10 Things You MUST Know Before Travelling to Spain – VIDEO

I know, I know. It reads like a clickbait title… “click on this or your trip to Spain will be a total disaster.” Well, I don’t mean it like that. But having just been to Rome, and spending the first two days wondering, “So, when do the locals eat pizza – lunch, dinner, both?”, I think that the answers to some very basic questions about a country can help you have a much richer experience there. So, here is my humble effort.

Do I tip in Spain? What’s up with bullfighting? Are they still at it? What the hell are tapas? What time to the shops open? When do those damned Spaniards eat dinner. 10.30pm at night, really???!!! These are questions that I think if you can get answered as you’re planning your experience, you’ll have an easier experience, and probably a richer one. Because you’ll be in synch with the locals.

Anyway, let me do a roundabout of the tips I cover in this video:

1. Spain is Regional! This is one that really does turn heads. Whenever we imagine another country, our head fills with images that generally only represent one aspect or part of that country. A whittled down cliche that doesn’t capture the richness of a place. But people simply don’t realise that the north of Spain is green, green, green. It looks like Ireland in them thar hills. And it’s not just because of the bloody rain – northern Spain has deep Celtic roots (they play the bagpipes!), and I need to do more research on exactly why that is (my mum old me she saw a documentary that the Irish are actually descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Northern Spain).

2. What time do the shops and bars open in Spain? You’ll see in the video that hours are much more restrictive in the traditional establishments (the ones with all the charm!) but that in the big cities you can get most things any day of the week, and at any hour (department stores and supermarkets open consistently, even 24 hours now).

3. What time do Spaniards eat? Famously late, in short! Lunch is from 2-4pm, and dinner even later. I give more info in the video, but this is a really important one to pin down before you travel to Spain. You don’t want to be eating alone in all the bars and restaurants!

4. What are tapas? Ah, a favourite topic of mine. I explain in the video, how tapas are more than a plate of food. They’re an activity. And that’s why while you can eat tapas all over the world, you can only DO tapas in Spain!

5. Do you tip in Spain? Yes! And no! It’s not like the USA with a percentage, but it’s a little bit of change, Again, a little more context in the video.

6. Do people take siestas in Spain? Yes! And no! (Sorry to repeat the gag). It’s certainly a cliche, but one grounded in history and fact. Given our daily rhythms and the fact that we work in offices, we can’t sleep under the desk. But give one of my Spanish friends a big lunch, a glass of wine and the rest of the day to stretch out, and they may grab a little cat nap… In the video I lie out on a city bench and help you understand this tradition, as well as giving you my 3 rules for the perfect siesta.

7. Is there bullfighting in Spain? Yes! And no! (Sorry, this is getting old). It’s certainly on the wane (and has been banned in some parts of Spain. I head to a bar in Madrid with bullfighting memorabilia to explain a little more, plus give a little insight about what I thought when I went to a bullfight.

8. Do Spaniards speak English? For this piece in the vid, we’re joined by my amazing wife Yoly (a Spaniard who speaks excellent English!). The upshot is the older generations don’t, the younger ones might and either way, you’ll get by!

9. How should I get around Spain. Please do use the AVE fast train whenever possible instead of air travel. It’s simply easier, and better on the environment. But there are certain routes that are very hard (or slow) via train. Heading to the north and northwest (Galicia, Asturias, Basque Country), for example, is very slow experience (no AVE to many destinations), and the AVE also doesn’t extend to Extremadura yet (that great region which has, I recall, the lowest tourist numbers in the whole country… and the best jamón!).

10. How do we greet in Spain? Kiss, kiss! Two besos, one on each cheek. But it does depend a little if men are meeting men, if women are meeting men and all the rest. And as a mention in the video, if you’re meeting the king, shake his hand.

Enjoy the video guys! Be sure to give it a thumbs up if you like it, and subscribe if you’d like to know when I publish more videos.

 

Epic Madrid Food Tour (10 stops)

Finally I had the time – and the stomach – to tackle it. An epic Madrid food tour that hits 10 of my favourite places and bites in this city. If you’re heading to the capital, this Madrid food guide is your gastro ticket to ride!

Let me whet your appetite with a short list of what you’re going to discover and taste. The city’s best melted chocolate, a wonderfully gooey tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) at a hidden bar and made by a tortilla wizard, vermouth on tap in the Mercado San Miguel, a bull tail parcel in a 100-year-old bar, the finest ham in the world, the city’s best calamari sandwich, unbelievably moist bacalao… sorry, I’m running out of breath.

But the upshot is that if you’re heading to Madrid, these bars and shops are some of the most delicious and authentic spots in the city. And they’re all within a few minutes walking distance, around the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor (yes, it’s not all tourist traps in them thar hills!), And beyond amazing food, these castizo establishments will also give you a wonderful sense of what it means to eat and drink like a madrileño. These are REAL places, where locals go and that have stuck to serving up Madrid cuisine as it has been for decades (if not longer).

Because after years in the shadows, Madrid’s cuisine is finally starting to get the credit it deserves. Most of these places are traditional establishments and some are pretty rough and tumble, but you can pair this with an upsurge in more modern tapas establishments and restaurants that are turning out some of Spain’s most innovation cuisine.

Need I say more? Madrid is delicious. Madrid rocks. Come visit! Madrid food tour video to follow…

Amazing Local Tapas in Seville – the Triana tapas crawl!

Triana, Triana, qué bonita está Triana…” So go the famous flamenco lyrics. Triana, just over the river from Seville proper, is one very proud barrio, historically the home of a large Gypsy population, as well as flamenco dancers, bullfighters and a strong pottery industry. While the neighbourhood has changed (the Gypsies were displaced in the 1970s), the local pride remains. And if you’re looking to escape Seville’s tourist centre and hit some very local tapas bars, then Triana is the perfect spot.

I was in the city with some of the Devour Tours crew (a number of whom live in Seville) and we were running a test of our new Tapas Like a Local: Triana Neighbourhood Tapas Tour. In other words, we went out for tapas and pretended it was work. We hit five of the best tapas bars in Triana, and ate everything from perfectly grilled pork loin to freshly-carved jamón to stewed pork cheek to the most amazing radishes you’ve ever tried in your life (the last one may sound a little strange, but trust me).

And the drinks? Vermouth, wine and… of course… sherry! Straight from the barrel.

So anyway, if you’re in Seville and want enjoy a fab night out amongst the locals (check out my new friend Enrique right at the end of the video) and want to eat tapas and drink sherry like a Trianero, then check out the video and follow our lead!

Best Tapas in Madrid!

It’s been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to make a video about some of what I consider the some of the best tapas in Madrid. And happily, they’re all in the same barrio! You see, just on the far side of the Retiro park, there is a clutch of tapas joints that are some of the most exciting in the city. And I don’t mean exciting in a super avant guard sense… I mean exciting in that they walk a cracking balance between tradition and modernity, both in terms of food and also atmosphere. And they’re all within a few blocks of each other!

The barrio? Ibiza (not the island!). It’s a slightly wealthier part of Madrid, and is officially located in the Salamanca neighbourhood. It’s only a very short metro ride from the centre. And it’s an area where many of the traditional taverns have evolved with the times, updating their menus and their wine lists to keep up with modern trends, but not losing their link to tradition. So you have places like KultO that are doing Spanish fusion cuisine (mixing a lot of Andalusian recipes with influences from Asia), but only a block away you have La Castela, that does a knockout bull tail stew and fabulous more traditional fish dishes. And all these places have a restaurant section where you can sit down, but unless you’re with a big group, I always prefer to battle it out at the bar (I’m a sucker for a busy tapas bar). Elbows out!

And what’s so refreshing is that these bars truly do justice to the variety and richness of wine made in Spain. Sure, there’s a lot of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. But you can also dig into sherry, wines from Madrid and reds from the north-west (which are totally trending right now – and rightly so!).

And last – BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST – my wife! This is the first video I’ve co-hosted with my wife Yoly. She’s from Madrid, has taught my a lot of what I know about Spain, and is also Madrid’s leading flamenco tour guide. Check out her private flamenco tours at www.theflamencoguide.com – she’s a genius, and a wonderful woman. And I’m not just saying that because we’re married!

OK, enough chat. Onto the video! Enjoy! And give it a like if you enjoyed it. And subscribe to my YouTube channel for similar videos about how to explore and experience Spain like a local!

An unforgettable & delicious weekend in a secret village in Spain

So, about a year ago, I spent the most delightfully delicious weekend in a very hidden village in Spain. The village is called Pozos, and it’s a tangle of stone houses set in gorgeous mountains in the province of León. Over the course of 48 hours, we feasted on rice with rabbit and quail, we roasted a baby goat in the communal village oven, we explored my friend Lauren and Alejandro’s recently purchased ruin and I discovered the most gorgeous pair of ponies I’ve ever see in my life.

I was invited to the village by Laura and Esme, who run a little gastronomic retreat company called Esme Tours. The offer cooking classes, country walks and wine experiences in the region, direct from their gorgeous home. If you’re planning a trip to Spain (or if you life in Spain and want to escape for a weekend), I really do suggest you check them out!

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the video, which I hope give you a true insight into village life in Spain, a taste of Spanish culture, and a glimpse at some seriously delicious cooking. Oh, and there are those two ponies of course. Finally – subscribe to my YouTube channel for similar videos about how to explore and experience Spain like a local!

 

Beginner’s Guide to Rioja Wine!

If you’ve ever heard of Spanish wine, you’ve almost certainly heard of Rioja. But for those who are new to the vino of this country, often they’ve heard that name but don’t quite know what it means and therefore don’t feel confident ordering it.

Well, welcome to my Rioja for [total!) beginners video! I made this to help those of you who are new to Rioja help you understand it, order it and enjoy it. And for those who already know Rioja, I think you’ll enjoy how the video explains the difference between traditional and modern Rioja wines, and also gives an update on the changes afoot in the region right now.

I kick off the video by answering three questions that I often hear in wine tastings we give:

  • Is Rioja a grape or a wine region?
  • What is the main grape used in Rioja?
  • Is Rioja a red wine or a white wine?

And once those questions are answered, I move on and taste three Riojas from my favourite wineries of the region. The first is Viña Tondonia 2005 Reserva from the winery R. López de Heredia, then Roda I Reserva 2009 from the winery Bodegas Roda, and finally Viñas de Gain 2015 by the winery Artadi. The first is a classic, traditional Rioja, the second represents modern Rioja and Artadi is in there to highlight how the region is going through a period of massive change.

So, I hope you enjoy the video! I plan to make a tasting video for each of the 69 Spanish wine regions, so after you’ve had a watch, remember to leave a comment in YouTube about what region you’d like me to do next!

And if you enjoy the video, remember to give it a thumbs up! Lots of “likes” always bring a smile to my (and my mum’s) face!

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.

And while you’re here, why not subscribe to my YouTube channel for similar videos about how to explore and experience Spain like a local?!

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.

Oh, and check out these 7 key things to know before getting to San Sebastian! and 7 fabulous museums to check out in the city.

Txotx!

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!)