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Spanish cuisine is one of the most famous in the world. Who does not know paella, jamón iberico and sangria…? Its cuisine is rich, varied, colorful, and with high-quality, aromatic ingredients. It is one of the best countries to enjoy food and try new things.
We’ve compiled a list of what to eat in Spain to guide you on this journey to discover Spanish food. Plus, a few more tips on Spanish cuisine, its key ingredients, and where to find the best food.
This article will examine the typical Spanish food dishes, the ingredients, and the various associated traditions. And, of course, tips on where to eat each dish!
What should you know about Spanish food?
Spanish gastronomy has been influenced by various cultures and civilizations. Moors and Jews had a significant impact on cuisine and culture, they introduced ingredients such as rice, almonds, some vegetables and fruit, and spices such as saffron, cumin, nutmeg, and many more.
Later, the discovery of the Americas also brought new ingredients, such as potatoes, tomatoes, cocoa, peppers, chiles, and corn. This revolutionized Spanish and world cuisine! Can you imagine European food without potatoes or tomatoes? And without chocolate…?
Spain stands out for its quality olive oil, being also the world’s largest exporter of olive oil. It uses olive oil in almost everything, even to spread the bread. Olive oil is also used for frying instead of sunflower oil. In addition to olive oil, wine, tomatoes, and Iberian jamón are also loved and are authentic national monuments.
Spain follows a Mediterranean diet, using many fruits, vegetables, fish, and fresh, seasonal ingredients. Plus, each province has its specialties. It’s a big country, and although some ingredients are common throughout the country, certain foods and ingredients are only found in specific regions.
Thus, and as in many other things in Spanish culture, food is mainly regional! Some dishes have transcended their original regions and became staples everywhere (even outside of Spain), but the vast majority are still regional or local.
And above all, Spaniards love food. Eating is a celebration, an act of sharing that takes a long time and is not meant to be rushed.
Tips for finding the best Spanish food
It’s not hard to find good food in Spain – the country is teeming with delicious food. But each region has its specialty, and certain ingredients and dishes really should be eaten in their place of origin, as they are much better there or are absent anywhere else. Keep this in mind when choosing what to eat in Spain.
Spaniards eat late – lunch starts at 1 p.m., and many restaurants do not serve food before that time, apart from tapas. And the lunch hour is long, it can extend until 3 pm. Due to the intense heat in Spain, there is a siesta time, from 1 pm to 4 pm; it is time for rest and lunch. That’s why many stores and businesses only open after that time.
Dinner is also late, many restaurants only serve from 9 p.m. On the other hand, the summer nights are typically warm and pleasant, which makes you want to stay up late enjoying the excellent atmosphere.
If you want to save on food, pay attention to the day’s menu. Many restaurants serve lunch menus during the week. This includes the first course and the second. Sometimes, the first course is a kind of appetizer, but many times, it’s more like a complete meal, so it turns out to be a generous food offer. However, sharing the menu of the day is usually not allowed.
The last tip is valid for any country in the world: choose to eat where the locals eat and avoid the tourist places. A restaurant with plenty of locals is always a good start. Finally, Google Maps reviews and scores are also a good guide to deciding if a restaurant is good.
Breakfast in Spain
Bread with tomato (pan con tomate)
Pan con tomate or tostada con tomate is the most typical breakfast in Spain. Accompanied by a café con leche (coffee with milk), it’s an ideal start to a day.
It is a typical dish from Catalonia, but you can find it all over Spain. And despite being more of a summer dish, as it is the tomato season, you can find it all year round.
The dish consists of a slice of toasted bread spread with tomato, good-quality olive oil, and a little salt. It’s amazing how such simple ingredients can make such a divine dish. So, now you know breakfast has to be toasted with tomato and olive oil when you’re in Spain.
Chocolate with churros
Chocolate con churros is another typical Spanish breakfast. The crunchiness of the churro and dipping it in a slightly bitter hot chocolate is excellent. The Spanish are culinary geniuses.
Churros are made with choux pastry and fried in hot oil. They are crunchy and a little hollow inside. Plus, they are served with dense hot chocolate, into which the churro is dipped. Churros can be sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Chocolate con churros is eaten mainly for breakfast, but it is also eaten at lunchtime or even as a dessert. In fact, it can be eaten whenever you want. Several cafes serve churros with chocolate, but some churrerias specialize in this delicacy.
Best Tapas and Pintxos in Spain
Tapas are small food portions accompanying a glass of wine or beer. There is a wide variety of tapas; they can be eaten at any time of the day and are served in bars or restaurants.
Tapas are more than just food, they are culture and a way to socialize. In Spain, they say “ir de tapa,” which means going for tapas, having a drink in different bars, and being with friends.
Each region has its tapas and rules. In Andalusia, bars offer a free tapa with the drink. In the Basque Country, all tapas have the same price, and they are also called Pintxos.
Pintxo or pinchos are Basque versions of tapas. They are small portions of food served with bread and a toothpick or skewer. In fact, pincho means skewer in Spanish. San Sebastian is the capital of pinxtos, there is so much variety, and the creativity is phenomenal.
Trying different tapas and pinchos in Spain is one of the most fun and tasty things to experience. The only problem is figuring out the tapas rules of each city. But it’s part of the adventure.
Below, we describe the most typical tapas, but there is a wide variety of them. There is no shortage of creativity in typical Spanish food.
Pimiento de Padrón
Pimientos de Padrón are small green peppers, native to Padrón in Galicia. Like all peppers, these peppers were brought from Mexico and adapted to the Galician climate.
They are one of the most popular tapas in Spain. They are fried with a bit of olive oil and seasoned with coarse salt. They are served hot on a plate, and you eat everything but the stem. Simple but delicious.
Most of them are not spicy, but they could be spicy; however, the probability is low. There is an expression in Galicia that loosely translates to: “Eat the pimientos de Padrón: some are hot and others not.”
The Padrón pepper, despite being native to Galicia, is found in practically all bars and restaurants in Spain. They are adored by many. In addition, it is also an ingredient that is easy to find in supermarkets both in Spain and Portugal, being very easy to make.
Patatas bravas are the most typical tapas in bars in Spain. It consists of diced potatoes fried in olive oil and covered in a spicy sauce (salsa brava). The sauce is made with hot and sweet peppers.
Potatoes are golden, crispy, and served hot. They are good with everything. They can be slapped or accompanied by some protein. And although they come from Madrid, you can find them all over Spain in any restaurant or bar.
Patatas Alioli are another classic tapa. Made with diced potatoes, boiled in water, and then covered with aioli sauce (garlic mayonnaise). The alioli sauce is made with eggs and garlic emulsified with oil, getting the consistency of mayonnaise.
This tapa can be served hot or cold and is eaten with a toothpick. This dish has variations with fried rather than boiled potatoes, also served with Alioli sauce.
You will find patatas alioli in all restaurants and bars in Spain.
Huevos rotos in the past were synonymous with fried eggs. But nowadays, huevos rotos are associated with cook Lucio Blázquez’s recipe, which consists of fried eggs on top of fried potatoes with ham, bacon, or chorizo. The eggs are over easy fried, and when serving, they are mixed with the potatoes, covered by the delicious yolk.
It’s a delicious recipe; anyone who likes eggs will love this tapa. You can find huevos rotos in almost every restaurant and bar in Spain. There are a thousand and one versions of this recipe, some more creative than others.
Croquetas is a very famous tapa in Spain. Despite having its origins in France, it is worshiped in Spain. The croquetas are formed with a dough made with béchamel sauce and a filling of your choice – usually ham, chicken, mushrooms, or prawns. This dough is wrapped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. And at the end, they are fried in hot oil.
They are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. There are many different versions of croquettes in Europe, such as Dutch, Italian, and Belgian – they are stuffed with other ingredients. Furthermore, Spanish croquettes are very different from those of Portugal and Brazil. They are stuffed with meat and do not have bechamel sauce, they are drier.
You can find croquetas all over Spain, in any restaurant or bar. They are one of the most typical tapas or starters.
Jamón is ham made from the whole leg of the pig, cured with salt, and sometimes smoked. Healing time ranges from 8 to 36 months. In Spain, Jamón is a religion – it is the most important ingredient. There are hundreds of specialty stores.
In Spain, there are two types of jamon – the jamón ibérico, which uses the Iberian pig known as black pig, and the jamón serrano, which uses white pork. Each type of jamón has different ones with a protected designation of origin.
Within the Iberian jamón, there are different categories depending on the origin and diet of the pig. You can understand which category you are in by determining the color of the packaging label (white, green, red, and black).
Note that jamón ibérico is not exclusive to Spain; the black or Iberico pig is native to Alentejo (Portugal) and the central and southern zones of the Iberian Peninsula.
That said, eating jamón is almost mandatory in Spain. It is usually served as a tapa and can be eaten at any time of the day. It is also very good in a sandwich.
Tortilla de patata is one of the most iconic dishes in Spain and is enjoyed all over the country. It is a traditional dish made with eggs, potatoes, and onions. It’s like an omelet with potatoes.
To cook this dish, you must fry the potatoes in olive oil, then add the potatoes to the scrambled eggs in a pan and cook until the eggs are done. It is a delicious and moist dish.
There are variations of the tortilla, in which chorizo, peppers, or tuna are added. The tortilla is eaten as a snack, it can be eaten inside bread or on its own as a light meal.
You can find this dish in all restaurants served as a tapa; it is also eaten for breakfast.
Empanada is a traditional Spanish dish from Galicia. It is made with a thin dough of flour, butter, and water filled with different ingredients, such as tuna, minced pork, shellfish, or vegetables.
It has a rectangular or round shape and has been popular in Galicia since the 7th century. There are also versions of empanadas made with corn dough instead of wheat. It’s a great light meal to eat on the go or at a picnic. It’s not really a tapa, but it can be served as such.
The empanada is more common in Galicia and difficult to find in other parts of Spain.
Soups – Spanish foods
Gazpacho is a traditional Andalusian cold soup. It’s fresh and has a beautiful tomato flavor.
Gazpacho is made with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, stale bread, oil, vinegar, and water. All ingredients are crushed raw and then filtered. It can be accompanied by bread.
It is a refreshing and delicious dish ideal for the summer. It is best to have this dish in Andalusia, but it can be found in some other regions and restaurants.
Salmorejo is a traditional cold soup from Cordoba in Andalusia. It is very similar to gazpacho but with small differences. It is also made with ripe tomatoes, breadcrumbs, garlic, oil, and vinegar. But it is denser than gazpacho and has the consistency of puree. And it doesn’t take cucumber and pepper.
The soup is sprinkled with pieces of ham and boiled egg. It’s really good; we even like it better than gazpacho, but the flavors are similar. This a Cordoba dish, and it is the best place to eat it.
Caldo Galego is a traditional hot soup from Galicia. It is a soup made with potatoes, kale, turnip greens, white beans, lard, chorizo and other smoked products. Basically, it’s a soup with everything.
It’s ideal for northern Spain’s cold and rainy winter days – it’s very comforting and satisfying. The recipe varies from house to house, is not strict, and may include other ingredients. It’s similar to the soups grandma makes in northern Portugal.
You can find this soup in several restaurants in Galicia, and of course, if you knock on the door of a Spanish grandmother, I bet you have this soup.
Meat Dishes – Best Spanish dishes
Fabada is a typical dish from Asturias in Northern Spain. It is a dish made with a large white bean called fabada, not to be confused with fava beans.
The beans must be soaked the day before and then cooked for a few hours. When the beans are cooked, add the smoked beans and sausages such as bacon, chorizo, black pudding, and pig’s ear, among others. It is seasoned with paprika, saffron, and olive oil.
It is a dish made slowly and tastes even better the next day. Experts say that it should be accompanied by cider, an alcoholic drink made from apples (more about it below in the drinks section).
Many restaurants serve this delicious delicacy in Asturia. Outside Asturias, it will be more challenging to find it, which is why you’ll probably need to go to Asturias to try the Fabada.
Paella Valenciana is a typical dish of the Valencian Community, specifically Albufera de Valencia. It is perhaps the most famous dish in Spain and the hallmark of its cuisine.
It is a dish made with rice and other ingredients in a shallow, long frying pan with a handle on each side. The name of the frying pan is paella, hence the dish’s name.
Traditional Valencian paella has rice, chicken, rabbit, green beans, white beans, tomatoes, saffron, olive oil, rosemary, and salt. Some recipes even call for snails. Valencian paella does not contain fish or seafood, as many believe, only meat.
Besides the traditional paella, there are variations of this paella, such as the marine paella that uses fish and shellfish and the mixed paella that uses meat and seafood. Traditional Valencian paella is usually made over an open flame and follows strict cooking steps.
To eat traditional Valencian paella, you really should go to the Valencian Community. Regarding the other types of paellas, you can find them all over Spain.
Cochinillo asado is a roast suckling pig and is a specialty of the Castilla region of Spain, with the cochinillo de Segovia being particularly famous.
Traditionally, suckling pig is roasted in a slow oven. The piglet, weighing between 4.5 kg and 6.5 kg, is placed in an earthenware pot with a bit of water. When cooked, it is placed on a grill to brown the skin. The suckling pig turns golden brown with crispy skin.
As in Portugal and the suckling pig from Bairrada, making this dish involves both technique and art. That’s why it has to be eaten in a specialist restaurant. We advise you to try this delicious Spanish specialty in Segovia, as the city is well-known for it.
Madrileño stew or Madrileño cocido
Cocido is a traditional dish from Madrid. It consists of a chickpea stew with various vegetables, such as cabbage, carrots, turnips, green beans, potatoes, chard, and various types of pork, poultry, beef, and sausages.
It was a dish usually eaten by the poorest and of Jewish origin. Nowadays, it is appreciated by everyone. It is mainly eaten in winter. It is a comfort food and family gatherings since every family has a way of doing it.
Some also use the broth from the stew and make a soup, adding rice or pasta, and a little pennyroyal and saffron.
This dish must be eaten in Madrid. In restaurants, it is very common to be served as the dish of the day on Wednesdays.
Rabo de Toro is a typical dish from Córdoba. It is made with the tail of a bull, ox, or cow, which is slowly stewed.
There are several ways to cook this ingredient, and each restaurant has its own recipe. It can be served with rice stewed with fried potatoes. Don’t be scared, it’s really good.
This dish has to be eaten in Córdoba or Andalusia – try the different recipes that use bull’s tail. You won’t regret it.
Fish and Seafood Dishes – What to eat in Spain
If you’ve never tried Pulpo à Galega, drop everything, get in a car, and head to Galicia right now. All octopus lovers will notice the Spanish make the best octopus ever.
Pulpo à Galega or pulpo à feira is a super simple recipe, not at all pretentious – it only uses octopus cooked with salt, paprika, and olive oil. It is cut into 1 cm slices, served on a wooden plate, placed on toothpicks, and eaten as a snack.
It is called pulpo à feira because it is typically sold at fairs, pilgrimages, and festivals. In these fairs, it’s like street food; several stalls cook octopus, have some tables in front, and then you can eat some of the best octopus you’ll ever try. It is one of the best experiences to have in Spain.
An exclusive festival that celebrates this delicacy, the Fiesta del Pulpo de O Carballiño, takes place every year and elects the best pulpeiro in Galicia.
Squids à la Romana
Apart from Paella, Calamares à la Romana is perhaps the most popular dish in Spain as practically every foreigner who goes to Spain eats Calamares. Calamares a la Romana are strips or rings of squid coated in flour (sometimes also egg) fried in hot oil and served with slices of lemon.
They can be eaten as a tapa, but they are often a main meal accompanied by french fries. Calamares are also called calamares à la Andaluza; you can find them all over Spain.
Fideuà is an original dish from Gandia in the Valencian Community. It is a dish very similar to paella, it is made in the same frying pan as paella – the paellera. It also contains saffron, but it is made with fideos – a thin vermicelli-like pasta.
Furthermore, it is only made from fish and shellfish, and paella is made with various ingredients. The fideuà takes different types of fish, prawns, and squid. It’s very good. The thin pasta goes well with fish and shellfish.
Although this dish can be eaten all over Spain, we recommend that you eat it in its place of origin, Valencia. Besides, they have good fish and seafood.
Gambas al Ajillo
Gambas al Ajillo is one of the most appreciated dishes by Spaniards and basically everyone else too. It’s a simple dish that only uses peeled prawns, garlic, and olive oil.
It is made with prawns sautéed in garlic in olive oil, you can add paprika or chili and serve. Accompanied by bread, dipping in the sauce is addictive. As simple as that.
Despite being a dish originally from Madrid, you can find it all over Spain, and it is a frequent tapa.
If you like seafood, Galicia is the place to go, they specialize in seafood, one of the best seafood in the world.
The ideal area to eat shellfish is the Rías Baixas that make up the Rías de Vigo, Pontevedra, Arousa, and Muros-Noia. There are several seafood restaurants with many options and fresh seafood from the area. Bear in mind that the best time for seafood is in October, but they are available all year round.
In O Grove, several cruises allow you to visit the mussel farms and serve mussels and other seafood on the boat. It’s quite an exciting experience, particularly for foody nerds (like us).
A Mariscada Gallega can include clams, mussels, oysters, crabs, crayfish, scallops, prawns, barnacles, and even lobsters. It depends on your taste and budget.
Best Desserts in Spain
Turrón de Alicante
Turrón de Alicante is a very famous Spanish sweet, at least in Portugal, and it is delicious. It is made with honey, egg whites, and roasted almonds. Almonds are the main ingredient as the turrons have to be at least 46% almond.
Turrón de Alicante is a sweet with the Protected Designation of Origin of Alicante. And in Spain, this sweet is traditional, especially at Christmas. It is sold in bars like chocolate, and it keeps for a long time. So they are also one of the best souvenirs to buy in Spain.
It is crunchy and creamy simultaneously, melts in your mouth, and tastes so good due to the roasted sweet almonds. Despite being from the Alicante region, you can find them all over Spain, in souvenir shops or even supermarkets.
It’s a good memory of Spain. There are also many variations of this sweet, harder, softer, with more or less almonds and even with other ingredients.
Torta de Santiago
Pie de Santiago (Torta de Santiago) is a traditional cake from Galicia, specifically Santiago de Compostela, and one of the city’s symbols.
Traditionally, it is a cake made with almonds – it has to contain at least 33% – sugar, eggs, cinnamon and lemon zest. It is a round pie that, after cooking, is sprinkled with sugar and powder, leaving the shape of the cross of the order of Santiago in the center.
It is a delicious, moist, spongy, and slightly grainy cake with an intense almond flavor. It is ideal for those who are gluten and lactose-intolerant. However, there is a variation of this pie that has a shortcrust pastry base.
The best place to buy this delicacy is in Santiago de Compostela, but you can find it all over Galicia. It is especially typical in July and August, as the day of the Apostle of Santiago is celebrated on the 25th of July.
Crema Catalana is a traditional dessert from Catalonia. It’s the Spanish version of France’s crème brûle or Portugal’s “leite-creme”.
It is made with egg yolk, milk, sugar, wheat or corn flour, cinnamon sticks, and lemon zest. In the end, it is sprinkled with sugar and burned, getting a crispy crust. The creamy egg contrasts with the crunchy burnt sugar, making it a mouthful of flavor and textures.
You can find this dessert in almost every restaurant in Spain, especially in Catalonia. It is traditional to eat on San José Day, March 19th.
Arroz con Lecha (Rice with milk)
Arroz con leche is a typical Asturian dessert. It is very similar to Portuguese rice pudding; what varies are the flavorings used. It is made with rice, milk, sugar, lemon, or orange peel and flavored with spices such as anise, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger.
This recipe varies a lot. Each house/restaurant has its version. We had it in a restaurant in Asturias that served one with an intense Anis flavor, and it was very good. But it depends a lot on the restaurant chef’s recipe. There are versions where, in the end, it is sprinkled with sugar and burned – similar to Crema Catalana mentioned above.
You can find this dessert in restaurants all over Spain, especially in Asturias.
Polvorones are traditional Spanish cookies eaten especially at Christmas. They are biscuits made with toasted flour, lard, powdered sugar, toasted and sliced almonds.
They are delicious biscuits, very brittle but crumbling into powder. The word itself in polvorones means powder. They melt in the mouth; anyone who likes almonds will love this sweet.
In addition to being good, they are very beautiful, wrapped in tracing paper, and look like sweets. You can find them all over Spain, especially in Natal and Andalusia. Another nice souvenir to take with you.
Spain’s famous drinks
Sangria is Spain’s most famous drink, or at least the most popular. It is a drink made with red wine, pieces of fruit, and sugar. It can be carbonated, but not always. It is typical of Portugal and Spain and is found everywhere, especially in summer.
There are variations of sangria, it can also be made with white wine, cider, or sparkling wines. You can add spices like cinnamon sticks and fresh herbs like mint. You can use various fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, bananas…
It is refreshing, tastes like summer, and is ideal to have it on a terrace and share it with good company.
Sidra is a traditional alcoholic drink from Asturias and the Basque Country. It is made with fermented apple or pear juice. It is a non-carbonated natural drink with an alcohol content of between 4 and 6 percent by volume.
The cider is sold in cider shops that, in addition to being a bar, are also restaurants. The cider is served in a large glass. The waiter holds the bottle above his head and drops the cider into the faraway glass. This causes a little foam from the carbonation, it’s called scanning.
The cup should not be filled too much at a time. Nowadays, some devices are placed on top of the bottles, causing this scanning effect.
Going to a sidreria in Asturias is an experience in itself, which is why we highly recommend it.
- cover photo of lunamarina via Depositphotos
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