Epic Barcelona Tapas Crawl – 8 Best Tapas Bars in Barcelona

I know, I know. This blog is called Madrid Chow. And this is a video about Barcelona. But what can I say? I live and chow in Madrid, but sometimes chow elsewhere in Spain? I was in Barcelona for three months over the summer organising things for Devour Tours, and just before I left I realised I needed to make a video to share with travellers heading there my favourite Barcelona tapas bars. Barcelona is a complicated city to be a tourist in. There are tourist traps aplenty. But there are also gems. Plenty of them. So along with my Devour colleagues Lauren (fellow co-founder) and Katie (marketing director) we set off to see how many great tapas bars we could knock off in one night. We managed 8. Actually, we managed 7, but then I was able to travel in time to visit the 8th. I know that sounds nuts. And it sort of is. But it’s true. I guess you’ll just have to watch the video to understand. Enjoy!

3 Top Spots in the Opera Barrio – Gourmet&Tips

Ópera. At the plush slippered feet of Madrid’s Royal Palace, this amorphous neighbourhood is a heady blend of stately squares, narrow, winding streets, and very old money. I remember when I first moved to Madrid, I didn’t really think of Ópera in gastronomic terms. It all seemed a bit bland. Well, times have changed, and there’s now plenty going on amid those blue blooded lanes. In my latest gastro guide in conjunction with Bodegas Montecillo, I check out 150-year-old Madrid institution La Bola, brand-spanking-new seafood bar La Lonja del Mar (Madrid has the second-largest seafood market in the world!) and finally, the classic and, I find, underrated by locals, Mercado de San Miguel. A spot we couldn’t squeeze into the video, but I would also suggest checking out is La Candela Restó – the best Michelin-star meal you’ll have this year at a restaurant without a Michelin star.

Enjoy!

A feast at a Basque cider house! [VIDEO]

I’ve drunk a lot of Spanish cider in my time. We serve in on some of our tours, and I’ve stood agape and watched as waiters pour it from a great height directly into a glass in Oviendo, Asturias. Spanish cider is acerbic, crisp, bubble-less and absolutely delicious. It’s what you get when you ferment apples, not when you ferment apples, add sugar and carbonation. But my cider experience has long been incomplete. I’d never been to a cider house. I’d heard about them, in the mountains of the Basque Country or Asturias – two north-western regions of Spain. I’d heard the cider is served from enormous barrels, I’d seen images of it spurting out of those barrels and into the special fat, wide glasses. And I’d heard about the food – the salt-cod omelettes, the walnuts, the sheep cheese and… the enormous T-Bone steaks, served warm and bloody as hell in the centre.

So, on a trip to San Sebastian with Devour Tours colleagues Cyra Alcock and Lauren Aloise (we were researching and meeting with people in order to launch Devour San Sebastian), we decided to take a night off, jump into a taxi, and hit a cider house.

We got everything I expected and more. Because what I didn’t expect was the camaraderie, the sense of celebration or… the exquisite singing.

I hope you enjoy the video! And if you decide to go, the cider house we went to is the family-run Zapiain and the price for the full meal was €35. I highly recommend it.

Enjoy.

Best Places to Eat in Chamberí Neighbourhood – Gourmet&Tips

About three months ago, a friend, Roger Casas, who owns a production company, got in touch. He said, “Hey, I know you know a lot about where to eat, drink and make merry in Madrid. And I know you’ve recently become a sommelier. I think I might have something we could work on together.” It was a collaboration with Bodegas Montecillo, the third oldest winery in Rioja (founded in 1874 no less!). They wanted to make an online series where a local gastronome takes viewers around some of the newest, hottest and tastiest spots in Madrid. “Where do I sign?” I said.

So below is the first episode of that series – called Gourmet&Tips. We actually shot each episode in both English and Spanish (my brain melted and dribbled out my ear at the end of each day of filming), but I’m only going to post the English version of each video on my blog. If you’d like to practice your Spanish, do check out Bodegas Montecillo’s YouTube page for all the versions.

And in each little 3 minute video, I hit up a number of establishments in one Madrid barrio and try a signature dish in each… thus acting as a little guide for those lost and hungry in Madrid. I’ll be posting a new episode every two weeks or so.

And in this first episode, we hit Chamberí… for those who don’t know, it’s a little north of the centre, and is one of Madrid’s hippest spots for eating, drinking and growing long well-groomed facial hair. Yes, it’s hipster trendy. But there is A LOT of great food amidst those bearded streets, especially on the famous food street Calle Ponzano. Anyway, I won’t say anymore. Enjoy! (And remember to give the video a thumbs up – or the puppy dies!)

Join me on an exclusive 9-day gourmet Andalusia getaway!

I’m taking a brief break from the videos, to make a very exciting announcement. It’s something that’s been bubbling away for a few years now and finally the time is right.

This September, my Devour Tours partner Lauren Aloise and I will be leading a small group on an exclusive, one-off 9-day gourmet journey through Andalusia!

We’ve designed our dream southern Spain trip, and we’re thrilled to share the incredible hidden corners, delicious tastes, and amazing stories of this absolutely magical part of Spain with a select group of guests.

Read on for more info!

Andalusia is simply dripping with colour and life.

A LONG TIME IN THE MAKING…

Five years ago we began leading our daytime food tours in Madrid. And we quickly learned  that food tours are about so much more than just food. They’re stories about a place, told through local food, and through the family-run vendors we visit. And as we’ve expanded our daytime and evening tours throughout Spain, we’ve travelled (and eaten) all over this country.

The upshot? I’ve felt a growing desire to lead a tour that can go deeper, include more and tell a broader story about this country. As I hope my videos show, lend me your ear, and I’ll fill your mind with everything Spain. And so this Andalusia journey allows us to achieve that wish – to share everything we’ve learned, discovered and fallen in love with with a select group of people.

And the goal? To help our guests see Spain with local eyes, and help them understand the story of this country… while of course eating lots of amazing food!

The region’s white villages are almost dreamlike places. We’ll enjoy a private cooking class in one.

WHY ANDALUSIA?

Andalusia was the obvious choice for both of us. This region is spectacularly ancient, and as a lover of history, it’s always thrilled me. Whether peering on Columbus’ tomb in the cathedral of Seville, exploring the date-palm-oasis-like Mosque of Cordoba or wandering the cracked pavements of ruined seaside Roman town Baelo Claudia, the sense of history here is palpable.

Cordoba’s Mosque-Cathedral is one of the world’s most remarkable monuments.

And the food. Oh, the food. Rich black-hoof jamón from Aracena, magical wines from Jerez, liquid gold olive oil from across the region, and market-fresh seafood pulled up daily all along the coast. This is like the cradle of so much of what we now think of when we think of Spanish cuisine. It’s a land that offers up such variety, with so many rich flavours. And we want to share all those flavours with our guests.

But Andalusian cuisine isn’t only about the past. This region is at the forefront of modern Spanish cuisine. Every time I head to Seville or Cordoba, I’m thrilled by the thought of tasting the dishes that are being produced right now by young, ambitious, and talented chefs. We’ll be tasting both the traditional flavours and the modern ones on the tour, giving our guests a true understanding of the food of this region.

And, of course, the wine. When the Phoenicians arrived in Andalusia 3,000 years ago, they brought wine-making knowhow with them. Which means the wines of this region have a long and fascinating pedigree.

Of course, Andalusia’s most famous and distinct wine is sherry, which many people think of as simply sickly sweet. Fear not, Lauren and I are both certified sommeliers and we will re-introduce you to this fabulous drink (most of it’s dry as a bone). And we’ll also be tasting more traditional red wines at one of my favourite wineries in all of Spain.

Exploring the sherry wineries of Jerez is like stepping back in time.

As a certified sommelier, I love demystifying wine for our guests. Not pretension allowed!

And what so fascinates me about Andalusia are its entangled origins. This region has been the home to Romans, Christians, Muslims, Jews and other, more ancient, people. And that melting pot of inhabitants has created a very unique and evocative modern culture. Of course, flamenco comes first to mind – an art form in which you can hear both the Muslim call to prayer and Christian Gregorian chants. And while the influence of the Moors on the the language, culture and architecture of Spain is clear, I’m also fascinated by the more hidden influences of Spain’s sephardic people. We will be exploring all of this on the tour.

Flamenco is a music that truly reaches into your soul.

SO, WHAT’S INCLUDED?

So what does this dream 9-day Andalusia trip include? Lauren and I have worked for some months figuring out a detailed itinerary that truly represents what is wonderful about southern Spain. It’s the trip that I would want to be on. It’s the trip that I want to take my parents on (maybe next year!). It’s the trip that represents so much of what is dear to me about this astounding country.

So, here are some highlights of the trip. I’m going to limit myself to 10 (and these are in no particular order!):

  1. You’ll be lead by me and Lauren, two people who have travelled this country extensively, read deeply and tasted widely. We love Spain, and, we’re excited to help you fall in love with it too.
  2. Taste Spain’s world-famous black-hoof ham at an organic family-run farm, and learn all about the fascinating process of making jamón.
  3. A private visit to the world’s only ethical foie gras producer (as featured on NPR by my friend journalist Lauren Frayer and in the New York Times) and taste the foie gras (without the guilt!)!
  4. Discover Andalusia’s ancient fish salting and smoking tradition (from the ancient Roman ruins of a seaside town to a modern facility) and indulge in a tuna-focused tasting menu at an internationally celebrated restaurant.
  5. Wander the groves of one of Andalusia’s famed olive oil producers, and enjoy a lead tasting of Spain’s liquid gold (plus learn lots of tips for using it back home).
  6. Head out for an evening of tapas and flamenco in Seville, where you’ll do tapas like a local and understand flamenco’s mystical origins before taking in a spectacular show.
  7. Descend into the astounding Cave of Wonders: otherworldly underground caverns, like something from another planet, that will truly take your breath away.
  8. Hone your skills (with a glass of wine in hand) on a private cooking class in the enchanting white hilltop village of Vejer de la Frontera – learning local recipes you can recreate at home.
  9. Explore a 19th century family-owned sherry bodega, where (we promise) if you haven’t re-discovered sherry yet, you will do on this incredible experience.
  10. While we’re talking about wine, we’ll also visit a winery that makes one of my favourite red wines right now in Spain and taste their rich, opulent reds.
  11. Explore the seductive historic centre of Cordoba (including the majestic Mosque-Cathedral) on a private walking tour, followed by a private Sephardic music concert in a beautiful patio.
  12. Enjoy a dinner of creative, modern tapas at the Seville restaurant that leads that way in innovative dishes  (including a private conversation with the owners before dinner).
  13. Relax in hand-picked hotels that are not only sumptuous, but full of fascinating. stories – from Seville where we’ll stay in a splendid 400-year-old palace built atop 1st century Roman villa to Vejer where we’ll be in a fabulous boutique hotel housed in whitewashed buildings that date back to the 10th century.

OK, my 10 highlights became 13. While I could go on, if you’d like to learn all the specifics about the trip, please read on below.

INTERESTED IN JOINING US? HERE ARE THE DETAILS

Dates: 16-24 September, 2017 (9 days, 8 nights)
Price: €2,995 for double occupancy and includes accommodation in splendid hotels, all food & drink (apart from two free meals), myself and Lauren as your expert guides, and a host of private, exclusive experiences, visits and tastings! Price also includes all taxes and fees. Not included is transportation to/from the starting point in Seville but we can help you organise that.
Spaces: There will be only 12 guests on the tour so the experience is highly personalised and intimate.
Cities and villages included: Seville, Cordoba, Vejer de la Frontera, Aracena, Jerez de la Frontera, Arcos de la Frontera

If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’d like a little more information, please contact me at james@devourspain.com. As I mention above, there are only 12 spots available, and as I write this, we’re filling up. So do send me an email, and I’ll get back to you ASAP. I’m also happy to arrange a Skype call if you’d prefer to chat with me personally about the trip.

I hope to see you in Seville in September for the start of an incredible journey!

5 Must-Try Spanish Wine Styles! [Video]

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One of the true joys of living in Spain is the chance to drink Spanish wine! There’s so much variety, amazing quality and it’s so reasonably priced. This country is a wine-drinker’s dream! It’s famous for its reds, but there’s so much more to Spain that just red wines!

In my latest video I really wanted to highlight those different styles (including red wine), as well as five great wine-toting Madrid tapas bars in Madrid where you can drink them. What are the styles I highlight in the video?

1. Vermouth. Everyone knows Martini, but here in Spain we drink Spanish vermouth and often it’s served on tap! The perfect pre-lunch tipple.

2. White wine. When my parents visited Spain from New Zealand, my father fell head over heels for Spanish whites. Look to the north-west of the country for fresh, fascinating white wines that are really making their mark internationally.

3. Cava. Made the same way as champagne, but so much cheaper! Spanish sparkling wine – aka cava – is totally undervalued. Too often consumers outside Spain opt for prosecco (which is fine, but it’s not made using the traditional champagne method). It’s time to pop open the cava people!

4. Sherry. Only a very small slice of sherry is sweet! Most of the stuff we drink is dry, complex and… very cheap (Do you see a trend here? Spanish wine is a steal!).

5. Red wine. The two most famous regions for reds are Rioja and Ribera del Duero. And don’t get me wrong – both regions make amazing wines. But I always try and remind people that there are 69 wine regions in Spain…. so head to a great wine bar and try reds from Catalonia, from Andalusia, from Galicia, from…. Get exploring!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. And if you do, please give it a thumbs up. And subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’d like to see more of my videos about Spain (click this link to subscribe: http://bit.ly/2jYy7L2) Got any questions – ask them below or below the video in YouTube itself. Salud!

Cheap & local seafood in Madrid

What do you think about when you think about the food of Madrid? That’s a curly question that tends to stump people on our food tours. Often guests say paella, or perhaps tapas (which assumes – incorrectly but understandably – that tapas is a food group) or they head for safe ground and simply suggest jamón. The thing is, Madrid’s gastronomic identity is a bit of a conundrum for many new arrivals. Which means they get a hell of a surprise when we tell them that this city has the second largest fish market in the world. In a landlocked city? What gives?!

Well, we Spaniards (me being of the honourary sort) eat a hell of a lot of fish. And Madrid, being the capital of Spain and the centre of power, has long demanded – and been able to pay for – a lot of excellent fish. And that means that the capital is a fabulous place to get your seafood fix. Of course, there are lots of pricey places to chow down on fresh octopus or big ugly monkfish, but there are also a number of rough-and-tumble, cheap-as-chips joints where the locals get their seafood fill. And those are the places I wanted to celebrate in this video.

So, without further ado… My favourite places to eat cheap seafood in Madrid!

(p.s. The largest seafood market in the world is in Tokyo. And p.p.s. No you can’t visit the Madrid one, it’s only for trade customers unfortunately.)

What is Spanish ham? And how to buy the best?

Spanish ham is like wine. It’s one of life’s great pleasures… mysterious, rich, delicious and… very frustrating. Like wine, the more you learn about jamón, the more confused you get. Head down to your local (Spanish) market or deli and there they are, hanging all in a row. And you wonder – what’s the difference? Why should I get that one, and not that one one? Black hoof or white hoof? Acorn-fed? Or was it walnut-fed?

I feel your pain. You’re in Spain, you’ve heard about Spanish ham, and you want to get the good stuff. Because, what is Spanish ham? What is jamón? And how can you tell the great stuff from the just good stuff. Well, that’s why I made this video. To break down some of the confusion and give you a few key tips to keep in mind when that Spanish waiter is breathing down your neck in that sweaty tapas bar, or the market ham vendor is overrun by old lady shoppers and you’ve got get your order in fast.

Ham doesn’t have to be hard. Watch my video, ask any questions, and enjoy one of the greatest food products humanity has ever created. And I’m not one for hyperbole.

Paella, sangria, churros… 5 Spanish food myths busted!

Do Spaniards drink sangria? Are churros for dessert? Where can I get a good paella? Great questions!

When tourists hit Spain, they want to eat! And damn right, too! The food in this country is phenomenal. BUT there is so much misunderstanding about how, when and what we REALLY eat here. And over the years as a tour guide I’ve really enjoyed setting guests straight about how do it proper-like. Why? Because although paella might taste great in the evening, if you know that locals only eat it for lunch, you’ll have… what’s the word… a more organic experience. And the waiters might take you a little more seriously.

Anyway, I’ve made the brief video below to help prevent Spain-bound travellers from falling into typical tourist gastro-mistakes.

So, if you’re winging your way to Spain soon (or just want to know more about real Spanish food), hopefully the next 4 minutes will help you have a tastier, and slightly more authentic culinary experience!

If the info was helpful, please give the video a thumbs up in YouTube (it keeps my spirits up) and why not subscribe to my YouTube channel (little red button on the bottom right of the video) for more cinematic pearls about how to experience the real Spain.

 

Expert tour of the Real Madrid Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

I know, I know. This blog is supposed to be about stuffing our faces with tapas, and drowning in Rioja. But, if you’ll permit me… After living in Madrid for five years, I realised I had a serious gap in my knowledge as a local know-it-all and guide. I’d never been to that big bloody temple of football only ten minutes by Metro from my home – the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Home of Real Madrid (according to FIFA the greatest team of the 20th century). So, I called up my mate Dermot Corrigan, a friend who writes about soccer for ESPNFC.com and who I’ve heard mutter over a beer, “Everything in this country can be understood through the lens of football.” In other words, a total football expert. And I asked him to take me on the tour.

This video is the result of that private little wander through the hallowed halls of football history. And beware Barça fans. Ronaldo gets a few mentions, and, like true Madrid obsessives, we do discuss his underwear.

And remember – anybody can take the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium tour while in Madrid. Just click here for more info.

¡Hala Madrid!