It was just weeks before COVID stopped the world in its tracks. As I walked up to the grand white facade of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, I noticed a sign: “Kitchen Tours. For a lover of food history and traveller, that promised to be a day made in heaven. And it was.
The Royal Palace was built in 1740 and while it was the official residence for royals for many centuries, now it is used mainly for official functions. It is grand, 135,000 square feet grand. 3, 418 rooms grand. It is the largest functioning royal palace in all of Europe.
Imagine visiting the kitchen that prepared the food for those who lived in a palace this grand. Such an experience comes once in a lifetime.
After clearing security, our small group of kitchen enthusiasts followed the leader across an empty courtyard, through long corridors and down stairs into the bowels of the palace. The longer we walked, the more the excitement mounted. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The rooms were windowless, but with high dramatic ceilings giving a feeling of space. We walked from room to room, and learned of the functions of each room. Long wooden work tables displayed enormous platters and tools for preparing the food. The copper flashed it’s beauty everywhere.
The areas of the kitchen included: a Bakehouse, Cellar (containing beverages, and water from the Fuente del Berro fountain), a fruitery, confectionary, chandlery, woodyard, Ramilette (for tableware, hot beverages, refreshments,) pastry, saucery, guardamangier (larder for meats), and a potagerie (vegetables). There was a King’s kitchen, Ladies kitchen and a household kitchen. Over the years many kitchen areas changed function, but what amazed the visitors is how many kitchenware pieces remain in place as though they had been used yesterday. The oven and charcoal roasting grill were added to the kitchen in 1877 during the reign of King Alfonso X11, to prepare his favorite roast beef dinners.
It is said that there was very little waste of palace food as privileged people ate what the royals didn’t eat. That would be a story in itself. After visiting the kitchen I toured the palace rooms. The rooms open to the public remain authentically furnished, giving us a peek at how the Spanish royalty lived. There were endless rooms with walls lined in brocades, furnished with ornate furniture. An Oriental themed room had walls of silk and many exotic furnishing. Each room was opulent beyond one’s imagination.
The state dining room, however took my breath away. But what food went on that table, I wanted to know. I have searched for menus, and descriptions of banquets in vain. That information has so far remained elusive in my research.
There were clues as to what the royal families ate if you looked at the cookware in the kitchens. One could envision enormous platters holding many kinds of meat, fish, and vegetables. Desserts were delicate cakes, pastries and puddings turned out of the copper and glass moulds. Chocolate and ice creams confectionaries were made to please the aristocratic audiences that dined in that grand dining room.
And we can only wonder how many kitchen workers toiled over the hot ovens to turn out the daily meals and impressive banquets.
But we (the common folk) can only imagine the grandeur of palace dining. It was a privilege to have a glimpse into the kitchens of the culinary world of the Royalty of Spain.