Madrid Food Tour: A Must-Do in Spain’s Capital


When I first met my friend Lauren last year in Madrid, she told me how she was considering starting a food tour business in Madrid. For her, it was the perfect way to combine her passion for food with her budding entrepreneurship skills. A year later, the Madrid Food Tour is nearing its 1-Year Anniversary–and also happens to be ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for Things to Do in Madrid! I’m so proud of Lauren and how her business has grown, and couldn’t wait to try out one of her tours myself. So, when she invited me to check out her Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour, I enthusiastically agreed!

Churros with Chocolate

Churros with Chocolate


We met Lauren on a day uncharacteristic of June in Madrid: rain showers taunted us throughout the tour, but we lucked out–most of the rain fell while we were indoors sampling Madrid’s epicurean delights! Our morning started off with a Spanish classic: Churros with Chocolate. While I tend to favor cinnamon-sugar Mexican churros, Spanish churros are delicious too; especially after a long night out. Lauren took us to Madrid’s most famous spot for churros: Chocolatería San Ginés. It’s been open since 1894 and is a Madrid churro institution. I was surprised to learn they’re open 24 hours a day–that’s a rare sight even in big Spanish cities like Madrid!

The chocolate itself needs its own mention, as I remember it intriguing me when I first tried it: it’s not like the hot chocolate we’re used to drinking with marshmallows in the wintertime. Instead, it’s thick–and perfect for dunking the churros into. 

 After we’d woken up our appetite with hot churros and chocolate, we moved on to see what else Madrid could offer, as Lauren gave us a fun Madrid history lesson. This girl knows her stuff–while the Madrid Food Tour focuses on showing guests the capital’s culinary scene, it’s also a great way to see the center of the city, and learn about its interesting past. 

A Modern Spanish Market

Our next stop was at a market that I had stepped into on a prior visit to Madrid, but had never actually eaten in. Lauren gave us a full tour of the market with stops for vermouth, stuffed olives, pintxos and more! Here’s a peek at some of the goodies we sampled:


The market’s interior


Delicious, stuffed olives!



While I’ve had olives marinated in vermouth, I’ve never tried a full glass of it. Lauren described it as a fortified wine that’s flavored with herbs, spices and other botanicals and that it is super-trendy in Madrid to go out for a glass of vermú. El País, one of the nation’s biggest publications dedicated an article to the drink, shining the spotlight on its popularity. 

Pintxos & Tapas

What Lauren really emphasizes on her tours is how Madrid’s cuisine is distinct, while still embracing other Spanish regional cuisine. I was pleased to see a stop for pintxos and bacalao (traditional in Basque Country) included in her tour! I skipped the pintxos and savored a bowl of Salmorejo instead–one of my Andalusian favorites!


Bacalao bites


Olive Oil and More Olives

Our next stop was my favorite of the tour: an olive oil tasting! We went to a specialty shop that sells Spain’s highest quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to consumers. We were given four varieties to choose from, ranging in olive oil’s three positive attributes: fruitiness  pungency and bitterness. Lauren explained that olive oil that can be described as fruity will have a freshly-cut grass aroma, while more pungent oils can have peppery kick to them that can tickle your throat and make you cough. She also explained that in a traditional tasting you’ll have a small blue glass, similar to a votive that you’ll rub in your palm to warm up the oil, and release the aromas, prior to tasting. 


Spanish olives: the best of the best!

Next, we downed some Spanish olives–always a tasty treat. I never really liked olives until I came to Spain, but Spanish olives have the tendency to turn people into olive-worshippers!

Jamón y Queso 

I’ve proclaimed my love for Spanish ham many times on this blog, and Lauren’s tours give you a full lesson on the distinguishing characteristics between each type of ham, the pig’s diets, and the various curing periods. We sampled slices from Jamón Serrano to the ultimate: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. The butcher also gave us samples of creamy Tetilla cheese from Galicia, and bubbly Cava to wash it all down. Mmm, ¡qué rico!


A Carnicería tucked inside a Madrileño market.

A Lunch Full of Spanish Classics

The tour included a sit-down lunch in a restaurant famous for its organ meats and fried pig’s ears. Thankfully, the group wasn’t too adventurous and opted for some classic choices like patatas bravas, pimientos de padrón and tintos de verano.

 The Grand Finale: Spanish Pastries!

Lauren ended our wonderful tour on a sweet note; with Spanish pastries! She took us to an iconic pastelería that was bustling with customers in search of a sweet treat.


Lauren’s tour was wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend. After living here for 3+ years, I’ve learned a good amount about Spanish cuisine, but still came away from the tour with new bits of knowledge! I think a food tour is one of the best ways to not only learn about the city you’re in, but also to get an authentic feeling for the culture you’re in. Most tourists don’t venture into markets or lack the language to get by, and joining in on a food tour is the perfect way to feel like a local! As I mentioned above, it’s not just a way to learn about food, it’s also the perfect way to get a sense of where you’re staying, and Lauren’s tours include a good amount of history and fun facts about Madrid as well.

Mil gracias to Lauren at Madrid Food Tour for the complimentary tour. All opinions are my own, and I can’t recommend this tour enough! It’s truly the perfect way to see (and devour!) the city.

To learn more about Madrid Food Tour, check out their website at

Txikifest: Txakolí & Basque Pride in NYC

I'm so pleased to welcome Julia Golden to the blog today! Julia was so gracious to cover the Txikifest event in New York City that happened a couple of weekends ago and indulge in a little bit of Basque culture (and wine!) for me. She writes over at Nowhere to Go But Everywhere about her travels and I love her passion for all things Spain. 

The heat in New York is oppressive and unforgiving. Men wipe their foreheads with handkerchiefs as ladies fan themselves with painted abanicos, unable to speak of anything but the sweat dripping down their backs. The line wraps around the block and is beginning to move slowly. The conversation shifts from complaints about the summer’s first heat wave to excited chattering all around, a musical mix of English, Spanish and Euskara. As the crowd finally shifts, we turn the corner and are greeted by smiling faces and the smell of sizzling food.

Txikifest New York City

“Welcome to Txikifest 2013,” drawls a volunteer in an accent I can’t quite pinpoint, handing us each a glass and shuffling us towards the seemingly endless sea of green bottles. This is my kind of place.

Txakoli bottles

Each year, Alex Raij and Eder Montero, owners of Chelsea’s Txikito and El Quinto Pino and Greenpoint’s La Vara, partner with Basque wineries as well as local chefs to put on Txikifest. A celebration of the culture and pride of Euskadi, the festival highlights the Basque wine,txakolí, from fifteen different wineries by offering generous samples paired with dishes from all over the world. An avid fan of wine in any form, I decided to grab a friend and head down to Chelsea last Sunday to join the fun and sample txakolí for the first time.

Txikifest Volunteers

Txikifest 2013: A Review

The festival is set up like a street fair of sorts with three tented stations, offering an escape from the sun that seems millions of miles closer in the heat of the afternoon. Each station plays host to txakolí from five distinct wineries, all chosen to pair with the dishes being cooked up on the other side of the tent.

Txakoli brand names

Poured from high above like cider to allow it to aerate, generous samples of txakolí fill our glasses and everyone in the thirsty crowd sips it eagerly. I am pleasantly surprised by the taste: light, crisp, refreshing and perfect for a summer day. It goes down so easily, in fact, that I have to hand my glass over for the next wine before I even get a chance to check out the food selection. Luckily txakolí has a lower alcohol content than most wines, or I may not have made it past the first tent!

The Food: Drool-worthy

Bottles of txakoli

Properly hydrated with a few glasses of the sparkling drink, our bellies give a little rumble and we follow our noses to the first table of food. The guys from The Hurricane Club are serving up their version of chili lobster rolls: a fresh take on lobster salad infused with sweet chili peppers, and sandwiched between two slices of buttery bread. I think this is what heaven is like.

lobster sandwich

We savor the tiny sandwiches until they disappear into crumbs, washing them down with the latter part of the five-glass flight. The dryness of the txakolí perfectly compliments the fresh lobster, and for a moment I can picture myself on the beach in San Sebastián enjoying this sigh-inducing combination.

I realize my glass is empty and snap back to reality. On to the next tent! We are treated to a rosé txakolí, a slightly fuller-bodied version of the wine we’ve been enjoying. Taking a cue from our slightly fuzzy vision, we decide to help ourselves to a plate of food before polishing off another glass and turn to find txistorra and fresh bread sizzling away on the grill. The chefs from Txikito tend to the grill, making sure the Basque cured sausage is cooked perfectly.

how to cook txistorra

The sausage is savory, spicy and slightly sweet all at the same time. Paired with the rosé, it is succulent enough to reassure this reformed vegan that meat is, in fact, the way. We mop up the juices with the warm bread as our glasses are filled yet again.


The afternoon continues on a loop like this; a cycle of wine, finger-licking-good food, and more wine. Our favorite dish is unanimous, selecting a rice noodle crepe with pork Bolognese, so creamy and delicious that we ignore our protesting bellies and split another. Honorable mentions include the pineapple-rubbed pork tacos from La Palapa, and the veal meatball sandwich created by the kind people at Sullivan Street Bakery. Each dish has its own distinct flavors, playing with spices from every corner of the world, but somehow all work extremely well with the light flavor of the txakolí.

The Txakolí Winner

txikifest 2013

As far as the wineries go, our favorites hail from the Bizkaia province, though choosing favorites is nearly impossible. Nothing we try is anything but fantastic, with the Berroia coming out on top. It is the smoothest, most refreshing, and pairs amazingly with savory treats.

basque food

The afternoon is closed with cucumber-lime popsicles from La Newyorkina and a txalaparta performance. Traditionally played in celebration of wine or cider making, the Basque instrument is made of wood, is played with wooden sticks and accompanied by an ox horn. The pride was palpable in the players’ wide smiles and cheerful shouts, “Que siempre viva Euskadi! Viva, viva!”


We wander down Ninth Avenue in a txakolí-induced dream state, forgetting the heat for the first time in days. Out of the hundreds of food and wine festivals in New York, this is certainly the most unique. By pairing a little-known light sparkling wine from a little-known land with local eats, Txikifest celebrates the distinctiveness that the Basque region thrives on in a country famous for flamenco and bullfighting. Raij and Montero have found the perfect stage in Chelsea, a neighborhood that celebrates uniqueness above all else, and succeed in proving that Basque culture and cuisine is well on its way to taking over hearts and palates around the world.

For more information on Txikifest and the txakolís that were featured, check out If you’re in New York and looking for excellent pintxos and txakolí, stop by Txikito or El Quinto Pino!

Julia is a world traveler whose heart belongs to Spain. She is trading in her life in New York for a new one in Madrid come September, following her wanderlust in pursuit of the best wine, music and stories the peninsula has to offer. A sociologist and linguist at heart, she is passionate about immersing herself in new cultures and chronicles her adventures on her blog Nowhere To Go But Everywhere. Be sure to follow here on Twitter and Instagram for real-time updates! 

Primo al Pigneto, Rome

It’s such a blessing to travel somewhere new in the first place, but to have the chance to go back? Even more so. My first trip to Rome was during my first-ever trip to Europe, right before I did undergraduate research in Athens, Greece. And while the amount of countries I’ve visited isn’t too high, I can say that I’ve been able to go back to certain destinations and peel back another layer of the place each time–getting to know it on a much more intimate level than someone rushing through on a hit-every-major-European-city trip. This is the kind of travel I prefer; slow, and intentional.

So, knowing I’d have another chance to explore The Eternal City, I picked a neighborhood to stay in that was outside of the center of Rome, that’s hip and still very much a local’s scene; Pigneto. The likes of Gourmet Traveller and Bon Appétit already disclosed the secret back in 2009 in their write-ups about the neighborhood, but it remains largely untouched by mass tourism. There’s the occasional hotel or two, and you’ll likely find some menus in English, but otherwise the restaurants, street markets and shops were full of locals.

The best part of staying in Pigneto, aside from feeling like you’re getting an authentic experience, was the café/restaurant/wine bar down the street; Primo al Pigneto. As I was exploring Pigneto’s main artery, Via del Pigneto, looking for a warm plate of pasta to tuck into after a tiring journey in from Spain, the windows of Primo al Pigneto caught my eye:


Primo al Pigneto offers passers-by a peek into their kitchens from the street.

 Inside, the restaurant was buzzing with Italian–the decor, modern and inviting and the staff attentive and accommodating. While I examined the menu, I was poured a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio.


Crisp Pinot Grigio

  To start, I selected the smoked mackerel in burrata cheese, topped with toasted bread. Burratta cheese, is the queen of all cheese as far as I’m concerned. It’s a mozzarella shell with a savory cream on the inside. The dish itself was reminiscent of smoked salmon from my home, the Pacific NW. A plate that evokes memories of home is always good for the soul.


Smoked makerel with creamy burrata cheese

Next up was the pasta: Mezze Maniche Alla Amatriciana, a macaroni dish tossed in a tomato-based sauce folded with pecorino cheese, pepper, and pancetta. It was cooked perfectly al dente but it wasn’t the most impressive pasta I’ve had in my life. Maybe it’s not authentically Italian, but I tend to enjoy my pasta with a more generous dollop of sauce.


Mezze Maniche Alla Amatriciana

Of course, I’m not one to ever refuse dessert, no matter how full I am, and when in Rome…


A pistachio mousse–mmm!

This was a delicious pistachio mousse topped with a crunchy amaretto wafer and chocolate. I love how pistachio has such a presence in the Italian kitchen.

All in all, Primo al Pigneto was a great dining experience. I returned to have a cappuccino and the service was excellent again…also didn’t hurt that they gave me a generous portion of biscotti with my coffee! If you go to Pigneto, I definitely recommend stopping for a meal here and going to the cute wine bars on the same street.

[box type=”info”] Restaurant Details | Primo al Pigneto | Via del Pigneto, 46 | 00176 Rome, Italy | +39 06 701 3827[/box]