There is an almost ineffable gastronomical variety in Spain. With so many different culinary traditions throughout the country, visitors will find themselves overwhelmed with the diversity of flavors and scents that emerge from this passionate and abundant land.
In Spain, you’ll find fiery flamenco and football, along with long, sunny days. It gives birth to Picasso and siesta and offers stunning beaches and stylish islands, along with some of Europe’s most compelling architecture. Its residents are warm and friendly with long names, and their sweet and melodious language are among the globe’s widely spoken languages after Mandarin Chinese. You’ll find not only a raucous nightlife and fiestas but a great deal of delicious food in this area of the Iberian Peninsula.
Spain’s cuisine has a colorful, aromatic, and Mediterranean flavor explosion, whether it is eaten in a humble tapas bar in Andalusia or in a three-Michelin-star Catalan restaurant. Obviously, it is one of the things I most love about Spain; it is a glorious fusion of cultures and ethnicities, of past and present, of the sea and mountains. It is also one of the main reasons to visit this idyllic country.
Originally, this post was supposed to be a “Top 10 Things to Eat in Spain”, but as I was writing the post, I realized that I couldn’t decide what to order, so I decided to make more of a list instead. Those foods remind me of some excellent times I had in Spain, and I hope that each of them becomes some beautiful memories one day for you, too.
Having Spanish tapas is a must when visiting Spain! It would be like going to Paris without seeing the Tour Eiffel or having an espresso without spending a weekend in Italy.
The tapas that are so popular are not actually food; they are tiny dishes Spaniards eat anywhere and any time of the day or night. We will not provide a general presentation of tapas because they can be found anywhere on the Internet. I will try to summarize some interesting facts about tapas, rather than go into my own personal experiences and elaborate your own.
The tapas are a common part of Spanish culture, and you should know that there is also a Spanish verb “tapear”, which refers to “eating tapas”.
The little meals are unfortunately not always free. While many regions of the Spanish Peninsula, namely the Basque Country or Andalucia, do offer free tapas to tourists every time they buy drinks, there are still many areas in which you cannot get any free tapas while visiting.
It is absolutely great to have tapas in Madrid, where you do not even have to pay for your meal, as they provide a nice plate filled with mini sandwiches, almonds, squids, or any other snacks, but never the same dish – which is absolutely incredible!
In one of my best tapas experiences, however, I had the pleasure of eating a plate of cheese on a beach in Mallorca and paid a small fee, but it was well worth it.
On a ferryboat near Ibiza, I tasted tortilla for the first time. I remember a big tortilla sandwich known as a “bocadillo con tortilla”. In fact, I was so thrilled with it that I couldn’t stop eating it.
Afterward, I discovered there are actually multiple types of tortillas, some with a thicker texture, and some with a softer and thinner texture. Despite these limitations, it is always traditional to have potatoes, eggs, onion, salt, and pepper in the Spanish omelet, since this dish is commonly consumed throughout the country.
Though they say that tortillas are easy to make, I have always had a problem with cooking it, never succeeded in baking it properly through the middle, and don’t know why.
The recipe is as follows:
Make thick slices of the potatoes, and fry them until soft, but not browned, in a pan with a little olive oil. We are going to chop the onion finely and mix it with the potatoes, plus a raw egg that has been beaten. Return the mixture to the pan, first frying it on one side for a couple of minutes, and then flipping it over with a plate and frying it on the other side.
If you succeed, let me know!
The rice dish originating in Valencia is known as paella. A paella is a special dish with a variety of ingredients and recipes:Valencian paella (a simple rice dish with vegetables, chicken, duck, rabbit meat, beans and spices) and Seafood Paella (rice with chunks of seafood and seasonings), A proper paella is prepared using rice, chicken, seafood, vegetables, olive oil, saffron, and other spices, whereas a mixta is prepared using whatever ingredients the cook deems suitable.
Especially when served fresh from the paellera, mixed paella is perfect for a romantic dinner on the beach late in the summer, accompanied by a cold glass of sangria and…the breeze.
Gazpacho in Andalusia
You can cook gazpacho in more than one way, like most Spanish cuisine. This staple of Andalusian cuisine can be made in many ways: soup, salad, or stew – it’s usually made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, a little olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, and sometimes ham.
Gazpacho is my favorite cold soup, the consistency of which reminds me of a salad – blended with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and ice cubes, and garnished with fresh, chopped vegetables. In the sizzling south of Spain, this is the perfect refreshment for a late lunch!
Crema Catalana in Barcelona
People often cross the Spanish crema catalana with the French crème brûlée, but the desserts differ slightly. The French serve their crème brûlée warm from the bath tub, whereas the Catalan cream is served cold and is flavored with lemon rind and cinnamon rather than vanilla, so they are a lot more refreshing than their French counterpart.
Honestly, I like both of them. I love vanilla, but for a hot summer day, nothing beats a shady pavement café in Barcelona with a nice cup of crema catalana!
Gambas Ajillo (Garlic Prawns)
In general, I’m not a big fan of seafood but it’s a must try if you visit Spain and try the gambas ajillo! No matter how you serve it, garlic prawns are delicious whether for tapas or a main course: fresh prawns cooked in a little oil, garlic, and chili flakes will fulfill your cravings in less than 10 minutes. Your meal should be enjoyable!
Queso Manchego (Spanish Sheep Cheese)
Cervantes mentions a delicious sheep milk cheese called Queso Manchego in El Quijote de la Mancha, so it is known as “The Cheese of Don Quixote.” It is a cheese made exclusively in one particular region in Spain, La Mancha, from sheep of a specific breed that was called the “Manchega”, but we can try it all over the country. It was a real pleasure to taste it in Madrid, where its intense flavor blew my mind from the very first bite. Incredible!
My understanding is that aioli means just that – a Spanish mayonnaise with loads of garlic. My mistake couldn’t be more extreme. It seems this popular Spanish condiment is neither Spanish nor French, nor even Italian, but garlic mayonnaise. According to Jamie Oliver, the dish is actually Middle Eastern in origin, and I can’t help but believe him.
Traditionally, allioli is a Catalan sauce, but using only garlic, oil, and salt – with no eggs at all. On the other hand, aioli is a Provencal term that describes a similar flavor. Spain has so many bizarre coffee varieties, you’d think this information would be confusing!
However, I first tasted alioli in Spain, so for me it is a Spanish sauce, albeit a deliciously addictive and challenging one. Despite such a straightforward recipe, aioli is not impossible for most of us to prepare, at least not for me. In particular, the sauce is great with tortilla, fish, baked potatoes, and anything but sweet. My poor Spain, I miss you so much!
Among the most striking things I noticed in Spain were the crowded, long bars in which, rather than chandeliers, large pieces of jamon were hung. At first glance, it is surprising, yet so familiar after a few weeks of bar hopping through Madrid!
While the bartender serves you impossibly thin slices of delicious ham, you can find out for yourself how it feels to be immersed in a delightfully old-school Spanish establishment.
Grilled sardines on the beach
Should you be spending your vacation in Marbella, or anywhere along the Costa del Sol, do not miss the chance to try the fresh grilled fish.
You don’t have to look for a restaurant, the Andalusian beaches offer a wide array of boats filled with sand, where some of the best sardines are cooked by the fisherman themselves on burning coals. Perfect for a hot summer day at the beach, this nice, healthy, and affordable meal will certainly hit the spot!
Several feasts I have served in Spain, so far, all started with a traditional introduction, no matter who you are or where you are in the country – the classic version usually includes four items: bread (toasted or not), a bowl of green marinated olives, the ubiquitous alioli, and the marinated little onions.
With this in mind, I hope my article will add a touch of flavor to your Spanish journey!