5 Reasons to do a Food Tour

We had a bit of a rough start to our European Adventures, but one of the positives of the break-in was that we HAD to travel to Madrid in order to pick up our new emergency passports from the NZ Embassy. While Madrid was on our list of places to get to in Spain, it was probably more in the “if we have time” column rather than the “must see”. How wrong were we?

My fellow kiwi friend Liz from Passport Packed had spent a couple of years living in Madrid, so she was the first person I thought of when our new route took us to the capital city. I perused her top tips for Madrid, but decided that we needed something to make us fall in love with Spain – and a food tour was the key! We were lucky enough that Liz put us in touch with Madrid Food Tour, and we jumped on their Ultimate Spanish Cuisine tour the very next day.

Madrid Food Tour

We met our guide Luke in Plaza Mayor, along with fellow foodies Becki and Clay from USA. We came hungry, and with our stretchy waistbands – ready for whatever Luke had in store for us. We were presented with a menu of the stops and tastes for the day, and my mouth started watering immediately!

5 Reasons to do a Food Tour

 

1) Get acquainted with the city

Madrid Food Tour

A tour of any sorts is the best way to come to grips with a new city’s layout and it’s main attractions. We often look for a free walking tour to take when we arrive in new places as not only is it a way to learn some of the history of the place, it’s also a great way to orientate yourself.

Madrid Food Tour

The Ultimate Spanish Cuisine tour was as much a walking tour as it was about food. We met in one of the main squares, Plaza Mayor, and made our way through the Mercado San Miguel, past the royal Palace (the largest still functioning palace in the world, with a tiny 2800 rooms!) and back around Puerta del Sol – the heart of Madrid.

Madrid Food Tour

As it was our first day in Madrid, this really helped us find our way and work out where we were on the map!

2) Taste MORE than the typical cuisine 

When you think of Spanish cuisine, apart from tapas your first thought is Sangria and Paella right? Turns out there is a huge amount more to traditional tastes than just the typical go-to’s.

Madrid Food Tour

In fact, on the Ultimate Spanish Cuisine tour we didn’t even touch Sangria or Paella – which I was thankful for.

Madrid Food Tour

What we did try though was unusual delicacies – like Bull’s tail regalito. I’ll be completely honest – if I saw Bull’s tail ANYTHING on a menu, I wouldn’t order it. I’d opt for the safe option (probably the typical paella) and would miss out on trying the most amazing little parcel of deliciousness.

Madrid Food Tour

As history goes, after the bull fight – when the bull was dead – nothing would go to waste and the bull would be eaten. The poor would get the offal and offcuts – the organs and the tail. A traditional dish is bulls tail stew, where the tail would be slow cooked and spiced in to a brisket like meal. In 2009 El Anciano Rey de los Vinos (the bar we were in) took the traditional dish and put a modern spin on it – wrapping the bulls tail meat in filo pastry, deep frying it, adding a red pepper and a balsamic drizzle and serving it up as “a little present of bulls tail stew”. Matched with a Marques de Grinon Rioja wine, it was delicious and VERY more-ish!

Madrid Food Tour

I was also excited to eat plenty of serrano jamon (similar to parma/proscuitto) while in Spain – but it looked like we were going to have to fight the locals to get to it! What I didn’t realise was the different jamon delicacies we would get the chance to try and compare. Suddenly serrano wasn’t all that special when put next to iberico de recebo (also known as “black hoof”) which is made from black iberian pigs. It was much gamier in flavour, and as we stood and chewed and contemplated the different tastes we were able to watch the champion jamon slicer work his magic in the window of the store Ferpal. To be a champion slicer you need to cut by hand with a knife, and are judged on the speed and thinness of the end product. It should be so thin that you can read through it!

Madrid Food Tour

Luke then revealed the jamon to beat all jamon’s (is that a saying?) – iberico de bellota – or acorn fed ham. Apparently the pigs are only fed acorns (they can eat up to 10kg of acorns a day!), and the fat of the meat is chemically more similar to to a “nut fat”.

Madrid Food Tour

The meat was oily and nutty, sweet and not too salty – and I pretty much decided that serrano was totally average and bellota was the way forward. Bellota is normally double the price of regular iberico, so I’m pretty sure my bank account is going to prevent me from overdosing on bellota!

3) Eat the way that locals do

In New Zealand (and the UK – depending on whether you class a cup of tea break as a meal!), we tend to have 3 meals a day, with dinner being the largest. In Spain, they eat up to 6 smaller meals a day, the largest at lunch and a much smaller dinner.  Luke took us through all of these, allowing us to taste typical “meals”

Madrid Food Tour

We started the day with a tiny coffee, and home-baked soletilla – a sweet bread like biscuit – dunked in warm chocolate. Any country that starts the day with chocolate is a winner to me!

Madrid Food Tour

We headed to Mercado de San Miguel – which was originally a fishmarket with 88 vendors all selling (smelly) fish in the middle of the city. It closed in 1995 but was reopened in 2007 with a deli/bar/market theme – frequented by locals as well as tourists.

Madrid Food Tour

It’s absolutely gorgeous inside and I loved perusing all the stalls. Luke knew which were the best and most authentic, and it wasn’t long before we had some typical tapas in front of us, along with a palate cleansing glass of sweet red Reus vermouth.

Madrid Food Tour

The Campo Real olives and the toasted rosemary salted Marcona almonds were so good, but the real star was the skewer of goodies set in front of us. Luke explained that to get the best flavour combinations, we should eat the first half in one mouthful, and then the second half – so I decided to follow his advice.

Madrid Food Tour

The hard boiled quails eggs, olive and sweet roasted red pepper set off a taste explosion in my mouth, only to be bettered by the second mouthful – the anchovy, sweet chile and olive. If we hadn’t been with Luke I a) probably wouldn’t have purchased a skewer like that at all and b) would have eaten each item one at a time – totally missing out of the flavour combinations.

Madrid Food Tour

I really wanted to order 5 more skewers and sit there and continue eating – but this was only an aperitif, and we were headed off to taste more Spanish delights!

4) Experience a city through all 5 senses

While taste is an obvious one, it’s true that you use all your senses during a food tour.

Madrid Food Tour

SEE – we were taken Taberna La Bola – a restaurant which dates back to 1870. We were taken out the back and in to the kitchens where we watched one of the chefs prepare a Cocido Madrileno – a traditional chickpea based soup from Madrid. When we were served a portion of the soup later, it was hard to believe the time and ingredients that had gone in to making it!

Madrid Food Tour

TOUCH – a food tour isn’t JUST about eating, sometimes it is about drinking too! We visited Bar Cerveriz and were given a quick demonstration of how to pour Trabanco Asturian Cider before the bottle was thrust into our own hands – it was time to try and pour the cider from a height in order to aerate it.

Madrid Food Tour

While a fair bit hit the ground, we were all quite adept at getting more in the glass than on the floor! Food tours can be very interactive which is another reason they are so memorable.

HEAR – Luke took us down a small side street and through a regular looking door which opened in to a courtyard. We had entered the home of a still-active 16th century convent with cloistered nuns. To fill their days, the nuns bake cookies which they sell.

Madrid Food Tour

You turn up, ring a bell, and speak to the nuns from behind a door – you can’t see them, only hear them nattering away behind the walls.

Madrid Food Tour

You don’t know what flavour cookies they will have on any given day, so we were lucky to taste their most delicious ones – a lovely citrus flavour.

Madrid Food Tour

SMELL – We popped our heads inside La Despensa del Carmen, a tiny wee “pantry” shop which made mama-style dishes for the locals to pick up and have as a takeaway.

Madrid Food Tour

The smell of the different dishes were divine, and when Luke came out with a couple of dishes for us to try we all couldn’t wait to tuck in. Carmen’s homemade Spanish meatballs were so tender they fell off the toothpick into our waiting mouths, but the real delight for me was the freshly-made egg and tuna empanada. It was warm and crispy and I can still remember the smell of it!

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5) Meet new people & get insider knowledge

We loved meeting the other two food enthusiasts on our tour and had a lot of fun getting to know each other – so much so that all four of us continued on at the end of the tour for a few drinks!

Madrid Food Tour

We’d asked Luke for some insider knowledge…if we did so happen to want to get some “authentic” sangria, where would one find it? He directed us to Cuevas de Sesamo, a short walk away – but was sadly closed for siesta when we arrived. Regardless, we found some (probably not very authentic) sangria close by and chatted away while watching the local goings on.

Madrid Food Tour

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our Madrid Food tour – we left full and happy, and with great memories of the city.

The Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour runs Mon/Wed/Fri and lasts around 4 hours. It is €85 per adult and includes at least 12 food tastings and 3 beverage tastings (non alcoholic options available). Click here to visit the Madrid Food Tour website and read more.

Have you ever taken part in a food tour?

I can also HIGHLY recommend Culinary Secrets of the Old City from Istanbul Eats in Istanbul, Turkey – which is one of our top 3 travel experiences! 

Disclosure: I was offered a bloggers place on the tour, however we paid for Jason to join as we really LOVE food tours!  

RACE RECAP: London Marathon 2015 – part 3

I left you at the half way mark, which hopefully gave you the hint that yes, I did indeed make it to the finish line. But I know that what you are REALLY wondering is how that final half went…we all know that things can go downhill fast in a marathon, so did I bonk? Were there tears? Read on for the highs and the lows in my final 13.1miles/ 21.4km of the London Marathon 2015…

Need to get caught up? Read Part One here, and Part Two here.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

21.4km (half) – 25km
2.40.27 (average pace 7.07p/km)

I heard Steph and David yelling at me at the 14mile mark, but I was already past them so I missed out on a hug. Still, I knew they had seen me and I had seen them!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I got a text from Jase saying due to the crowds he wouldn’t be at 16miles, but he had gone straight to 18miles. Crap. I was really ready to get rid of my hydration pack! Somewhere around here we entered a short tunnel and it was actually quite blissful to have a bit of quiet. I took a volarol to try and ease my back pain a bit (and maybe to ease my knees and feet which I had been successfully ignoring up until this point!).

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Throughout the next few kilometres I found myself getting a bit disgruntled with the crowds – not the noise (which I loved) but who comes to watch a marathon and smokes on the sideline? (don’t even get me started on the woman I saw smoking at the start wearing a Cancer Research vest!). Who comes to watch a marathon and smokes WEED on the sideline? Who comes to watch a marathon and cooks a BBQ? Who comes to watch a marathon and cooks a BBQ and then sets up a stall to sell the BBQ food to other spectators? Turns out…lots of people! And especially in the Isle of Dogs area. The aromas and smells started making me feel a bit ill, and I also seemed to be in the drunkest supporters area. The further I ran the sillier and lewder and sloppier the supporters seemed to get. Maybe there was a higher percentage of pubs along this part of the route? Still, I appreciated every cheer and mention of my name, even if all I could manage was a pathetic thumbs up to let them know I had heard.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

25km – 30km
3.16.56 (average pace 7.18p/km)

Where is Jason, where is Jason, where is Jason, where is Jason – was pretty much my mantra at this point. I wanted my backpack OFF. NOW. I had already decided that my phone could fit in my back pocket along with another voltarol, I could shove two gels down my bra (mmm warm gu) and I would keep hold of the go pro in one hand so I had the other hand free for water.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I was totally sick of the lemonade nuun in my backpack too. Give me ALL THE WATER. My mind also was saying “I’d quite like a little walk about now”… but I was refusing to listen. I kept remembering Kiera’s words –  this is just one big party, you just gotta keep dancing in a forward motion!

30km – 35km
3.52.24 (average pace 7.10p/km)

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Jase and our friends Johno and Anna came in to view and I smiled wanly. I started to unclip my pack and get it off me as soon as I spied them. I probably wasn’t as chipper as I should have been (is anyone chipper after 30kms of running?), but I also stopped for longer than I had planned – Jase held out a selection of gels for me to choose from and I just couldn’t compute which ones I wanted. Decisions get hard at the 30k mark!

I hugged Anna and then Johno made the fatal mistake of giving me a kiss on the cheek. “um, she’s awfully salty” he remarked as I kept going. Sorry about that!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

There’s no denying that your name gets yelled A LOT during the race. I bloody loved it, and I tried to say “thank you”, give a thumbs up, or even just a smile to the person cheering me when I could. But there was one part when I picked out my name being screamed in just a different octave, with a different kind of urgency – and I turned my head to see my friend & old work colleague from NZ Makuini standing on a ledge. She had spotted me in the throngs of people, and I gave her a huge wave to let her know I had heard her. Again, it gave me such an unexpected boost.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Mile 21 – RUN DEM! I was looking forward to this point because I had heard it was another LEVEL of noise, another point that would pick me up and keep me going a few more miles. Run Dem Crew have certainly done that in plenty of other races for me… and I really hate to say it, but I was a bit disappointed in this instance. I’ve since heard that they have had to “tone down” their supporting area, but let’s just say – if I hadn’t been looking out for them, I probably would have not noticed them that much. As it was, I heard a cheer from David that alerted me they were coming up, saw Hannah on the sideline and headed in for another hug before skipping (I like to “think” it was skipping) off again. In a way, passing Run Dem meant I was even closer to the 23.6mile mark where I knew the Team Naturally Run girls were – and man oh man did I want to get to them soon.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

35km – 40km
4.28.47 (average pace 7.13p/km)

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I still didn’t feel AWFUL at the 35km mark, which was a massive improvement on the 35km mark in Paris – where the downhill-walking-crying-spiral started. If anything, hitting the 35km mark pumped me up even more – I knew I was getting close. I looked to my left and was ASTOUNDED to see the Tower of London again, holy shiz – I wasn’t far at ALL!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I tried to focus on Monument coming up, I knew that the TNR girls were there. What I didn’t realise was that I was closer to them than I thought – somehow I had mixed up my mile markers and I nearly ran straight past them!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Luckily I heard them yelling and screaming and I jumped up on the side barrier to give Kiera, Becca, Elle, Abby, Jen and Beki and crew a massive group hug.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

And then I just stood there. I smiled a lot. I ate a jelly baby that was offered. I stood there some more. I’m not sure I coherently said a single sentence. I took a video. And then Kiera very kindly said “Ok, you better start running again”. I was like “What?! Running? Oh shit, I’m in a race…ok BYE!” and I sped off again. I honestly just wanted to stay there with them, soaking it in and giving them more hugs!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I got a bit emotional as I ran off, I’m pretty sure a few tears leaked out the sides of my eyes! The “tunnel of hell” came up ahead and I was feeling so pumped I ran through the whole thing thinking “this aint no hell!”. Throughout the race I had been comparing my two pace bands – I had earlier decided to wear the 4.40 and 4.50 band. At this point I realised I was running bang in between the two pace bands – just slightly too slow for the 4.40, but well in front of the 4.50. Well, I’ll be damed, I was blitzing it!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I felt like running along the embankment was a glory lap just for me alone. I was THAT girl soaking every single cheer up, cheering back at the crowd, raising my arms like I was a superstar, and suddenly Kathy was right beside me and I managed ANOTHER hug.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Maybe all the stops for hugs added and extra few minutes on to my time, but without them, I might have been all those extra minutes slower. I relished in every single damn one, and I was so grateful for them.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I was level with the London Eye (wahhhh) when I got a text from Jason. He was opposite Big Ben, right as you turned the corner. I saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben ahead, focused on them and pumped my arms.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Jase, Anna and Johno on the right 

I came around the corner with my arms flung above my head screaming “I’m SMASHING IT”. Anna was screaming and crying with excitement, I kissed Jase and flung him my headphones* and leftover gel and headed off to finish this thing.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

*I never put my headphones in to my ears. I finished the race and this fact alone astounded me, that I had run a marathon without ANY MUSIC at all. I let the crowd pick me up and carry me along entirely, and I bloody loved it. Plus, my phone was dead 😉

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

40km – FINISH!
(average pace 6.26p/km)

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Past St James’ park the signs 800m to go, 600m to go started appearing – I felt strong and I know I was grinning from ear to ear. Around Buckingham Palace, there was a bagpiper next to me who started up as we rounded the final 400m and the crowd went wild.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I saw the finish line ahead, focused on it and went for it. Funnily enough, my last thoughts were “this girl in front of me, which finish chute is she going for…I don’t want her in my finish line pics so must change my path to avoid her” haha!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Upon reflection I was slightly disappointed with the finish line too – the VIP bleachers were all but empty (sorr-eee for taking so long!) and it was actually the only area which was missing the amazing crowd that had cheered me the entire way! But who cares, I was focused on one thing only – the bling!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I crossed the finish line, got my medal and took myself to the side for a little tear or two, and to calm my shaking body. I was STOKED with my time.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

4.42.54 – official chip time

That’s a 24 minute PB, and one I am damn proud of.

THE AFTERMATH

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

After hobbling to the baggage trucks and collecting my bag, I bumped in to Zoe and Darren and was able to give them congratulations hugs. I managed to get my shoes off and slipped in to flip flops, and shuffled my way to meet Sian at the meeting point. I was glad to have put a warm hoody & some SiS recovery drink into my bag, as we decided to stretch out our legs and walk all the way to our rendezvous pub to see our supporters.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

It was so awesome to celebrate with our supporters, get some celebratory bubbles and salty fries in me! I started fading about 6pm and so headed home with Steph and David to their place for more champagne!

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

I still can’t believe that London marathon is over. It was honestly the race of my life, I felt (mainly) so good throughout all of it. I loved the crowds, I loved having SO many supporters on the course, and while I finished with some whopping blisters – I felt strong. Physically, mentally, emotionally.

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Running London Marathon was about so much more than just completing the iconic race for me. London, the city, had thrown a lot of shit my way in the 3 years I lived there. I know it’s not an easy city for ANY ONE, but this place had nearly broken me. Nearly. Together with Jase I had battled through every challenge it threw my way – and the one thing that had got me through it all was running. I wasn’t a runner when I moved to London, but this city had taught me to love it’s streets and path’s, it’s river and it’s parks. Running has made me some of my best friends, friends who came to cheer me on, or were running beside me – and who I will miss dearly.

Every time I thought about competing in the London Marathon I thought “this is my victory lap. This is me saying London – you didn’t beat me, I found a way to beat you in the end. You ain’t gonna bitch me no more, I’m gonna show you who’s boss”.

But early the next morning I boarded a plane to leave London for the last time, and I cried hard on Jase’s shoulder as I watched the iconic buildings and the river disappear under the clouds. The race hadn’t really been about slamming the city to the ground with my feet and showing it who was boss at all. Instead it had been about giving London one big hug, kissing it’s streets with my feet, and feeling it’s embrace instead of it’s wrath. I wouldn’t miss the challenges that London had brought, but I would miss the dear friends I had made, and I sure would miss running that town. It’s taken me 3 years of saying “I hate you” and one big race to be able to finally say…

London Marathon 2015 Race Recap

London, I love you. 

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon xx

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