Photos and words by Brianne Garrett
“I came, I saw, I conquered.”
I could dare say these words about my time in Spain. But the truth is, I’d be lying. Madrid, and Spain as a whole, has way too much to offer to be "conquered" in such a short period of time. A whole year, let alone the 4 months that I studied abroad in the country, isn’t nearly enough to explore everything that this amazing place has to offer. But, I did my best.
And when I say everything, I really mean the food. Because, let’s be real, food is the first quality I look for in a place, and with good reason. As I wrote in a previous article, “memories of the amazing meals will remain embedded in my mind, even when other moments of the trip start to dwindle.” The experience I’ve had eating my way through Spain will never fade.
Which makes naming just one favorite Spanish food an impossible challenge, so here’s four instead:
Forget everything you know about ham in the United States. Jamón ibérico -- cured ham unique to Spain -- takes ham to a whole new level. It’s cut paper thin, but each slice is packed with as much flavor as a leg of meat (I’m not kidding). With just one bite, you’re met with a smoky, rich flavor with just the right amount of saltiness and fat. It’s arguably one of the most satisfying cuts of meat you’ll ever have.
The beauty of jamón ibérico is that it pairs well with anything. Usually it’s enjoyed as a tapa -- over some bread and drizzled with a bit of olive oil, or partnered with some nutty cheese or assorted Spanish olives.
Just remember, eating a slice of jamón ibérico is like grabbing that first potato chip from the bag: you’ll never just want one. It’s extremely addicting...but who says that’s a bad thing?
If there was a food product I’d move to Spain for, it would be queso manchego. I’m a natural cheese lover, and manchego delivers all the qualities I love most about cheese. Created from sheep milk, it’s buttery, salty taste is heaven for the tastebuds. But it’s the hard, resilient texture I love most about it. Coming in close second is the nutty aftertaste that gives it a savory, addictive quality and makes you forget you’re just eating cheese.
Manchego and jamón ibérico are the perfect marriage of tastes and textures. Pair these two on a fresh baguette, and you’re met with the nutty flavor of the manchego cheese combined with the fatty and buttery decadence of the jamón, not to mention the perfect hint of saltiness from both. It’s an unbreakable union like no other.
Churros con Chocolate:
These churros are nothing like the ones we’re used to in the states. They aren’t coated in cinnamon sugar, which (if I’m being honest) was something I was upset about when I first arrived.
But I have come to love and appreciate the Spanish churro. It’s a simple, subtle snack that most Spaniards don’t even consider to be a true dessert. These churros are fried sticks of dough with no coating, unless you want to sprinkle a bit of sugar on top yourself -- something I’m guilty of. The real magic happens when you dip the churro in a mug of thick pure hot chocolate. The chocolate isn’t very sweet, instead it’s a rich decadent complement to the subtly sweet churro.
I love having my churros con chocolate with a nice creamy cup of café con leche (Spain also does amazing coffee). Spanish churros are truly a snack that won’t leave you with an overwhelmingly sugary mouth or put you into a sugar coma. With just the right amount of sweetness and texture, Spain’s version of churros is something I’ll miss most about the country.
Napolitana de Chocolate:
The first time I took a bite into this heavenly dessert, I remember yelling “WOW” out loud, which resulted in a sea of heads turning my way. But the cashier who served me just smiled, as if to say, “Yes, it’s that good!”
A Napolitana de Chocolate is simply a puff pastry with chocolate in the center. I’ve definitely encountered versions of the popular dessert in other places, but nothing that compares to the rich, buttery, flaky goodness of the one I tasted at one of Madrid’s most famous and oldest bakeries -- La Mallorquina. It’s a must-try place if you’re ever in the city!
I’ve never met a more perfectly prepared pastry in my life. It was melt-in-your-mouth good: flaky on the outside (but not too crumbly, where it breaks apart and makes a mess) and soft, pillowy, and buttery on the inside. Better yet, it tasted like it was right out of the oven -- I could see the powdered sugar garnished on top beginning to melt into the dough and coat the top of the pastry. The chocolate in the middle was the perfect amount to complement the dough surrounding it, without being overpowering or sweet.
Not a dessert-lover? A napolitana de chocolate would convert you into one, I promise!
When you travel to a completely new destination, it’s sometimes difficult to be sure if what you’re eating is quality, authentic food. Luckily, through my internship with Devour Tours, I was able to devour the city like a local and know exactly what to look for. But that’s not the only way.
When in a new city, don’t be afraid to ask questions -- talk to the local butcher as he’s slicing up some mouthwatering jamón ibérico for you to enjoy. Or, start up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the metro as you’re both waiting for your stop.
Of course you can search through online food blogs and reviewing websites, but talking to locals is the best way to discover the true essence of a place. It’s how I discovered these one-of-a-kind gems that made my experience in Madrid an unforgettable one!