Podcast Episode 70: Where to Eat in Spain

verduras de primavera Milano
By Tatiana Gana
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Tatiana Gana
Tatiana Gana

In this episode of the Find Dining Podcast, Tatiana Gana of Gastro Tours tells us how to take a culinary vacation in Spain. We discuss Spain's virgin foo d tourism scene, extended lunches, and how Italy is taking credit for all of the country's olive oil.

  • Check out Tatiana's tours on the Gastro Tours website

  • Try the specialty foods of Spain, like Iberica ham

  • Newport Storm is a beer from Newport, Rhode Island

  • Ribera del Duero is a large wine region in the middle of Spain

  • When in Spain, eat the suckling lamb

  • Use public transit in the bigger cities and rental cars within more rural areas

  • Tatiana recommends the tour of Salamanca for newbies

  • Lunch is the primary meal of the day

  • Cocido madrileño is a Spanish stew

Food for Thought:

  • Q: What two food products is Spain the biggest producer of in the world?

  • A: Olive oil and air-dried cured ham.

Out of the Frying Pan:

  • Best Way to Find Great Restaurants: About.com or ask a taxi driver

  • Remember to Pack: An extra t-shirt or two for layers.

  • Favorite Hotel: The Urban Hotel in Madrid

  • Favorite Spanish Wine: Cune, a tempranillo from the Rioja region

  • Restaurant with the Best View: Parador in Toledo

  • Favorite Spanish Restaurant in New York City: Still looking...

1. Transcript

Seth: This is Episode Number 70 of Taste Trekkers Find Dining Podcast. Welcome to Spain. Hello and welcome to Taste Trekkers Find Dining Podcast. I'm your host. My name is Seth Resler. And this is the podcast for foodies who love travel and travelers who love food.

Here's how it works, each week we talk to a different culinary expert, sometimes it's a chef, sometimes it's a food blogger and sometimes it's a four tour operator like we're doing this week. And we talk to them about the local culinary scene or in this case, we're going international, we're going to Spain for the first time ever. I'm very excited.

We have Tatiana Gana on the line. She is the co-founder and general manager of Gastro Tours. Tatiana, thank you so much for joining us.

Tatiana: Thank you, Seth. Thank you for having me.

Seth: We haven't covered Spain yet and I can't believe we haven't and so I'm so glad you're here to tell us all about it.

Tatiana: Me, too. Me, too.

Seth: A couple of notes, first of all, please subscribe to this podcast in iTunes, leave a review while you're there. You can also find these podcast episodes up on YouTube and share them with somebody. It helps us out. Just spread the word, tell other people that you enjoyed this podcast and that, you know, maybe they should listen to it as well.

Now Tatiana, we start every episode with a trivia question, mostly to prove my ignorance about everything culinary. So I know you've got one for me. Tell me what it is.

Tatiana: Okay. Mine is what two food products is Spain the biggest producer of in the world?

Seth: What two food products is Spain the biggest food producer of in the world?

Tatiana: Yeah.

Seth: Hmmm.

Tatiana: It's easy, right?

Seth: Well, first of all, there's two. That should count as two questions. I get three guesses.

Tatiana: You get one, you know.

Seth: That's true, that's true. I could get half credit, that's true. Good point.

Tatiana: Yeah, exactly.

Seth: Two food products – I have to imagine that it's because of what grows well there. So it's got to be somehow related to the climate or the, you know – do Americans eat a lot of these food products?

Tatiana: They do. They're eating it a lot more now.

Seth: What are the chances that I've got at least one of these in my fridge right now or in my kitchen, shall we say?

Tatiana: I would say, close to 90% probably.

Seth: Wow.

Tatiana: Yeah, I mean, if you're like me, you know. Yes, I would say, yes, if you like good food, then you have to have this and it won't be in your fridge so there's a hint.

Seth: There's a hint. Good to know, it's not in my fridge. All right. I'm going to think about that. We're going to come back to that, what two food products is Spain the biggest producer of in the world. While I'm thinking about that, let’s talk about you, let’s talk about Gastro Tours. First of all, let’s start here, what is Gastro Tours?

Tatiana: Gastro Tours is a culinary travel agency, just to put it out flat. But what it is, it's just experiences, it's culinary experiences when abroad and what we kind of had with that or like the idea we had set behind to that was that people want to travel and want to feel and live that culture not like a tourist, but like a local.

Seth: Right. They want that authentic experience. They want the authentic experience. They want to be among the real people, among the locals; they want to be eating the food; they want to feel like they're just close to home.

Seth: So you are booking culinary tours of different regions, is that right?

Tatiana: Yes. Mainly, we're starting with Spain. We want to go international and definitely do – because my family from Chile originally, so definitely an opportunity to go to Chile and New York et cetera. But right now, we're doing Spain because we believe it is one of the culinary capitals of the world and it is a place where wherever you go in Spain, you will find something unique in gastronomic experience.

So, yes, we thought that that was just a best place to start. There's so much to do and there's so much to be exploited in the area because it's still so very native, it's still so very kept among themselves and it's still very raw materials. They haven't, you know, expanded this idea of getting out to the international public in bringing people to try foods and to look at new things in a different perspective, in a different way of looking at them, the way they cook, the way they cultivate their meats and their produce and et cetera. So this is something that we wanted bring to people.

Seth: And I want to talk to you at length about Spain, you know, and we'll get to that in the second half of the interview. But before we do, I kind of want to hear the story of how you started this company and it's you and your husband, right?

Tatiana: Right. It's me and my husband, so I moved to Spain about in 2005. I'm a native New Yorker. I moved to Spain to masters in interactive technology, nothing to do with what I'm doing now but more of the way it is. But I ended up staying there. I met husband who – we got married in 2006, so I've been there for quite some time.

And in the while, we traveled a lot. He is a very passionate lover of his culture and his food and his whole family and, you know, you got to cook this way, we got to do this that way, very, very, very integrated with their culture. They're very passionate about it and above all, they live it through their food.

So we traveled all through Spain and we basically traveled eating our ways through it, you know. I mean, we just tried out the most, you know, exotic things, to the most typical dishes, to the most historical dishes, to recipes that were from the 18th century. And we loved it so much that we just kept on doing that and everywhere we went, we do the same thing. That's kind of like how we began to live the tourist experience in our perspective. That's the way we felt the most integrated with the culture especially when you're in such limited time to really get to know something. And instead of going on a typical tour and learning about the history which I'll probably going to forget in 20 minutes, you actually live it.

Seth: So how are you finding the places to go when you were in Spain, you know, and you were actually doing this as a tourist yourself before you even started the business?

Tatiana: Exactly. Everything that we proposed, we've done. So the way we've done it was basically asking people, people that were from there, you know. And my husband is from there so he knows a lot of friends and – everything is word of mouth in Spain. There isn't a lot of marketing. There isn't a lot of advertising. I mean, this is still new…

Seth: They don't have Twitter yet?

Tatiana: They do, they do and they're very, very – they're crazy about it. They love to tweet all day. They don't have this mentality to market their products which is why most of the things are still very kept to themselves and which is why it's kind of unique still. You can still go to these places and have an authentic experience as almost as like they had it a hundred years ago. So that's what made it more interesting and more fun.

And family members of ours – of mine actually came to visit us and friends and we’d take them on these experience, if you will, and they were so captivated by it that all they wanted to do – I mean, all they keep saying to us is, “I could see myself living here. I could see myself living here. This is the place that I want to live. This is how I want to live.” And these are people who are city people and they, you know, they don't go to rural parts anywhere and we took them to these very rustic areas and they fell in love. They just fell in love because it was completely – it was really, really going into the nitty-gritty of the culture of a place, you know. And I think that was really what inspired us to bring people to the authentic part. It wasn't like, “Oh, come try the most luxurious food or the luxurious places,” but it was really, really get to know a place. You don't have that much time and you're going to enjoy it. You'll really going to love it. That's what started two years ago.

Seth: Wow. Well, congratulations on two years that it's so – what do you do when you're starting – because I think that there's a lot of people who are in situation like yours. I mean, as we look at food tourism, the people who are giving the food tourist tend to be small business people, sort of mom and pop shops, like there isn't a big corporate conglomerate that is going around giving food tours. It's people like you.

Tatiana: Yes.

Seth: So how do you set out to that? Like what's the first thing you've got to set up as you're looking at setting up a food tour business?

Tatiana: Well, the first thing we look at is what is the most typical thing of that area. So in Spain, that's really easy because every little town and every little region has their thing, you know, like if it's a wine region or if it's, you know, a roasting suckling lamb region or if it's Iberica jamon, you know, the cured ham or et cetera.

So this is what we look at first, like what is the most popular thing, what is it that makes them stand out among the rest.

Seth: You're totally trying to tell me with all this without giving away the answer to your trivia question, aren't you?

Tatiana: Yes. A little.

Seth: All right. I get it.

Tatiana: I'm dropping hints here, you know. I'm trying to keep it a secret but, you know, I'm getting there.

Seth: When you started, did you go online with just one tour at the beginning?

Tatiana: We went live. We had just tourists from Madrid. So they were one-day tourists from Madrid and we thought it would be a good way to start because Madrid is a very central location, it's the capital, you know. There are a lot of people going to Barcelona and it's true, we do have some stuff in Barcelona but we thought that Madrid was a better area because it's surrounded and it's just really, really a local place, you can go for like two hours, you can go and be in the best wine region of Spain which is Ribera del Duero. In the three hours, you can be in, like I said, like all these other places that are really special in a unique way.

And a lot of people that go to Barcelona, they just stay in Barcelona and then they go off somewhere else in Europe. They don't really stay in Spain. So we thought Madrid was a better area because of them and because my husband is from Madrid, so that always helps. So, yeah, we started with this one-day tours and we launched about, I think it was about 10 or 9 and…

Seth: When you say 10 or 9, you mean 10 or 9 different tours or…

Tatiana: Yeah, there are 10 or 9 different tours and they were all different things. I mean, it was either go tapas hunting in Salamanca or get sense of culture in histories through food in Burgos or, you know, learn about the literature and the history and literature with, you know, Cervantes and El Galan and all the while, you're eating. You're trying new things and you're trying the most typical, typical things that they have there because it's the product that grows there or it's because they just know how to cook them well or they know that they have a special recipe, et cetera.

And that's what we started with. And now, we've moved on actually to culinary vacations, like culinary packages. When we traveled, my husband and I, we went to these rural stays, so we never went to hotels. We just felt you've got a more sense of actually home if you're staying in a house or in someone, you know, and live like little boutique hotels where usually owned by and run by the owners themselves which are usually like people who are retired and this is like the house that was left with them from their grandfather’s grandfather. So, you know, they kind of just made it into this beautiful, beautiful place and it was really, really enchanting.

And so we thought that that would be such a great idea to take them to these kind of places. People feel that authenticity, not only to the food but to the experience of staying somewhere where you wake up and you're like in your own house. So we started doing this and now we've launched Avila, which is a little region above Madrid which is like two hours from Madrid and they're going to be staying a week in a rural stay which is among the mountains of the Sierra de Gredos one of the biggest mountainous regions in Spain and, I mean, it's not city and all they do is every day they have an activity, a culinary activity.

They're cooking like different types of tortillas, you know, from the foam in the glass to the adria type, you know, or to the very typical homemade, moms make it tortilla and then some days, they’d go out and they'll go flower picking for edible flowers and then learn how to cook them in the kitchen, but always in the countryside. So they go to maybe like the local baker and they learn how to make artisanal bread in a bread baking oven from scratch.

So all this was kind of just our way of bringing the culture to people in a very, very, very raw way. I mean, if this is the way Spaniards travel in their country, so this is the way you should travel, yeah.

Seth: And now when you say you, who goes on these trips, is these Americans or is this other Europeans or who are your customers?

Tatiana: Well, our customers range from the Finnish to American to Mexican to South American. We really don't have a target yet because we're so new and everyone is like, you know, coming to us and like, “Oh, you have this, you have that.” And the good thing is, in a way, the good thing is that Spain, since it's still so new to this, there aren’t many, many companies that devote themselves to this kind of tourism.

So we have an advantage there but at the same time since it's so new, sometimes it's really hard for like, let’s say, if you have an American crowd that wants to go to a certain place and Americans are the most –actually funny, they're the most curious, you know. They want to go to the most raw places you can imagine. I mean, they don't want any tours, you know, they just want a real, real – and that's just so great. That's who we wanted to target to begin with because that's when we thought, you know, I being American, would be easier, but it's been everywhere.

We've had people from all over it and the truth is that if there is any hard part of about it, it's finding somebody who speaks English to interpret or to do some kind of thing like that because, you know, like I said, since it's so new, there aren’t many people who devote themselves to this, so there aren't – you know, you call them and say, “Can I go visit your winery or your, you know, pimenton factory or your paprika factory,” and they answer me like, “What do you mean visit us? Why would they want to visit,” you know. And like they don't understand.

Seth: Really?

Tatiana: Yeah. They don't understand this concept. They're just beginning to realize that there is a huge market back there and that they could totally make a nice benefit off of that if they get people who are interested. Like, you know, the wineries obviously have all this kind of stuff but there are some places like cheese factories and bread bakers, they'll make, you know, a great amount of some of this and they don't know that this is something that they can do. They don't want to even bother.

Seth: I lived in Providence, Rhode Island for a long time and knew the guys over at Newport Storm which is a brewery down in Newport, Rhode Island and I remember when they made the decision to build a new brewery because we're basically brewing it out of a big storage unit for a long time.

Tatiana: Right.

Seth: And they sort of discovered exactly what you're talking about which is that, you know, there is a stream of revenue from people who want to visit the tour and take the tour and see the place and see how it's made, not just food product itself.

Tatiana: Exactly, yeah, I mean, you get – it tastes different, you know. Like food actually tastes different when you know where it's coming from and you've seen it come and being prepared and it just has a different experience altogether. When you can actually see it from the beginning of the process to the end, it just changes everything, you know, especially when you're visiting a destination you've never been. I mean, I think food in the sense is a way, a means of communication. It's how people who can't communicate with, you know, I don't know, I don't speak your language but I like your food. That's the best way to communicate with food and individual, right? And that's why sometimes we have to find like external interpreters or a tour guide who can help us because these people who they're visiting don't speak in English, you know, and they don't have that person to person contact. These people are town people. They're humble people that just – they know what they know because their grandfather or their father taught it from their father and their father – you know, it's not…

Seth: Right. There's no gift shop, right?

Tatiana: Exactly. There's no souvenir for this one.

Seth: I can't get a keychain.

Tatiana: No.

Seth: What actually happens on the tour? Give me an example.

Tatiana: We have one that is new that we actually launched it now. It's a day tour so it's it takes place in one day from Madrid and it's really good because you visit three different wineries. And basically what – it's one of the biggest winery regions. A lot of people don't know that Ribera del Duero which is in the interior part of the country is almost as big as a winery than Rioja. When a lot of people talk about Rioja, they say, “This one is as big as that,” and it's very important because they've got one of the best wines in the entire country.

So we take them to this region which is only two hours or two and a half hours from the city and they have a full fledge experience with wine. And what I mean a full fledge experience like from how it was produced in the, you know, 13th century to how wine was produced later on in the 18th century with the royals and the kings and queens and how it was sold and manufactured and then to now and how the different perspectives of wine and – I mean, just the way it's being fabricated now, the things that they've learned now that make wine taste so much better and the technology that they're using and the technology that they omit because they want to keep that authentic feel to wine, you know.

And then after they visit these three wineries, I mean, you know, all of which they have tastings and with different types of cheeses and little things to pick on and, you know, little hors d'oeuvres, just to help the wine go down because wine really needs food. Once they do that, they go to the restaurant of one of the wineries.

Seth: And are you providing transportation from place to place?

Tatiana: We provide everything, from the moment you open your eyes.

Seth: Okay. Do most of the tourists have guides that take you along the way or are most of them, you know, they just take you and drop you off and then the people at the place tell you what's going on?

Tatiana: It's funny you should ask because some of them it depends, because some of them that are just wineries and eating, well, they don't have a guide, they have someone waiting for them which is the guide at the winery and usually, they just take them and they don't leave them until they have to get them off. And then there are some tours where they actually do like a walking tour of the city and that – while they're maybe they're going in tapas hunting- and that would be probably someone who will pick them up at their destination. So it really depends on the tour.

So, yes, that's basically the nitty-gritty and then they get to eat which is the most typical plate of that region Ribera del Duero region is the roasted milk suckling lamb. And this is one of the most tender meats in Spain and it's one of the most priced award-winning meats and this is the region, if you're going to eat that meat, this is the region you have to eat it. I mean, you cannot leave at this region without eating the meat. It's just like it's not fathomable.

And then they have that delicious lunch all paired with different wines that they've tasted already and that they've had a full fledge explanation of why this wine is better with this dish and why this wine, you know, richest in the plate and the taste buds and et cetera. So it's complete culinary. There is nothing cultural, I mean, maybe the way that they fabricate their wine and manufacture it, but other than that, it's just eating and devouring and tasting and it's an experience.

Seth: That sounds fantastic. I think I would have done so much better in history class. My grades would have been a lot higher if you had been my teacher.

Tatiana: Right. I know, I just – I feel you want to learn something, you know, just…

Seth: Right.

Tatiana: Just do it with food, that's the best way.

Seth: We're going to come back in just a moment here. We're going to talk a little bit more about Spain and we're going to dig into the region and then we'll going to play a game called Out of the Frying Pan. And, of course, we still got to get an answer to your trivia question which is “what are the two food products that Spain provides to the world more than anybody else”. So all that coming up in just a second.

Before we get back to Tatiana, I do want to let you know something, we're very excited about this, we have launched the official Taste Trekkers blog and it's not just written by me, in fact, none of it is written by me. We invite guest authors, guest food bloggers, other people over to tell us about their city, all the great things that you can go do…started with a couple of top 5 list, top 5 restaurants in New York that every tourist should check out, top 5 burgers in Toronto and we'll going to add more.

Also, if you are a food blogger or somebody who is an expert in food and you want to give us a top 5 list about your town, we’d love to have you. We're always looking for guest authors. You're more than invited to come on. But check it out and hopefully you'll find some great new places that you can go eat. Enjoy.

We are talking to Tatiana Gana. She is the co-founder and general manager of Gastro Tours who offers culinary tours of Spain. You're also writing quite a bit. Tell me about that.

Tatiana: I do. I actually write in Spanish but I do write in English. I blog about food and I've been writing in Spanish for About.com. I write for travel in Europe mainly. I guess it all started with my passion for food because I have this really, really like lust for traveling. I mean, it just wasn't – like I couldn't stop and it became an addiction.

And with that, when traveling, I would try all different sorts of food and I guess I'm the only one because my husband is very, “I love my Spanish food,” and he's from Spain so it's really hard to take him out of his shell and have him appreciate other foods. I mean, if there's one thing I could do the rest of my life, it's travel and try foods because I just think that it's such a unique experience. And like I said, you get the real gist of a culture and people really appreciate it when you do this, when you actually go and you try stuff from a menu. You don't even know the language and you're just like, “Give me what's the best dish on the menu.” And you just don't even know what you're getting and that's fun, you know.

Seth: That's my favorite way to eat is to just find out and to try something I've never had before.

Tatiana: You'll be surprised at how many amazing dishes there are that you have never tried in your life, if you knew what it was before and then you tried them and you're like – you're addicted and then you can't get enough of it. So that's how writing all begin.

Seth: Nice. Okay. And you had a trivia question for me. What was it one more time?

Tatiana: What two food products is Spain the biggest producer of in the world? So what two food products does Spain actually produce most of in the world?

Seth: And you said they're probably not in my fridge.

Tatiana: They're probably not in the fridge. Well, one of them might stay in the fridge, but when you eat, you have to have it a little out of the fridge for a little while.

Seth: Are either of these something that I would drink?

Tatiana: It's in the form of a liquid, but it's not drinkable.

Seth: Ooh, that maybe must be sauce of some sort.

Tatiana: It's getting very warm, so.

Seth: And in my theory was that one of them was a nut. Is that true or not?

Tatiana: It's not a nut, no. It's not. It's definitely come from a tree, one of them.

Seth: You’ve given me so many hints, I'm going to be so embarrassed when I've no idea what it is.

Tatiana: You're in the area. You're there. You probably know it, you just not saying it, yeah.

Seth: Yeah, I don't want to disturb my perfect record of failure on this podcast. I really don't – I mean, I don't think it's olive.

Tatiana: It is.

Seth: Oh, it is?

Tatiana: Olive oil. Olive oil.

Seth: Really?

Tatiana: Yeah, olive oil is one of them. There you go.

Seth: I would have thought Italy. No, I didn't know realize that was Spain.

Tatiana: That's exactly why I did the trivia because a lot of people think Italy is the number one producer in the world for olive oil and it's not, it's Spain. And actually, Spain sells a lot of their oil to Italy who then sells it to the United States.

Seth: You're saying Italy is just a middle man?

Tatiana: Yeah, sometimes it's a middle man because they don't have that much product. I mean, they do have a lot of olive oil but a lot of it is consumed within the country and what's left of it, you know, so they buy it really, really, really – dirt cheap from Spain which is like, you know, I want to smack Spain for this, and then they sell it and they put their label on it as like Italian. So if you look at the small letters, you might find like olive oil like – I'm not going to say any brand because I don't really know but you might find this, you know, where it says ingredients olive oil from here, from there and they'll say from Spain.

Seth: Really? So do you think that the Italian name unjustly carries more weight than it should in the world of olive oil?

Tatiana: I don't think it's unjust because they did a really, really good work at marketing their products and that's what Italians do, they market themselves so beautifully and they know how to do that. They know how to sell themselves and that's what they do and they've done it always and they'll keep doing it.

And Spain does not have that advantage because they don't know how to market yet. They're just learning now that they have this potential and it's going to take them a long time because they're very old school and there's, like I always said, there's a lot of old people in Spain, you know. I mean, they've got one of the longest life span and they're still old school and they want to do things the old way and they think that's just the best way and in a way, it is in a way it isn't. So I mean, you have both sides.

But, you know, I think if Italy is known as one of the best producers or the biggest producers of olive oil is it's because they’ve sold themselves that way and you got to give them credit for that at least, you know.

Seth: All right. So we've got one more food here then which I'm now just assuming a spaghetti because I'm assuming that…

Tatiana: That would be so crazy, right? Imagine, pasta?

Seth: No, I don't know. What is the second one?

Tatiana: So it's air dried cured ham which is the Iberica jamon or the Serrano jamon, you know, this cured ham, the leg of ham. So a lot of people think that this product is also a highly Italian product because the Italians have sold it so well, but it's not. I mean, they have it in Italy, but Spain is the biggest producer of it in the world and the biggest consumer of it, so.

Seth: So this is fascinating to me, this idea that Spain has a lot of great food but really, like you say, hasn't marketed it. The evolution of the marketing and the food tourism and the sort of industry of it hasn't really evolved yet.

Tatiana: Right, exactly. And that's why now is a good time to go to Spain. I mean, I know in the future it will, you know, start to expand and this whole idea will explode and as everything does, you know. But now, it's such a great time to go because it's still in that prime, you know, location. It's still premature and it's getting there. While it's still getting there, it's such a great experience because you'll still find people like me or, you know, that can take you out to these places, can connect you with the right people so you can go and visit these places while they're still not exploited into touristic locations.

Seth: Go over before the $5 foot long makes its way over to Spain.

Tatiana: Yeah.

Seth: Interesting. So talk to me about the language because you mentioned this before. If I don't speak Spanish, how much of a disadvantage am I at? Is it hard to find people who speak English?

Tatiana: Well, it depends on where you go. If you go to the city centers like Barcelona and Madrid, you'll find people who speaks a lot of English. And every day, there's more and more and more, you know. If you go to little small towns, you might find it a little more difficult. But it's funny because the Spaniards, it's like they don't want to learn or something because they have so much tourism that they don't have an option but they know how to communicate with like, you know, just like signs with their hands. They know how to – the Spaniards as well as the Latins in general, they speak with their hands. They're very emotional and expressive people. So you'll know if they're telling you this, if they're telling you that. But other than that, I mean, it's not easy to find especially like in the South of Spain and little towns in the South of Spain, it's a lot harder to find people who speak English. But, yeah, they’re totally used to receiving outsiders. I mean, they’re completely used to that. That’s their like one of the number one business models in Spain is tourism.

Seth: So you can make it work is what you’re saying?

Tatiana: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I know people who have done it and they’ve rented a car. They don't even know how to drive a stick and they’re just like, “Let’s do it, adventure.”

Seth: So that’s a good point. When you go to Spain, how do you get around?

Tatiana: There is a lot of public transportation. It’s really excellent. And in a smaller town, you would have to kind of drive around and get your own car. Renting a car is not at all expensive. Now, they’re bringing more automatic vehicles like with automatic transmission.

Seth: Right.

Tatiana: But it’s still very much like if you want to, you know, pay a little price, you would have to do the manual transmission.

Seth: And when you say public transportation is very good, you mean like within a big city or do you mean even – can I take a train to get out to some of the smallest cities?

Tatiana: Yeah. You can actually, they have the AVE which is the high velocity trains and you can be like, let’s say, in Seville from Madrid which is six-hour drive, you can be there in 90 minutes…

Seth: Wow.

Tatiana: By the train. Yeah, yeah. It’s something I would tell – I would say about New York, I’m like, “We should do this.”

Seth: Yeah.

Tatiana: Because that is insane, I mean, imagine these people to take a train in the day, you just go in one day and you’re there and you can spend the whole day there and then come back.

Seth: Somebody should tell Chris Christie about this idea but he could champion that.

Tatiana: I know. Yes.

Seth: He needs rehabilitation there.

Tatiana: Yes, he needs to…

Seth: So let’s say I’m a beginner, I’ve never been to Spain before, I want to go on a tour for the first time, do you have a tour that you recommend for novices?

Tatiana: Well, it depends. I would ask you what kind of food do you like or I mean, are you big on wine because if you’re big on wine, I’d certainly recommend something that is towards wine. If you want to just do it more culturally like, I would certainly recommend Salamanca.

Seth: Okay.

Tatiana: Salamanca is one of our top sellers, too, because it’s a university town. It’s in very old town. It’s fun. It’s young. It’s vibrant. It’s full of life and it’s beautiful. And it’s very enchanting, very old but very well-maintained and the food is unbelievable. They have these little tapas that are elaborately made. Instead of like, you know, Madrid where in Madrid, you ask for a glass of wine and you get a tapa for free, so you get a little something to chew on for free. In Salamanca, you have to pay for it which is like a euro or EUR2 but it’s like this elaborate perfectly prepared tapa that’s just one perfect bite. And I’d say that that’s one of the best as far as culture type, you know, because the university is, I don’t know, it’s like a thousand years old and I mean, you’ll get a full grasp on the culture.

Seth: Now, when you go out in these Spanish culture, are there any differences in the way that people, you know, have meals, what they eat or anything that’s different from the U.S.?

Tatiana: Oh, my god, yeah. You mean within Spain?

Seth: Yes.

Tatiana: Or you mean different from the U.S. in general?

Seth: I mean, is it a different time of day that they eat? Do they take longer or do they just all go to the drive through and wolf it down while they’re in traffic like we do?

Tatiana: Oh, no, yeah, no. First of all, they barely have any breakfast. It’s kind of like they wake up and they’re like, “I’m just going to take on something because I’m going to wait for the best time of the day,” you know, which is to have lunch and lunch for them is like a big feast. It’s like the time of the day where everything stops and even though this thing is like beginning to die down, this cultural aspect is dying down because, you know, people are beginning to see that there’s business during the day and they can’t stop and they can’t close shops and they can’t close businesses down just to go and eat lunch and then take a siesta, they still have that.

You know, on Saturdays and on Sundays, you go to your local bar and you’ll see like a row of tables and all the families get together and it’s like, you know, all the aunts and the uncles and the grandpas and – you know, everybody gets together and they spend like five hours on a table.

Seth: At lunch?

Tatiana: At lunch.

Seth: How does anything get done?

Tatiana: And there’s no way to keep – like, how do these people make any money, you know. They’ve got four tables and two of them are completely taken and that’s it, that’s it. Lunch time is that, you know, and they’ll sit there. They’ll eat their first dish, they’ll eat their second dish slowly but, you know, devouring each bite and they don’t stop talking. I mean, it’s like they love to talk and talk and talk and that’s it. There’s no moment of silence. It’s like, I guess, I’m used to seeing families that are like quiet eating, you know. There in Spain, it’s like they have so much to talk about. It’s like they haven’t seen each other in ages. They just engage and just like, the social, you know, conversation.

And then after that, they’ll have the dessert, thereafter going to drink their coffee. Until finally, it’s like there’s nothing left to eat, you know, go home and they’re still there and they’re just like, “Oh, okay, you know what, I’ll have a drink, let me have a drink.” Drinks, cocktails are usually after lunch, not before lunch.

Seth: That’s a good rule.

Tatiana: We would normally have a cocktail before dinner while in Spain, it’s the other way around, your cocktail is after dinner. So it’s kind of like you’re already full so you can have yourself a nice drink. And that’s it. And then they just go home. They sleep for about a couple hours and then they wake up at like, you know, 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock and then get ready and do it all over again at night. But instead of sitting at a table, they’ll stand at a bar and they’ll do with all their friends and that’s friends’ time. Lunch is family time, dinner or tapas time at dinner is friends’ time. And they’ll go out and they’ll, you know, go tapas hunting and eat lots of little things, drink a little beer here, tiny little glass of wine there.

The purpose is not to get drunk, the purpose is to enjoy what you’re eating. I mean, you can completely sense that when you’re around them because they have this face of just all pleasure. I mean, they’re just so happy. They’re just so engaged in what they’re doing there.

Seth: Oh, that sounds fantastic. Now, is there a dish that we can kind of use as sort of a base – I always like to have one dish that I can use to compare to different places to see how different places do their take on that dish, is there one or two of those in Spain that we should definitely try kind of a signature baseline dish?

Tatiana: Well, there’s cocido, el cocido which is a stew and everyone has their own way of doing it. They’re very similar sometimes and you can hardly see the difference but there is. And basically, what is it is it’s a 5,000-year old recipe that started when the Jews lived in Spain. It was a dish that was mainly just vegetables.

Over time, it started to involve meats and different meats. And now today, the dish is chickpeas and cabbage and just a variety of different meats like from chicken to, you know, veal, and chorizo, and morcilla which is the blood sausage. So all that is just like stewed up in a pot and everyone has a different way. Some people actually add different things to it like little like concoctions, they’ll make like a fritter of something of like bread and something because it’s usually like whatever you have in your kitchen. People use to make up these recipes to use whatever you have in your kitchen. That’s old, it’s going to get rancid, before it does and you have to throw it away, make something of it. So this is how this kind of little traditions came about.

And some people, actually, the way they eat it is different. For example, there’s this little town in Leon where they actually eat the cocido which is – it’s usually a first to second and the third dish. So the first dish is the soup, the second one is all the vegetables which is like, yeah, the cabbage and the chickpeas and then the third is just bread and the meats, the variety of meats.

And there’s a little town, Leon, where they actually eat it the other way around. They’ll eat their meat first and then the chickpeas and the last thing is the soup. So it’s kind of funny to see that and everyone has their own version and it’s like, cocido madrilèno, cocido maragato, cocido lebanies. You know, everyone has their own name to it and their own version of it and it’s definitely something I would try especially in the winter. A lot of people eat it in the summer and you’ll see them sweating and they enjoy it.

Seth: Speaking of which, is there a best time of year to go?

Tatiana: I would say, my favorite time in Spain is September just because in the summer, it’s really hot wherever you go and there’s so much tourists and it’s really hard to get into places and stuff. And September is still warm and you get that summer breeze and the wonderful thing is that really, it’s the sunset is really late in Spain, so it will be 10 o’clock and it’s still day out. And that you can really tell which is why people tend to go to sleep a lot later in Spain than they would in the States, you know, they tend to go to sleep at like 1:00 AM, at 2:00 AM even if they have to work the next day, you know.

Seth: Wow.

Tatiana: So definitely September.

Seth: Well, I’m booking my trip now.

Tatiana: Good. I’ll see you in September.

Seth: All right. Are you ready to play a little game?

Tatiana: Oh, gosh. Okay.

Seth: All right, here we go. This game is called Out of the Frying Pan. Here’s how it works, I am going to ask you a series of rapid fire questions. You just tell me the first thing that come to mind. Are you ready?

Tatiana: Oh, great. Yeah.

Seth: First of all, somebody wants to do some research before their food trip, how do you do your homework before you go on your trip?

Tatiana: Well, I’m going to be a little biased here because I do work for About, so and kind of one of the greatest guides that I’ve ever read about Spain was the GoSpain.About.com. And it’s just a very easy, you know, user-friendly kind of guide where it’s really basic information to where are the top 10 restaurants in Valencia, for example, you know. And there’s a lot of information on how to get discounts on what kind of, you know, hotels you should look into or, you know. So there is a lot of information on that.

But as far as eating wise, the best thing I can recommend is just to get in the taxi and ask the taxi driver. That is really one of the top things that you can find. Spain is, I mean, especially in Madrid, you’ll see plenty luxury places to go and eat. But if you really want to get to eat good food, you’re going to have to move away. There are some really good luxury restaurants and you get your money’s worth absolutely. But if you really want just the authentic experience without, you know, going broke, I’d certainly recommend just getting in a taxi and on your way there and just asking the taxi driver or some cleaning person, you know, “where do you go?”.

Seth: Will the taxi driver speak English?

Tatiana: Yeah, most likely. If they pick you up at the airport, they’re certainly going to speak English, yeah.

Seth: What is the one thing that I need to pack that a lot of people will forget?

Tatiana: Just always pack an extra t-shirt or two even if you’re going in the winter because it does get really warm in the day time. I remember that I would like go on with a bunch of layers because it’s really cold in morning, but then at mid day, it’s really warm, really warm. So if you want to like pack something light, just in case, you're going to drink only in the winter, that is not a bad idea.

Seth: Is Spain humid or is it drier climate?

Tatiana: It’s completely dry. So in the summers, you’ll have the nice cool breeze and in the winter, it’s a little more humid because it’s supposed to rain and it doesn’t but you get that little humid environment like the windows are all wet in the morning and stuff. But like I said, in the midday, the sun is so powerful that it just goes up to 60, 70. It’s not like here – or at least in New York, you see the sun out and you think, it’s nice and warm and you go out and it’s a brisk morning, you know. So, no, in Spain, there’s no fooling around. Their sun, it’s warm.

Seth: Do you have a favorite hotel in Spain?

Tatiana: Yeah, I would say the Urban Hote l. It’s in the city center. It’s very close to the Las Cortes where the Congress House is, Parliament.

Seth: This is in Madrid.

Tatiana: Exactly. This is in Madrid and it’s Urban. It’s very modern. It’s really pretty. It’s not at all classical and what’s really nice about it is the food. They had such a great amazing sushi in their bar area and amazing cocktails that just marraige beautifully with it. So, yeah, definitely the Urban Hotel.

Seth: Do you have a favorite Spanish wine?

Tatiana: Cune. Cune is a Rioja and it’s one of the most popular wines in Spain. It’s not that expensive. It’s like, I don’t know, in Spain, it could cost you EUR7, EUR5 a bottle which is expensive for the Spaniards because they get 1EUR bottles of wine. I would say that one. And it’s lovely because you can have it by itself, just a glass of wine if you just want it and you can have it really paired nicely with a variety of foods like meats and tapas. So it’s a playful wine I like to call it.

Seth: I’ve heard you say Rioja a couple of times now, does that just mean red wine?

Tatiana: Rioja is the region…it’s a region in the North of Spain, it’s like the Northeast of Spain and it is the top region in wine. In Spain, I don’t know, yes, it's different than in France because in France you’d call it by the wine. The name of the wine would be the name of the grape and in Spain, you don’t do that. They actually call it by the region. So if you want to ask for a glass of red wine, they’ll say Ribera or Rioja. So Ribera is Ribera del Duero and that’s one region and Rioja is the other region that they produce the most of it.

Seth: So even though I’m ordering a Rioja, I can still have multiple different varieties, multiple different grapes that come from that region?

Tatiana: Yeah. Well, for it to be Denominación de Origen which is denomination of origin which is like a special feel the government give them tax, they’ll give them that so you can actually say this is the real wine, it has to be tempranillo. Tempranillo is the name of the grape and that is an exclusive grape of Spain. So, yeah, it’s not like you’re going to be drinking, you know, Chianti and it’s right from Rioja, no, that’s not going to happen. If it’s a Rioja, it’s tempranillo. The only thing is the only differences that they call it by the region and not by the grape.

Seth: Got you. If I’m looking for a restaurant with a fantastic view, do you have a favorite?

Tatiana: Yes and we actually offered in one of our tours. The Parador in Toledo. So Toledo is a very beautiful city. It’s one of the oldest cities in all of Spain and it’s really mounted on top of a huge rock, an enormous rock and it’s got a very diverse culture of like – because the Moors were there and so they’ve got a lot of mosques, like thousand-year old mosques that had been converted into Catholicism of course, that was still there and their history is still there, you know. It’s still written and still and like I like to say.

And there is the Parador which is – a Parador basically in Spain is a bunch of castles because they had so many castles in Spain that the government when there was no more monarchy, they took over these castles and they renovated them into luxury hotels. So they are exclusive way of also of enjoying the culture is to actually stay in one of these Paradors. It’s really beautiful.

And some of them offer really wonderful restaurants where it’s curious because a lot of tourists think that this is a very touristic location because it’s a Parador and it’s tourism. It’s a hotel. And while it is…You would find a lot of Spanish and especially the Spanish elderly people. And my husband thinks that if you find Spanish elderly people eating at a restaurant, you know that’s a place you got to be.

Seth: That’s fantastic.

Tatiana: So Parador in Toledo has one of the most spectacular views of the entire city and it looks like you’re floating in the air on their little terrace and you sit there and you watch the sunset while you’re taking this amazing meal. So it’s one of my favorite ones, yeah.

Seth: All right. Last question then. I know you’re a native New Yorker. Do you have a favorite Spanish restaurant, authentic cuisine from Spain in New York? Where did all the old Spanish people eat in New York City?

Tatiana: That’s a tough one, you know, because I’ve been looking for it for so long. I mean, I think that – I don’t know. I mean, there are a few that I want to try and they’d be really interesting to try. But most of them, when I look at the menus, have this kind of infused menu with Mexican cuisine. That’s kind of like what brings me down because it’s not authentic Spanish, you know. So I’m still looking for that authentic, authentic because it’s something I haven’t really found. I think Spanish is still, like I said, it’s something it’s still raw there, it’s still hidden, you know, the real authentic Spanish.

Seth: Well, if you find it, let us know.

Tatiana: I will.

Seth: We can’t wait to go on a tour and discover all of Spain. Thank you so much for joining us on the interview. If people want to find out more about Gastro Tours, they can go to your website, that’s Gastro-Tours.com. What about you, are you in social media? How can people find you online?

Tatiana: So the Twitter is Gastro-Tours, that’s out Twitter account and for Facebook, it’s GastroToursFB, so like Facebook, FB, yeah. So, yeah, thank you so much for the time and for the interview. It’s so much fun talking about this. I could sit here and talk about it all day.

Seth: This was fantastic. Best of luck with everything and thank you so much. And, yeah, like I said, this is our first time to Spain, talking about Spain, so thank you so much for coming on and telling us about it.

Tatiana: Thank you, Seth.

Seth: All right. My name is Seth Resler. A couple of show notes before we go, first of all, you can head over to our website, TasteTrekkers.com/podcast and there you can find this episode and links to a lot of the things that we talked about in the show. You can also subscribe to this podcast in iTunes. While you’re there, leave a review. That helps other people discover the show. You can also find these episodes up on our YouTube channel.

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Thanks so much for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.

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