locals, but that shouldn’t stop us from checking it out because there were some really delicious things there. Our snack here was my favorite: olives! I just love their bitter, briny flavor. Spaniards do olives like no one else, so if you are a drupehead like me, don’t miss out on them when you are in Spain.
We tasted little green Campoamor olives in oregano, Cacereña black olives with manchego cheese and sundried tomatoes, and Hojiblanca green olives from Seville with artichoke. My favorite were the Campoamor olives because they had such a green and fresh taste. But I’d be happy to eat them all again about a million times!
3) Do you like almond cookies? How would you like almond cookies made behind a secret door by secret nuns? Then you’re going to love the pastas de almendra from the Monasterio de Corpus Christi. Cecilia took us to this intriguing key-shaped door:
Behind which live nuns who make these magical cookies. The nuns aren’t allowed to talk to anyone, so you need to place your order in advance and then pick up your secret cookies the next day. They leave them for you in a little dumbwaiter. I generally think my hometown NYC is pretty perfect, but one thing we could use is a secret cookie door, let me tell you.
I did not eat any cookies that day, but I did make them my breakfast for the rest of my time in Spain. They were delightfully fresh, nutty, and crumbling, even if they did cover my fingers in powdered sugar. Be prepared, own a napkin.
4) After the more touristy market of San Miguel, we got to visit a real neighborhood place: the Mercado de la Cebada. Here we had a ridiculous amount of tastings. We snacked on some fresh cherries from Valle del Jerte and combined them with the famously pungent Queso Azul of Cabrales from Asturias.
If you are a blue cheese lover, you need to eat this.
Then we went to an olive oil shop and gorged ourselves silly on a gargantuan supply of olive oil from the fruity to the herbal. We paired these libations with a glass of Chardonnay from Zaragoza and tapas of manchego cheese and jamon serrano. The other people on the food tour were veg, so I got to eat all the jamon myself. #jamnoregrets. I especially liked the Chardonnay because it is made in clay jugs, which gave it an earthier flavor than I am used to Chardonnay having.
5) Our last stop was at the Mercado de San Fernando, which was more hipster than Cebada, but less upscale than San Miguel. I couldn’t believe how much food there was provided on this tour because we had white wine from Madrid with manchego cheese and cecina de leon (cured beef). Once again, all that cured meat was for me and only me! MWAHAHAHAHA! (Don’t worry, veggie people. Cecilia had a lovely meatfree empanada ready for the meatless among us.)
Then it was time for pastries: rosquillas de San Isidro, pesquiñas of honey and mantecados from Valladolid. The honey pesquinas were extremely rich, dark brown, and delicious, the mantecados were full of layers of pastry and flakiness, and the rosquillas look like donuts, but taste extremely light. It was a perfect cookie plate because the tastes complemented each other, but none of the cookies were that similar.
6) Can you believe there was another stop on the tour? Well believe it! Cecilia wanted us to finish with a coffee and pastry at one of the oldest pastry shops in Madrid, La Mallorquina Bakery. At her suggestion, I got this insane thing pictured above, which was a light as air whipped sugary egg white concoction covered in chocolate. I could only eat about half of it, which made me sad, but not as sad as I would have been had I collapsed into a food coma.
Early Afternoon: Royal Botanical Gardens
Address: Plaza de Murillo, 2
Hours: Every day, 10-9
Price: 3 Euros
After all that food and two glasses of wine, you’re not going to want to do anything but take a load off and allow your stomach to deflate. Of course you can go back to your hotel room for a siesta, but I suggest you head to the relaxing and verdant Royal Botanical Gardens. You won’t have to worry about anything here except which plants are the prettiest. Is it these?
How about these? Let’s have a furious internet debate about it. Have at thee, trolls!
Travelerette Tip: It was 97 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade when I visited Madrid in June, and Madrid has that kind of intense dry heat that makes you want to smother yourself to death with a thousand ice cubes. Fortunately there is a small exhibition hall inside the Botanical Gardens, it costs nothing to enter it, and…it is air conditioned! So if the heat is unbearable, come inside, feast your eyes on some Spanish photography, and cool down until you are able to venture out into the furnace once more.
Travelerette Treasure: I’m no flower expert, but I loved seeing all the different kinds of dahlias in bloom when I was in Madrid. They had every color from pink…
to yellow and white…
to this intriguing burgundy color.
I also have fond feelings about this tree because its shade stopped me from getting a sunburn. Thanks tree!
Late Afternoon: Retiro Park
So, now’s the portion of the travel itinerary when I…urge you to put aside the travel itinerary and live a little! Find a promising portion of Madrid and wander aimlessly until it is time for dinner. (Yes, you have to have dinner. This is Spain and dinner doesn’t start until 9, so you’ll be hungry again by then.)
But if you need a bit of help, there is not a finer place to get lost in all of Madrid than Buen Retiro Park. It is literally fit for a king because it used to be the exclusive park of the Spanish royal family, and you know what they say about monarchs…they know how to build parks. There are enough plants, crystal palaces, sculptures, decorative garden houses, and tree-lined boulevards to keep you entertained for hours. Go close this webpage and find them all! Don’t come back until 9 PM!
Travelerette Tip: Well, you’re a little needy, aren’t you, Intenet Stranger? Fine, I will try to give you a little advice. If you like street performers, check out the giant lake in the middle of the park, which has the wildly understated name of Retiro Pond. Here you will find as many free shows as your cheap little heart desires. I believe these gentlemen above were performing some Middle Eastern music.
I also saw some Hare Krishna performing, but I didn’t take their photo because I don’t know that the HK go in for that kind of thing, and I was afraid they would maybe surround me and yell Hare Krishna at me until I have them my cell phone camera.
Travelerette Treasure: So if you want to know my favorite thing to do in Retiro Park, it’s to pick a very regal looking section of the park, like the one above, and swan about pretending I’m the Infanta and sneering at people. It’s basically what I do at home in NYC, only it feels like more appropriate behavior in Madrid. There haven’t been too many Infantas of New York City.
Dinner: La Tragantua
Hours: You’re not getting dinner before nine PM here, pal. Where do you think you are, an old folks’ home?
Address: Calle de la Verónica, 4
La Tragantua was, for me, the definition of a hidden gem. It’s just a small restaurant with a few tables hidden on a side street in Retiro Park. Because of its diminutive size, you need to make reservations online in advance before going. But once you are there, you will be treated to a dizzying variety of creative tapas. I had a fresh tomato salad with beautiful swirls of vinaigrette…
Skewers of fried shrimp and squid with a perfectly pungent garlic aioli. I’ve never had garlic aioli with fried shrimp before, but the combination was flawless.
Next came the house specialty: piping hot Korean dumplings with sweet chili sauce. The dumplings were delicious plain because the meat was so well seasoned, but they were also fantastic with the chili sauce.
I finished my tapas with another dish La Tragantua is famous for: fried brie cheese with tomato marmalade and jalapeno peppers. You need to get the savory warm cheese, cold sweet marmalade, and spicy pepper all in your mouth in one bite if you want to experience the full potential of this dish. Unless you don’t like spicy food–then don’t eat the pepper. But you shouldn’t really need me to tell you that, Internet Stranger!
My dessert was a not-too-sweet mango and mascarpone combination served adorably in a little retro Mason jar. It was a soothing and light way to end the meal after all the different spices and flavors in the tapas.
I especially appreciated how the chef made all the dishes into a half portion for me so I could try more tapas. He said the regular portions would be too much. Of course he only charged me half price for each dish, so the whole meal didn’t amount to much more than 30 Euros. Thanks chef! You’re as helpful as a shady tree on a 90 degree day in Madrid!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Madrid!
What would you do with one day in Madrid? What is the most desserts you have eaten in one day? Do you think four is too many? And what are my chances of being made an Infanta? Please leave your thoughts below.
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