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If you have followed any of the recent US television shows on Spanish food or travel you most likely have heard them talk about Spain being a food lovers' delight. Over the centuries Spain has been a nexus for the convergence of a number of cultures and each has left its mark on the cuisine. In the process, creating for the food lover, an amazing variety of exquisite and many unusual dishes.

To participate in the food of Spain a visitor only needs to enter a restaurant or a tapas bar but even after 5 visits to Spain I can still be intimidated in a tapas bar packed with locals. When it becomes my turn to choose, I am often left to pointing to a selection, not always knowing what I am getting.

I have previously touched on cooking classes and tapas tours as unique visits but after visiting the gastronomy club in San Sebastian I realized I really have not given Spain's gastronomy tours their due. Here I try to describe some of the options for a guided experience of Spanish food.

Photo Left - a crowded tapas bar. Our guide has waded through the crowd to see what tapas he can arrange, while we stand and wait. The two men in the photo appear to be waiting on someone too.

The cooking class option:
If you take a cooking class while in Spain you will realize the preparation of Spanish food starts long before entering a kitchen.You might start your journey at the market. It is here, among the stalls of vegetables, fruits and meats most student cooks receive their first lesson. Fresh produce of high quality are essential ingredients to preparing a high quality meal. In the market, students are taught how to determine the quality of the produce. They may also be directed to a food stall which, historically, has provided more exceptional fair than other sellers. After selecting the raw ingredients it is off to the kitchen where the real action starts.

Photo left - this world class chef is giving a, one on one, cooking class to a visitor.

The natives of San Sebastian take their food very seriously, with the majority of citizens belonging to Gastronomy clubs, social clubs centering around food preparation.

In San Sebastian our guide took my wife and I to a gastronomy club where private cooking lessons can be arranged with one of Spain's world class chefs. Here, in one of the oldest buildings of San Sebastian we were allowed to observe this master chef at work as he explained the techniques for indirect cooking of a fish dish.

After the lesson the student and her husband were ferried to the dinning room where their freshly prepared meal was served for their pleasure.

Cooking classes can be arranged in a number of cities in Spain. While it is possible to sign up for some cooking classes on-line, be careful, some Spanish chefs do not speak English and you may find yourself in a cooking class with out an interpreter. If you are booking your hotels with Madrid and Beyond they are one of your best option for arranging a Spanish cooking class tailored to your needs.

The Tour option:
Perhaps you are not as interested in learning to cook a Spanish dish but want a guided experience of the best Spanish food or you want to sample the most exotic food Spain has to offer. You have a number of options. Usually it is quite easy to include a formal lunch or tapas experience during a wine tour or during a private tour of a Spanish city. Or, you can sign up for a tapas tour, with out any extras, which usually contains a little touring of the city as the group moves from tapas bar to tapas bar. An evening tapas tour can be an excellent introduction to Spain's night life. If you are adventurous and interested in sampling the more exotic foods, bulls' testicles, lambs brain, suckling pig, squid in its own ink, etc; make this known early on in the arranging of your gastronomy tour. Some specialties are regional, a few are rather expensive and others are only served at certain restaurants.

Photo above - my wife is sampling a tapas selected by our guide. The garlic stuffed intestines were delicious but the fried duck fat, praised by locals, was not to my taste.

Should every traveler that visits Spain take a gastronomy tour? I suspect some travel purest would say, heck no, go delve in and what ever happens, including food, happens. What I do know, if we had not participated in a guided food experience while in Spain we would not only have missed out on some exceptional food experiences but we would have missed some of our most memorable times in Spain. My perspective, when it comes to Spanish food, go delve in, what happens, happens but it doesn't hurt to have a little guidance now and then. When it comes to food you can truly have the best of both worlds!

Related articles:
What to Eat in Spain
Seville Cooking class
Tapas tour
Spain Wine Tour

Gastronomy tours can be arranged with my my recommended Travel Agent for Spain when booking your Spain Accommodations.

Note: Madrid and Beyond arranges trips in their entirety, not segments or single nights. Also Note: Madrid and Beyond's focus is on unique accommodations and three star hotels or above. Booking Request Form

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