Hello, my friends! Clearly I was overly ambitious as to how productive I would be with jet lag and all! I ate my words and here I am again, quite a few days after the promised time, I am glad that you still remember me. ;D
We spent two additional days in Spain after the cruise, it really refreshed our memory of Spanish cuisine, and the fun food tour we did a week ago in Madrid. Here are a few of my observations right off the back, please feel free to chime in with comments, for our exposure was very limited during this trip.
The Spanish eat late
It is true and false. What we found out is that Spain’s nature time zone (Greenwich Mean Time) is one hour behind its official time zone (Central European Time), which was enforced by the government during WWII and kept since. While the Spanish people get up and go to work based on CET, they keep their biological clock on GMT, as a result, they eat more meals and have longer lunch breaks.
A typical day in the peninsula Spain is like this: 8am light breakfast (coffee, pastry), 10am breakfast (sandwich), 1pm lunch (full meal, wine included), 7pm happy hour (mostly drinks, snacks), 9pm dinner (light entree, tapas), 12pm snack (tapas). According to this schedule, you will find a lot of restaurants open between 11am and 3pm, then from 7pm to 2am. It worked for us perfectly, in fact, because we were still on Eastern Standard Time during the first few days, eating at 9pm was an early dinner for us. 😀
Dining-out is part of Spanish life style
Madrid or Barcelona, there is no shortage of restaurants. I once counted that within five blocks, there were over a dozen restaurants. Providing that lunch is the biggest meal of a day, I suspect most Spanish people either eat out or take out most of their meals. That would also explain why most restaurants we went to are very inexpensive (by American standards) that a full meal for family of four often cost less than 40 euros.
Perhaps because we visited mostly historical areas, the restaurants we went to were located off neighborhood streets with limited spaces. They are all full of individual characters, giving you the sense of old world glam, quaint, homey…but hardly anything like being too posh and distance.
One other good place to find good eats is food market. During my last trip to Barcelona, I visited this gourmet food market which is a well-known tourist attraction but this time in Madrid, we also visited a food market that serves both tourists and locals. From sangria on the tap, to specialty eats, these food markets are inexpensive but equally tasty ways to experience Spanish cuisine.
Colorful food offering at food markets in Madrid and Barcelona
The Spanish like ham and potatoes
Part joke, part truth. Besides bread, potato is the most common starch (and vegetable) in the various dishes we had. A Spanish beer commercial featured a national dish, and it quickly became my son’s favorite Spanish food, can you guess? Fried egg over Serrano ham and thick potato fries.
Ham, or jamon as they call it in Spain, is the soul of Spanish cuisine, IMHO. The Spanish food tour we took in Madrid, one stop was dedicated to ham tasting. From 20 euro a kilo Serrano ham to 150+ euro a kilo Iberico ham, the color of the ham goes from light to dark, the flavor goes from meaty to nutty. The younger people in our group preferred the lighter Serrano ham, interestingly, whereas the older folks liked the Iberico ham. My guess is that it is like many other foods, it is an acquired taste, bonus if you drink, because the stronger and richer flavor goes very well with a glass of fine wine.
A few places we tried and liked
With the help of friends recommendations, online reviews and the food tour, we were able to try out a few restaurants and fully enjoyed our dinning experiences with them.
TriCiclo (Calle Santa María, 28, Madrid +34 910 244 798, eltriciclo.es. )
First time in Spain, husband wanted to have tapas, I don’t blame him. Two neighborhood favorites recommend by friends are closed for the season, so I found this place recommended by The Guardian. It was a short walk (about 10 minutes) from the Padro museum.
The place is located on a quite street, with red and black exterior that gave the impression of a pub. The inside is quite rustic and quaint. We were fortunate enough to get a table without reservation but if you decide to go there for dinner, better to make a reservation ahead of time.
Food was very nice, loved every dish, innovative interpretation of traditional food and super flavorful. One thing we learned that one needed to be mindful about ordering the right portions because all dishes came in three sizes: quarter, half, and full. At the beginning, we ordered quarter size of a few appetizers and we got questioned by our waitress if that would be sufficient for us four (two kids included), so we up the rest of the order to half with a full order of salad. When the food begun to show up, we realized that quarter size on some appetizers were indeed small, for example, the shrimp dish came in with two shrimp; then the beef jamon was too big, a quarter size would be better; When the last dish, ox tail soup, was presented, we thought we’ve ordered too much because it was a big portion. The good news was it was so tasty, we ate most of it anyway. Bottom line is, count how many adults you have in your group and order bigger portions for appetizers and small portion for entrees.
La Despensa De Carmen (Calle Santiago, 14, Madrid)
This is literally hole-ine-the-wall neighborhood eats. Without any seating or crowd, we would’ve thought it was a random food shop and just walked on.Name of the place means “Carmen’s pantry”. Carmen, the owner and chef, loves cooking so she started this shop in the 70’s and hasn’t stopped cooking for her customers since. She makes everyday dishes like a Spanish mom would make for her family. We had two dishes made by Carmen, one was gone so fast that I failed to snap a pic, the other was a savory pastry filled with curried potato that was a big hit as well.
Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés, 5, Madrid, +34 913 65 65 46)
We bumped into this place randomly on our first day in Madrid, and fate had it, this was also the first stop of our food tour. The specialty of this place is melted chocolate with churros (similar to fried bread sticks) that is a breakfast favorite for the locals. If I remember correctly, the shop opens all day, no reservations needed, just walk in and order. Both times we were there, it was packed with people. I like the ambiance of this place as well, not too far from Plaza Mayor but a lot quieter.
Bar Canete (Carrer de la Unió, 17, Barcelona, +34 932 70 34 58)
Highly recommended by our host and Trip Advisor, on our first night in Barcelona, we decided to check this place for good tapas. Again, we went without reservation and by the time we got there, 9pm on Thursday night, it was a full house. The wait to get a table was over an hour so we decided to go somewhere else because of the kids. Judging from the crowd, I suspect this was a good place so definitely try again next time!
Arume (11 Botella St, Barcelona, +34 933 154 872, arumerestaurant.com)
Also located in the Gothic district and got two thumbs up from friends, we emailed Arume to make reservation for the next day immediately after we returned from Bar Canete. Only early dinner (7pm) was available but that worked perfectly for us.Another unpretentious place with super welcoming vibes. We had the best grilled octopus and their signature paella was very pleasant, not salty at all, unlike the other ones I had. Friend also recommended their mojitos and I got the non-alcohol version. Was a bit too sweet for my taste, but I’d imagine with liquor, the taste would be just right. My boys loved their tacos and the bill came with a complimentary peach liquor presented on a mini paella pan, which I thought was super cute.
Please forgive the poor quality of my pictures
for this place. Without proper lighting, my phone doesn’t take clear ones in the dark.
Last but not least, what I wore on the day of our food tour. The goal was to stay agile, comfy while looking somewhat presentable, so I went with my new favorite eyelet shift dress, paired with sneakers for those walks between restaurants.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you find this post helpful as a tasty tip for your next trip to Spain. Until my next post!