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‘The best foodie places are around Madrid’s back streets’

Born in Zimbabwe and brought up in Britain, food blogger Wesley Muchimwe is now making a name for himself on the food blogging scene in Madrid.

'The best foodie places are around Madrid's back streets'
Food blogger Wesley Much.
Where are you from originally and what brought you to Spain?
 
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and when I was 12, I moved to Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom with my family. When I was 19, I started university in London to study International Business. This was a 4 year BA course that required a year abroad in the 3rd year. From the beginning, I had big plans to move to Paris as I loved everything French. However, after 8 years of studying French, I suddenly lost the love for it in my second year of uni.
 
At about the same time, I lived in halls of residence with some Spanish guys who were doing their year abroad in London. Their incessant talks of jamón, vino and tortilla de patata somehow resonated with me. In addition, when they spoke Spanish with other Spaniards, I instantly fell in love with the language and I knew that Spanish food and language would be my future. 
 
What do you love about living in Madrid?
 
I love the fact that in Madrid it is OK to take life slowly. There is nothing wrong with having a beer or a glass of wine at 12pm with a tapa or taking two hours for lunch or even just walking slowly on the streets
 
Although time waits for no man, it is also true that “las prisas no son buenas.” It took me a while to understand why everyone in Madrid seemed to always say “no pasa nada” when something rather important had just happened. Now I live by that phrase and it does wonders to stress and anxiety levels. 
 
And is there anything you loathe?
 
I loathe the fact that only a few neighbourhoods such Barrio Salamanca and Chamberi are clean. The constant effort of having to watch where your feet tread in case of stepping in dog business is a struggle. I do wish that people just took the time to clean up after their dogs. I should hardly think it would be difficult given the fact that the city council provides litter bags for free. 
 
 
What inspired you to start a food blog?
 
There are so many restaurants in Madrid and it seems that they just keep opening. Most of them seem to serve exactly the same food and if it is international food on offer, then it is hit and miss. The truth is that the chances of stumbling upon a disappointing restaurant are extremely elevated. In my first year in Spain, I ended up giving up on eating out. But after a while, I started to understand how to navigate the Madrid food scene. The blog, therefore, is designed to help expats like myself, feel safe and guaranteed that the restaurant they would have found on MuchBites is tried and tested and good. If it is not good, it won’t be on MuchBites, fact.
 
Tell us a bit about MuchBites
 
MuchBites is the realisation of one of my biggest dreams. Ever since I was a kid, I loved cooking and eating. I started baking when I was 9 with the help of a few family and friends. From then on, I vowed I would be a chef come rain or sunshine. I was getting ready to go to college to start the chef training, but my mum (well-meaning, of course) encouraged me to pursue a more academic route. So I did my pre-uni education and fell into the path of marketing. I did enjoy my course but somehow I just couldn’t reconcile a 9-5 job in England. So while I figured it all out, I decided to move back to Spain to teach English.
 
After about one and half years of teaching English, I reached the end of my tether and I was itching to do something new. This time, the something new had to be a passion. I was adamant that I would not fall into the pattern of changing jobs because I became dissatisfied. So I started MuchBites. Words cannot describe how good it feels to work with food, which is a lifelong dream of mine and to combine it with marketing, which is a passion I picked up along the way.  
 
 
What are your top foodie tips for people visiting Madrid?
 
The most important thing to do is have a scout on Instagram for food blogger accounts in Madrid. The ones that tend to have a lot of followers and good quality pictures will lead you to food heaven.
 
  • At all costs, avoid eating in tourist areas. If you are walking and hear a lot of English, it’s best to have a look around, take your holiday snaps and flee without having spent a penny. The best foodie places will be around the back streets. 
  • Just because the bar looks full does not mean it will be good. So be mindful of this heuristic.
  • Be wary of menu del dias. They are very good value for money but are not always as delicious as one would hope. Therefore, proceed with caution. 
 
And make sure you always do some research. The food blogging scene in Madrid in thriving, so trust them. We’re here to help you.  
 
Is the food scene thriving in Madrid at the moment?
 

The classic cocido madrileño. 
 
Absolutely. Madrid is growing exponentially when it comes to food. I think it’s because a lot of the younger generation have become more well-travelled than the previous generation. As a result, when they return, they bring back food culture from their time away. Now, any restaurant that is not up to scratch will close in no time at all. At the same time, traditional Spanish cuisine is being revamped to make it more appealing and less humdrum. I remember having a deconstructed tortilla de patata on Calle Ponzano which blew my mind. Such things would have either been impossible or ridiculously expensive a while back.
 
You even think of the popularity of brunch of Madrid. When you consider the typical Spanish breakfast and how it is loved, the brunch popularity goes to show that things are changing for the better and, as some have said, Madrid will no longer be the place where your taste buds go to die.  
 
What are the biggest differences between eating in Spain and in the UK?
 
The biggest differences are the times. Lunch is served so much later. Typically people start having lunch around 2pm/2.30pm. Around 5pm when most in the UK are starting to think about dinner, Spaniards will be prepping for the late afternoon snack. This then trickles down to a very late dinner, typically around 9pm.
 
The other difference is the importance of meals and quantity eaten. In Spain, breakfast is just a meal you have to survive. It is shown little attention, if any. A coffee and croissant or toast will suffice. Lunch is the main show stopper with a full 3 course meal. Dinner is light and usually consists of fish and salad. In the UK, breakfast is big business – bacon, sausages, beans etc. At lunch time, a sandwich will suffice. Finally, dinner goes big (ish) again. But since dinner is eaten quite early, people have enough time to digest. 
 
 
Where are your personal favourite spots for eating out in Madrid?
 
Personally, I love eating towards the bottom end of Calle de Las Huertas. I have three of my favourite restaurants next to each other. At times, I can have my main course in one place, dessert in another and stop for an after dinner drink in the next, all on the same street. I also love Calle Nuncio. 
 
What are your plans for the future?
 
I hope to continue developing MuchBites so it becomes a one stop guide to everything food and drink in Madrid. Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but slowly but surely, it’ll get there. I am also in the process of developing a small Social Media Management business for restaurants in Madrid. With this, I will endeavour to work with restaurants of choice and help them to build a meaningful online presence.
 
MuchBites is the ultimate guide to everything food and restaurants in Madrid. You can follow Wesley on his food adventure on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram 

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FOOD & DRINK

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

These are two words that don’t often go together – vegetarian and Spanish, as most vegetarians and vegans will only know too well, however, it may come as a surprise to discover that there are a few Spanish dishes that naturally do not contain any meat or fish.

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

Whether you live in Spain or you frequently travel here, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan you’ll know that finding traditional Spanish dishes can be tricky. But if you don’t want to have to eat international food all the time, you will discover that there are several meat and fish-free dishes that are Spanish classics. 

Espinacas con garbanzos

A dish traditionally found in southern Spain in Andalusia, this is essentially exactly how it’s translated – spinach with chickpeas. The dish has a long history dating all the way back to the Moors, who ruled southern Spain for almost 800 years. Completely vegan, the spinach and chickpeas are made into a type of stew with herbs and spices like paprika and cumin. Often pine nuts and raisins are added to the mix too.

READ ALSO: What did the Moors ever do for us?’ How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

Spinach and chickpeas is a classic Andalusian dish. Photo: Xemenendura / Wikimedia Commons
 

Escalivada

A classic vegan dish from Catalonia, escalivada is a mix of slow-roasted vegetables, usually onions, peppers and aubergines. It can be eaten as a type of topping for large toasts called torradas and can sometimes have goat’s cheese melted on the top.

Calçots with romesco sauce

Another much-loved Catalan vegetarian dish is calçots with romesco sauce. Calçots are like a cross between a spring onion and a leek and are only available in the winter or early spring seasons. They’re typically grilled over an open fire until blackened. You must then remove the burnt exterior with a pair of gloves before dipping them in the romesco sauce. The sauce is a concoction made from toasted almonds and hazelnuts, tomatoes, garlic, toasted bread, olive oil, vinegar and dried ñora peppers. They can be a bit messy to eat, so restaurants will often give you a bib to wear too. 

READ ALSO – Recipe: How to make, eat and enjoy calçots

Try some calçots at a traditional calçotada. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Gazpacho

A dish that many are familiar with, this cold soup is traditionally from Andalusia, although it’s likely you’ll find it all over Spain in the summertime. It’s made from blended tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bread, olive oil and garlic. 

Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup. Photo: Ирина Кудрявцева / Pixabay

Paella de verduras

Ordering paella in Spain can be tricky for vegans and vegetarians because the most traditional either contain seafood or rabbit, chicken snails and butter beans, like the ones from Valencia. Many places, however, now offer a paella de verduras, featuring only vegetables. Restaurants will use whatever is in season, whether that’s artichokes, green beans, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms or courgettes. The only difficult part is that many places will only do paellas for two or more people, so you have to hope your companions are willing to eat the vegan version too. 

A vegetable paella is completely vegan. Photo: Corophoto / Pixabay
 

Berenjenas con miel

This simple tapas dish translates as aubergines with honey and is essentially deep-fried aubergines usually dipped in bread crumbs or battered and then drizzled with molasses or treacle which is actually miel de caña, not the type of honey from bees. Although you can find it in many places in Spain, it’s typically from Andalusia and is very popular in Granada and surrounding areas.

A plate of berenjenas con miel is always a veggie favourite. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Patatas a lo pobre

Poor man’s potatoes might not sound very appetising, but this dish of fried sliced potatoes with onions, peppers and garlic is actually delicious. Again you’ll find it mostly in Andalusia, particularly in the Alpujarras mountains, just south of Granada.

Try some patatas a lo pobre in the Alpujarras. Photo: pxhere

Pisto

Similar to the French ratatouille, pisto is a stew made from cubes of aubergines, onions, peppers, courgettes and tomatoes. It comes from the region of Castilla-La Mancha and is often served with a fried egg on top. To make it vegan, simply ask for it without the egg.

Pisto is similar to the French ratatouille but is often served with an egg. Photo: Arnaud 25 / WikiCommons
 

Ajo blanco

This white garlic soup is a tasty combination of almonds, garlic, olive oil, bread and white wine or sherry vinegar. It comes from the areas around Málaga and Cádiz and like gazpacho is served cold. It’s sometimes served topped with grapes too. 

Ajo blanco is often served with grapes. Photo: cyclonebill / WikiCommons

Croquetas de boletus, ceps or espinacas

Croquetas are a favourite tapas dish throughout the country, and while many of them are filled with jamón (ham) or even squid ink, there are several vegetarian varieties too. Unfortunately, they are not vegan because they’re made with bechamel sauce, which contains dairy. The bechamel is mixed with various flavours and then covered in breadcrumbs before being deep-fried. Vegetarian varieties come in varieties such as boletus or ceps (types of mushrooms), espinacas (spinach) or cabrales cheese – a blue cheese from Asturias. 

READ ALSO – MAP: How well do you know your Spanish cheeses?

Try croquetas filled with spinach, mushrooms or cheese. Photo: Ralf Gervink / Pixabay

Salmorejo

Salmorejo is a cold soup similar to gazpacho, but it’s much thicker and creamier. It’s typically made from just four main ingredients – tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic. You can find it all over Andalusia, but it’s actually from Córdoba. Often it’s topped with ham and boiled egg, so simply ask for it sin jamón y huevo for it to be vegan. 

Ask for your salmorejo sin jamón for it to be vegetarian. Photo:Javier Lastras / Wikimedia Commons

Tortilla de patatas

One of the two only non-vegan dishes on our list is the classic tortilla de patatas, which you can find all over Spain and is definitely a meal you can rely on if all else fails. It is of course made from eggs and potatoes, but Spain is very divided on whether you should add onions or not. The Local is firmly on the onion side! 

Do you like your tortilla with or without onion? Photo: Luis MGB / Pixabay
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