Madrid food tour

As I mentioned in the last post, food tours are a really cool way to learn about a city and a culture while ALSO eating too much. Most of them are active, though, so you have an excuse.

Our first stop was El Riojano for this little cake and a cup full of chocolate. You are supposed to dip the cake and then drink the rest of the chocolate. I could not bring myself to drink the chocolate as it seemed too early in the morning to be that rude.

a little cake and a teacup full of chocolate on a white plate that reads "El Riojano"

Our second stop was a complete failure in terms of food but interesting in terms of the city. This is the secret cookie shop. Unfortunately, the sign on the door reads “Hoy no hay dulces” (“Today there are no sweets”). This is a convent and the nuns make a bit of extra cash by making cookies. However, they are not always open, and we had unfortunate timing. Still, interesting stop. You are not allowed to SEE the nuns, which makes buying cookies a small challenge, but the nuns have it figured out. Or so our guide told us, as we didn’t get to witness it.

A brown door. There is a small white paper sign on the door and a portrait of Jesus above. A security camera looks down from the left.

Next was Los Ferreros, the oldest grocery store in Madrid. It’s been in operation since 1892. The current proprietor is the descendant of the original. We had some delicious cheeses on top of a sort of cracker. We had a moment of unpleasantness – one of the others on the tour decided that the proprietor was riding the coattails of his ancestors and the location and wasn’t really deserving of his continued operation. This was the most embarrassed by American tourists I was during this trip. Luckily the antagonist aggressively spoke no Spanish, the proprietor either didn’t speak English or didn’t listen, and our tour guide softened the challenge when she translated. I had been a little worried when we started the tour as the antagonist had two young boys, maybe 9 and 11? I was worried they would be disruptive but they not only were not disruptive, they were eager to try the food and chatted with the tour guide. It’s too bad their father didn’t take after them.

A small storefront with a sign above reading "Los Ferreros". The windows of the store are full

Spain doesn’t really do street food, and depsite our tour guide insisting that this was the ONE street food they do, I’m not convinced. We stopped at Cerveceria la Campana (C. de Botoneras, 6, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain) for a calamari sandwich. It has some aspects of street food – a fried thing in bread – but no one but us was eating on the street. The place was busy with people sitting down, and when we ate, it was clear why – it’s really difficult to eat an overstuffed sandwich when you don’t have a plate. The sandwich was just ok – it was hard to apply the garlic mayo BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE A PLATE and without it, I thought the sandwich was under-seasoned. Nevertheless, it’s tough to go wrong with fried seafood.

A closeup of a hand holding a sub roll overflowing with fried calamari

I will preface this by saying I HATE olives. Hate them. There are very few foods that I hate, and olives are probably the top of the list. But I bravely persevered through our olive tasting. We visited La Queseria de Anton Martin. First was the olive for people who don’t like olives. I didn’t like them. Then I tried another olive that’s supposed to be less olive-y than some, and I didn’t like that either. I stopped there – I gave an honest effort, and this didn’t change my mind about olives.

Next we had anchovies over potato chips. This was much better. Spanish anchovies aren’t the crispy salt-bombs you may be familiar with – it’s a larger piece of fish and prepared by pickling. It’s pretty mild. They served them over a pile of potato chips, kind of like a cheese-less nacho, and they were really nice.

We finished with a vermouth. I have always thought of vermouth as something you put near a glass of gin so you can call it a martini, but drinking it with an orange peel over ice is not unpleasant.

The counter at La Queseria, full of cheese and olive oil and many other products

Next stop – Moega empanadas (C. del León, 26, Centro, 28014 Madrid, Spain). These were not a traditional empanada as I’m used to, but they were quite good. The dough was more like a bread. Maybe that’s Spanish and I’m used to Latin American? No matter, because the chorizo and cheese was delightful.

A closeup of a hand holding an empanada filled with meat and cheese. Blurred in the background is a serving platter with more empanadas

We went to Taberna de la Elisa for croquetas and wine. I used the restroom here and ran into a problem that seems common in Spain – the bathroom lights are on timers, and the timer is set for a time much shorter than your average bathroom break. Two or three times on this trip I was in the restroom and the lights went out, leaving me in a strange place, pitch dark. I survived. The croquetas and wine were very nice, but I didn’t get a photo record.

Our final stop was Estela Hojaldre for dessert pastry. I didn’t catch what it was called, but it was about 1,000 layers of flaky pastry with a custard in the middle. It was, again, not something easy to eat without a table and a plate, but the flavor was excellent and I am a big fan of the texture. Soft custard with layers and layers of crunchy, flaky crust in between. I made a mess of my shirt but it was totally worth it.

I would absolutely do another food tour sponsored by Devour Tours. Our guide was great. She and the other guide had to pivot last minute because there was a group of maybe 12 split across the two tour guides – they switched it up so the large group could go togehter and all of us (me, two couples, and a family of four) shared a tour.

Again, I highly recommend a food tour when you’re in a strange city. You have instant friends. You learn about the local food and culture. And you’ll be well-fed. You can’t go wrong.

Food in Spain

I recently had the opportunity to spend about a week in Madrid and Barcelona, and in that time I ate a lot of food. I was there to retrieve the older child after her two week student exchange program. I arrived in Madrid Monday morning, March 18. I picked her up Wednesday (at 4am before the rest of her trip left for the airport, the things we do for our children).

That first day I was tired and unable to check in to the hotel until 3pm, but I could at least drop my bags. I headed to the Reina Sofia, which may be considered the Prado’s little sister museum, but it’s fantastic. This is the first time I’ve been to 1) a foreign country and 2) a museum all on my own. It was fun, I recommend it, though I was happy to have company later in the week.

After the museum, I wandered for a bit, looking for some food. I ended up at La Buga del Lobo (C. de Argumosa, 11, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). This was the first time I expereinced the wonderful Spanish tradition where if you just order a beer, they bring you snacks. This time it was just a little snack mix, but I was starving and it was salty. I ordered the degustacion de croquetas, which is a plate of all three types of croquetas they serve. This was my first opportunity to try out my rusty and very limited Spanish. I wanted to know if what I was ordering was appropriate for one person or if I was about to get a mound of croquetas. I wasn’t honestly sure what a croqueta was at this point. I managed to express myself effectively enough that she was able to answer, and I was able to understand her answer. This was one of my most successful interactions with anyone in Spanish during the whole trip and I was quite pleased with myself.

Six croquetas on a white plate on top of a colorful tablecloth

If you haven’t bothered to click through to read what a croqueta is, they are essentially a béchamel sauce, breaded and fried. They are delightful, and I recommend them unless you have food texture issues. I wouldn’t mind a little more structure to the béchamel, but the flavors were really nice.

That night I ate dinner at the Hotel Catalonia Atocha where I was staying. It was pleasant but the food was sort of boring. The wine was really nice, and I had a chat with the server about wine, and how the Spanish wine is excellent and inexpensive and wine back in the DC area is not quite so excellent. People in Madrid were much more willing to speak with me in Spanish than people in Barcelona were. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to dig in to what this says about each city (hint: it says nothing, it’s just a small anecdote from someone who speaks a little bit of Spanish, poorly).

Day two was my Madrid food tour, which deserves its own post (link to come once I write the post). I really like doing food tours when traveling to other cities. It’s a great way to see a bit of the city you might not otherwise and you’re bound to learn a little bit about local culture and tradition. And the food, of course. It’s also a nice way to have some company in a strange place if you aren’t the type to just make friends with strangers. This was my second European food tour that had a couple from Belgium on it, so I could talk about how my last name is Belgian, brought over to the UK in the early 1600’s by my 10th or so gre
at-grandfather.

After the food tour I took a nap and then went to the Prado. At my food tour guide’s suggestion, I started in the basement with Goya’s Pinturas Negras, which are fascinating and a bit out of the ordinary for the museum.

I had seen a brewery pop up on Google Maps at some point (La Osita, C. de la Cava Baja, 10, Centro, 28005 Madrid, Spain), and I had to try it out, knowing that it would be less of a traditional Spanish experience, but not caring. Turns out literally everyone there, customers and staff, spoke English. I briefly chatted with an American who was thinking of moving to DC when his girlfriend was finished her degree in Madrid. Small world.

A beer in a pint glass on a bar in front of a row of beer cans. There is also a small plate of bread and meat

Here I got another little snack with my beer – bread and some kind of meat. This is a custom that we could adopt here in the US, just putting that out there. The beer was good if you like American-style IPAs, which I do. I can tell myself that I wanted to get the Spanish take on an American style, but really it’s just that’s what I like to drink. I tell myself that it’s not at all like the stereotype of Americans traveling the world to complain how you can’t get a decent hamburger.

One last Madrid snack with drink at Bar Benteveo (C. de Sta. Isabel, 15, Centro, 28012 Madrid, Spain). Bread with something like hummus but it probably had meat in it.

A glass of wine on a red bar top with a small plate containing a piece of bread with a spread on top

And my dinner – a lomito (pork) sandwich with chips. I don’t know if I’m supposed to have sharper teeth or something but this was a little hard to eat. I kept getting more meat in a single bite than I was really prepared for. But it was quite good. You can get this with an egg on top as well – that sounded great but a little more than I was looking for at that point. Maybe next time.

A glass of wine on a red bar top next to a plate containing a meat sandwich and a small cup of chips

Next – food tour!

A Perfect Storm of Laziness

In 2018, I biked 3,213 miles. About two thirds of that was on the longtail cargo bike, and much of THAT was hauling the kids as the three of us bumped up against the weight limit of the bike. I was in pretty fantastic shape for a guy who had just turned 40.

Enter 2019. March 8th, I tore my Achilles. It wouldn’t be until July 5th that I rode a bike again. In the meantime, the kids were growing and growing and I was really no longer able to haul both of them for any distance, even if they wanted me to, which they increasingly did not. Then 2020 came around and COVID took away most of my motivation to bike – who wants to ride somewhere when you can’t go inside?

My strategy to deal with all of this and keep my fitness level was to pretend it wasn’t happening, and this clearly isn’t working. I’ve tried nothing, and it isn’t working.

I’ve always been pretty good about keeping up with fitness so long as it didn’t take any real time out of my day. Now that I have to work at it, it’s not going so well.

Maybe don’t run five year old scripts without testing

So maybe in the future I should remind myself that mindlessly running a script you haven’t touched in 5+ years without bothering to back up your old blog is not exactly a smart decision. I think I’ve gotten things maybe 75% fixed, but it’s likely that the URLs aren’t the same as they used to be, so any old links from old blogs are probably dead. Good thing no one writes or reads blogs anymore.

Anyway, thinking of getting back into blogging again. I like to write. I’m not terrible at it, even if the bulk of the content on this blog suggests otherwise. It’s a great time to be blogging since no one cares about the medium anymore. Maybe I’ll have these auto-post to Instagram so the kids will see it and ignore it there instead of ignoring it here.

Did we learn nothing?

I have to admit that I watch very little TV these days. What I do watch is usually through our Roku, which I love. But I can’t help seeing these articles on putting Roku hardware into tvs, I can’t help thinking about TVs with built in VHS. Media players are always obsolete faster than TVs. Even the whole concept of a “smart TV” is kind of silly. I get it from a marketing perspective, but I really can’t understand what consumer would want this.

I’m in the New York Times!

I’m quoted in an article in the New York Times about [family biking] (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/23/style/families-ditch-cars-for-cargo-bikes.html?smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0 “Families Ditch Cars for Cargo Bikes”). Full disclosure – the author has kids at our kids’ school, and we’ve talked before about bikes, so it’s not like someone randomly found me and realized I was awesome or anything like that.

And I was in the Washington Post earlier this year, though purely by chance, and not in the online edition. A photographer got a picture of me taking the girls home from school and it was used in an article about DC charter schools because I happened to be passing by one when he snapped the photo.

I’m trying to decide what paper would really complete the trifecta. The Boston Globe, to keep up the East Coast thing? The LA Times to really branch out? Maybe a Chicago paper? I’m pulling for LA because, really, how the heck would I get into an LA paper?

Also, a note on the article – the author is aware that there are only quotes from men. What she submitted had quotes from women, and they didn’t make the final. I can’t speak to why that is, and I’m honestly not sure whether it’s better that the NYT editor did it on purpose, or that they are just that clueless. Either way, it’s absurd to ingore the women who are embracing cargo bikes instead of minivans. Anecdotally, I know more women who do it than men.