Travel blogger Casie Tenin shares the must-eat bites in Madrid, Spain.
Every time I think of my first day living in the tiny Spanish village of Fregenal de la Sierra, my mouth starts to salivate. Little did I know, I’d be biting my way through the next 8 months of my journey in this authentic, 5,000 person Spanish farming town…
Although it’s now over a year ago, my taste buds remember it like it was yesterday. Coming straight from my home “town” of New York City, I was petrified to live in this tiny Spanish pueblo. I was in the back seat of a broken down van, staring at miles upon miles of open land, sheep, cows, weird stumpy-looking trees…And all of a sudden, we slow down. We enter a white washed village, and next thing you know we are inching through tiny cobble streets. Two seconds pass, the car stops, and a smiling woman opens my door.
“Bienvenidos!!! Tienes hambre? Has probado el jamón?”
Translation: “Welcome! Are you hungry? Have you tried ham?”
“Ummmm. I’ve just traveled across the world to begin a new life as the only foreigner in your village, I have my entire life in a suitcase right next to me, and you’re asking me about Spanish ham?!” -Me.
She lead me through her house, into her kitchen, where I was not only greeted by her smiling ear-to-ear family, but something a bit more unexpected. And not nearly as initially welcoming…
An entire cured pig leg perched on their kitchen countertop.
The father walks over to the pig leg. He takes out a knife, and starts shaving it. He puts the thinly slices of shaved jamón on a round white plate, beautifully arranged. When the plate is full, he carries it over to me. “Try it, try it!” He barks at me in Spanish.
So I do.
It was moist, salty, nutty and sweet all at once. As I made sense of what I was eating, it melted in my mouth. OK, people. Maybe these 8 months won’t be so hard after all…
Now, as I sit here with my new, modern (and more normal) life in Madrid, I reflect back on my 8 magical months in Fregenal de la Sierra. As I quickly learned the first day, the way of life there is bites. It’s social eating. The food from their own land that represents what they do, who they are, and brings them together for any and all occasions. Let’s take a bite into their lives, shall we?
Jamón: Of course. It’s like their G-D. In fact, the majority of family’s who live in the village work in the jamón processing business. So not only is it their joy, but livelihood! When there’s a plate of jamón out, you know it’s a party.
Manchego Cheese: It’s like jamón’s best friend. Personally, I am a cheese fanatic. So, when I see a plate of this cured, hard, salty cheese being cut at a social gathering…I’m like a vulture. The best mixture in the world? Jamón and Manchego in one, salty, nutty, creamy bite. I’m salivating just thinking about it!
Chorizo: The brother of jamón. This cured sausage is cut into thin slices, and is another fiesta go-to.
Olives: Not only are olives, or aceitunas, a staple to the Mediterranean diet, but a must for any party where there will be “picking” involved. Of course, in my Spanish village, all of the “party olives” were made right in the backyards of the party-goers.
Picos: little crunchy Spanish crackers, eaten with all the munchies above. If there are no picos, there’s no party.
Cruzcampo: CERVEZA. It’ not a bite, without a gulp! This light lager beer is typical from the south of Spain, and is the iconic beer you will see in any home, bar, restaurant, etc. I like to call it, “the Spanish water”.
Now that I am living in Madrid, I miss all these backyard bites like loco. Of course, almost every bar offers these tapas on their menu. However, when it’s made with amor in the backyard of your friend, it’s got a different flavor. Wouldn’t you agree?
However, my newly developed munching habits can’t possibly fathom living a life in Spain without these delicioso Spanish products. So, I’ve dug up a few great tapas bars to get high quality jamón, queso, Cruzcampo…the works.
In Madrid? Bite it for yourself!
Entre Caceres y Badajoz: A tapas bar “Extrameño” style, which is the province that Fregenal is in. It’s as close to the real deal as you’ll get without visiting my village, and the ambience is truly authentic!
Casa Parrando: An Asturian styled tapas bar with the best of the best Spanish products, from the north and south of Spain. Check out my blog post to read more!
Any Jamonería! If you’re not looking for a “tapas experience” but just want to try the best products without paying the highest pricest, stop in any jamonería. They are all over Madrid!
Fogg Bar: A tapas bar that specializes in two of my favorite things: beer and cheese! They have a variety of gourmet cheeses from small villages around Spain, fabulous chorizo, and artisan Spanish beer.
Madrid Madriz: In the center of Madrid, this bustling tapas spot gives great (complimentary!) tapas with every beer you order. And they have great olives. A Madrid classic!
As we say here in Spain…salùd!