Everyone knows that the best way to tour a place is to be taken around by locals, or at the very least, by long-term expats. That’s partly why we expats are so lucky to get lots of visits from friends and relatives. It’s loads of fun taking guests around, of course, but there’s also a little pressure. We’ve been here a while, so we’re expected to know a thing or two about our adopted country, and this especially goes for food. If we took our visitors to eat at a tourist trap, they would think we haven’t been making the most of our time abroad to learn about local culinary delights.
To prepare for visits from loved ones, I try to get into the frame of mind of what kinds of foods and drinks I think will really strike them as delicious and unusual.To do that, I think back to when I first arrived here a decade ago. I remember the first time I saw people pouring cider the traditional way it’s done in the northern region of Asturias—from 3 feet above the glass. This makes it zingy and bubbly, but unless you have flawless aim, it’s very hard to do.
I can clearly remember the first time I tried pintxos, which are like Basque tapas. The experience of ordering pintxos is something no foreigner will ever forget: you have to go up to the counter of the bar and pick out the ones you want yourself, buffet-style. Each pintxo has a toothpick stuck through it. Don’t throw those toothpicks out—you’ll have to count them when you’ve finished, so you can pay for however many pintxos you’ve eaten. I can’t let my visitors miss a chance to do that.
In fact, what sticks out most in my mind about my first few months in Madrid are the times I tried regional foods from the provinces all around Spain. I actually can’t really remember trying local Madrid gastronomy at the beginning. Maybe that’s why I tend to bring visiting friends and family to regional restaurants.
The other reason I like to bring people to try dishes from all over Spain is that many of my visitors come here from other parts of Europe and only plan to stay for few days. They don’t have time to drive up to the Basque country and spend an entire day wandering from bar to bar sampling pintxos, or to drive to Asturias and try authentic fabada asturiana. But that’s what’s great about Madrid: you can sample traditional food from all over Spain, right here in the capital.
Since my guests usually haven’t budgeted in the time to visit Valencia, they won’t be able to eat paella where it was invented (or for that matter its cousin fideua, which is paella made with tiny noodles instead of rice). No tourist wants to leave Spain without trying its world-famous paella. But mediocre paella can be quite underwhelming, and unfortunately my adopted hometown has its fair share of tourist trap restaurants. Luckily, I know a great paella place that’s off the beaten path.
Obviously a weekend getaway to Madrid doesn’t leave time to fly to the sunny Canary Islands, so my friends will have to try potatoes dipped in spicy mojo sauce right here. And I also have a restaurant, that’s a bit out of the way, where I bring my guests to try fantastic Galician seafood dishes.
That’s not to say I don’t bring people to eat traditional Madrid dishes. I would consider it a crying shame if my visitors left without having tried a hearty bowl of cocido Madrileño, which is a chick pea stew with lots of meats and veggies thrown in. And like many of you long-time expats, I can definitely say “I know just the place. . .”
No good meal is complete without a tasty dessert. I know where to take any visitor with an incurable sweet tooth to try churros and porras dipped in thick, melted chocolate; and I don’t let them leave without trying the most delicious napolitana pastries in Madrid.
What foods do you insist your guests try when they visit you in your adopted land?
Sheila is a freelance translator, editor, writer, and serial blogger who has been in Madrid long enough to consider herself a permanent Madrileña.
Read Sheila's other Expat Focus articles here.