My Food Exploration in Spain

Well, I put my agoraphobic tendencies aside and got on a plane, and off to Spain I went. I flew from Chicago to Madrid on Tuesday the 13th, arriving at 7am on Wednesday in Spain. It was an amazing, whirlwind of a week. We had only a few days in each city, at most, and I wanted to make the most of it. Yes, we saw lots of historical sites and lots of culture. But this blog isn’t about that. You know where my heart is. I love food. And when I travel, I love taking advantage of the diversity of foods I can experience.

Airplane food is interesting. I think it has been made even more interesting by the pandemic. Airlines try to limit how much interaction there is on the plane, so they condense everything. I had a plate of fries at the airport before leaving Chicago. I was hungry, but not super hungry, and I was nervous, so this met the need. I did, however, have a fantastic wine. Wolf-Gang Puck makes an amazing Chardonnay! The in-flight dinner was an option of chicken or pasta. I took the chicken. I’m not sure this was the best option, but you have to make a split decision. It was decent. I did find it a little weird that they served rice with the chicken, and then the side dish was a quinoa and vegetable thing. Two grains? My mistake of the meal was taking a nice big bite of the pudding thing. It was topped with shaved coconut, which you’d think I would have realized. Luckily, I only got a little rash that went away quickly. In the morning, I was served a mini-baguette style sandwich with cucumber, cheese and some type of aioli. It wasn’t bad. On the way home, I flew from Barcelona to Madrid. At the Madrid airport, I got the desayuno dulce. This was a croissant, glass of orange juice and coffee. I had some fruit I had purchased in Barcelona, which I ate with this for breakfast. Then on the plane from Madrid to Chicago, I chose tortellini over the burger. I feel like this had to be the right choice. It was pretty decent. They also served us wraps after that along with some kind of cupcake that had a caramel center. Overall, airplane eating was not fantastic, but it did the job. I think I enjoyed the meals more on the way back because everyone on the plane had to show proof of a Covid-test or recent recovery from Covid. It just felt safer eating in that situation.

Now, let’s talk about the actual food in Spain. I landed in Madrid at 7:05am on the 14th. I had a twelve-hour layover, so I went into town by way of the Metro. I did the Rick Steve’s walking tour of old Madrid. It was fantastic, though a rather good workout. There are many streets in Madrid where you are just walking straight up a hill. When I was ready for a break, I stopped at Café Europa. Okay, this is a bit of a tourist spot right off of Plaza del Sol, but I wanted to people watch. The server was fantastic about my initial attempts at Spanish. I ordered some wine and a bocadillo with Iberico ham. It’s amazingly simple, but it’s Iberico! It was delicious. After wandering around some more, I decided to hop back on the Metro and check out some of the stops between old Madrid and the airport. I found this cute cafe in Tribunal where I had a mojito. It was extremely sweet. But I ordered this tapas item, which was like a light, almost phyllo style pastry with a cream cheese like filling. I have no idea what it was or what was in it, but it was delicious. I then headed back to the airport to fly to Seville.

When I got into Seville, we went to our hostel to drop off my bag. We then went downstairs to a cute cafe just below us, Las Teresas, and I had some more amazing Iberico ham and some wine. The following morning, I woke up incredibly early, so I headed for a walk about town. I found the cutest little coffee shop and managed to order my espresso in Spanish! Well, the very nice clerk did need to correct me on which word to use for brown in ordering my sugar. Jess and I later split a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast at another cute cafe. There’s going to be a lot of mentions of ham in this post.

After doing all kinds of touring, we sat down to a very nice tapas lunch at a place called Las Tomates. We had a beautiful burrata and tomato salad. Jess didn’t care for the burrata, which surprised me as she is a big cheese lover. Maybe it was a little warm and she might like it served colder. I also had pork jowl with Seville sauce. This is delicious and I must figure out how to make it at home. So far, I am having no luck finding someone who sells pork jowl near me. Of course, we also had some sausages.

For dinner, we had scheduled a cooking class. This class was the demonstration type where the chef does all the cooking, and you just watch and learn. And I did learn. First, I learned on this occasion and many others through our trip that I actually like olives. I’ve never been a fan, but I only ever had plain green or black olives from a can. In Spain, they do so much more with olives. I also learned that I like Sherry. For the actual meal, we had paella. It was amazing. It had prawns, shrimp, muscles and cuttlefish. I had never had cuttlefish. It’s actually particularly good. My sister doesn’t really eat seafood, but she gave it a good try. I did have to clean her prawn for her to try it. And the sangria the chef made was amazing. He marinated the liquids together overnight and added the fresh fruit at the last minute. This is so much better than the soggy fruit I’ve had in the states. And of course, I walked away with some great recipes and cooking tips!

Our second day in Seville, I had a breakfast more like I would have at home. It was fried eggs, Iberico ham, some French fries, tomatoes, and an English muffin. Have I mentioned they seem to like to put fries with everything? You order meat, it comes on fries. You order eggs, you get fries. I’m not sure what is up with that. Jess had churros which I tried, and they were delicious. They were crispy and slightly, but not too sweet. She didn’t get the chocolate sauce, which I find crazy.

After wandering around doing a self-guided Rick Steve’s walking tour, we found this absolutely beautiful spot to have lunch. It was this gorgeous tucked away little patio that felt like you were in a secret garden. We had the most amazing ensalada de tamate, which I will recreate many times at home. It was just sliced tomatoes topped with garlic, chopped basil and olive oil. But it was amazing. We also had a tapas plate with two different kinds of sausage and Manchego cheese. Oh, and we ordered these things I’d seen on several menus called croquetas. I didn’t realize they were stuffed with shellfish, so Jess did not really like them. I loved them. Afterwards, while wondering around the shops, I found a beautiful spice shop where I bought Spanish saffron from about a third for what it costs at home. Of course, I also bought some Spanish paprika. My neighborhood spice shop can forgive me for cheating on them since I was shopping local.

And yes, after all of that, we could still eat again for dinner. We went to this beautiful street lined with restaurants and specifically chose one that had really pretty pictures of desserts. We had something like ceviche, but the seafood was cooks. I didn’t think it was the best version I have had, but it was decent. Jess had some salmorejo, which is a Spanish tomato soup. It looked beautiful. I also had some more pork jowl. This one was served on these amazing thinly slice potatoes that had been poached in olive oil. I may have to try to recreate those at home too. I accidentally ordered a martini, which was good. We did order the pretty dessert, but we only ate a few bites. It was incredibly sweet.

With all the food the day before, we had a light breakfast on our third day. I did end up with two espressos because our server was a little more inclined toward taking our order fast than listening. But it was good. We had croissants and orange juice. After touring Plaza de Espana and sending my sister off to the airport, I sat down at a cafe and tried some more churros and sangria. They brought an entire coffee mug of chocolate sauce for them. These were not as good as the first ones I tried but were decent. The sangria was awesome.

After touring the Royal Palace, I had some time to kill before I needed to head to the airport, so I sat down at a cafe for more tapas. The server at this one was quite rude and so I didn’t ask for an English menu. I ended up ordering two potato dishes, which would be fine except I didn’t really like either one. One was like potato salad with way too much mayo. The other was like mashed potatoes with canned tuna. This would be my least favorite eating experience of the whole trip. But then I was off to the airport to head to Barcelona and meet up with Jess again.

Unfortunately, Barcelona’s Covid numbers were not fantastic, so there were still a lot of restrictions including restaurants having to close early. By the time I got there, we couldn’t find anything open. So, I was pretty happy I had eaten several times in Seville.

The next morning, we ate a cute little place just below Familia Sagrada, which we then toured. This cafe was a little more touristy than I had become accustomed to, but we had some pretty decent focaccia and they had good espresso. I also need to tell you about the place next door. It is called Dick Waffles. And yes, they mean what you think. See for yourself. This is apparently a thing there. No, we did not get any.

After taking a guided walking tour around Barcelona with an amazing guide, we sat down for some lunch at a cafe in the center of old Barcelona. I was feeling adventurous and canned seafood is a thing there, so I ordered muscles. I did not like canned muscles. But I also tried pan de tomate for the first time. It was incredible. The bread was so light and crips. And if no one has told you, the olive oil from Spain is amazing. Jess had some type of chicken in soy sauce. I then ordered us this baked brie with pears and apples. It was incredible, though maybe shouldn’t be ordered when it’s a hundred degrees out.

For dinner, we headed to Barceloneta to find more tapas along with waterfront. We found this cafe that I mostly chose because they offered fuet which I had seen on a few menus and was curious about. It’s a cured sausage common to the area. It was delicious and I saved some of it for later. Their pan de tomate was not as good as the last place. They put it together for you and so the crushed tomato makes the bread a little soggy. The meat and cheese tray we ordered was gigantic. It had three different kinds of sausage, cured Iberico ham, and four different cheeses, including brie which Jess loves. We also had a caprese salad which was incredible.

Day 2 in Barcelona started with a hike to rival all hikes. We went up to Parque Guell and I mean “UP TO”. Our google directions took us from the very bottom of the mountain up. After getting all the way up there, we had some croissants, so we’d have energy to get back down. Jess also had to buy me a Mojito when we got back to town for that one. For lunch, we found another cute restaurant near the water. They serve their pan de tomate already assembled as well. I’ve decided I prefer when they just bring you the pieces. But it was crispier than the last, so somewhere in a middle range. I had a nice big dish of steamed mussels to make up for those canned ones. Jess had chicken paella which was pretty good.

Later after more shenanigans about Barcelona, we settled down at a cute tapas bar for dinner. We had some potatoes with a cheesy sauce. I loved it. Jess was not such a fan of the sauce. We also had this thing which reminded me a potato version of an arancini. It had the same sauce, but Jess was able to pick around that more. I also ordered steak tar tar. It was incredible. I’ve never actually had the dish before. I was a bit chicken and didn’t get the egg on top. But the meat was incredible.

Then it was time to leave Spain. I had to get up at like 4 a.m. to get to the airport and fly out. However, I took my fuet with me! In Madrid, I got a desayno dulce, which is a croissant, orange juice and coffee, from an airport café. I ate my sausages with it and it made the perfect pre-flight breakfast.

Fue un hermoso viaje. Yo comí mucha comida Española. Yo visité muchos lugares interesantes. Un día volveré! Aprendí mucho más español!

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