When people commonly refer to the Spanish diet, the image typically portraited is that of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil, grains, vegetables, fruit, fish… The FAO recognises that the Spanish recommended nutrion pyramid matches very closely the Mediterranean diet. But this is a recommendation from authorities and not what reality looks like today.
Food consumption in Spain has changed considerably in the last four decades (you can read this report to get more details if intersted on nutrition topics) , and with the expansion of fast food and already-made dishes, locals may not always enjoy the idealic diet we all may have in our minds.
Despite what we just mentioned, live-expectation in Spain is amongst the highest in the world, and everyday meals make use of lots of vegetables. We cannot, however, refer to just one single Spanish diet since there are many regional differences. In this article, we are going to cover those and highlight some of Spain´s most well-known local dishes.
A dish is really local when, if asked about it in other regions, people can connect without a doubt the name of the dish with the province or city This is for sure the case of many dishes in Spain. Paella is from Valencia, Salmorejo from Cordoba, Fabada from Asturias, Excalivada from Catalonia. The list goes on and on.
Here is our list of the top 10 things Spain is known for across the globe, we hope you enjoy it!
Table of Contents
Tapas, pintxos and pinchos
What started as a solution to keep flies out of drinks (namely wine) has become a national icon. A small slice of bread (namely a tapa) was used to tapar (cover) a glass of wine. This is the story behind the name tapas, which from a basic piece of bread and something on top of it have been transformed into a type of food and a fantastic informal way to sample high-quality ingredients and dishes, eat adventurously and in an affordable way.
Some important things to bear in mind: do not get intimidated by a crowd at the bar. On the contrary, when you search for tapas bars or restaurants the first thing you do is to look for people: high turn-over implies you will not get dried-out food. Some bars offer raciones (dinner plate-sized) but also medias raciones smaller tapas (saucer-sized). The good thing about the small versions is you can try more things.Prices may vary if you stand or enjoy a table. This especially applies to the terraces. Tapas are also referred to as pintxos (in Basque country) or pinchos. Tapas are not all the same in each region, they normally resemble regional gastronomy but are adapted to the tapas size. And tapas are not the same everywhere. You will find during many trips informal bars that simply serve olives, or bars that take tapa as a serious thing, almost some sort of culinary art. Most mid to large cities in Spain have a district famous for tapas. In this article, you will find Spain´s top tapas districts, a great guide to ensure you get to visit these areas during your stay at these cities.
Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Galician region means field of stars. This city is the end of El Camino and has been a crossroad for centuries. This has its implications in the use of food. Although it is relatively easy to identify dishes that are typical from Galicia since its gastronomy is profoundly shaped by nature, mainly the “Rias” in the coastline, a perfect home for seafood.
Anybody in Spain will first associate Galicia with seafood. Top quality, reasonable prices (at least till recently) and a perfect match to local albariño wines.
But if we thing of a dish, a truly typical dish pulpo a feira or.octopus will come top of mind (despite is is a typical dish nearly everywhere in Galicia, Lugo is meant to be the best place to enjoy it). The second Galician dish is empanada (a pastry with a filling that can consist of scallops, tuna, cod, chorizo or tuna, to name but a few). The third top dish in Galician diet is Padron peppers (from the village of Padron in Galicia). These peppers are very famous in Spain and nearly everybody knows the saying “Pimientos del Padrón, unos pican y otros no”… This means some peppers in a dish may be very spicy. This was the case some years ago, but today it is very difficult to enjoy that spicy surprise in your mouth since producers have tried hard to remove them for years.
We will end our short list with the famous Santiago cake, an almond cake which is sometimes served with a bit of alcohol on top. Simply delicious!
Basque country – Spain's gastronomy heaven
Ask any Spaniard about the place to enjoy the best food in the country and their answers will coincide.
Their first response would probably be at their Mum´s but then, right after and top on nearly all answers the Basque country will show.
People in the basque country are really proud about their food and dedicate lots of time to finding the best products, visit the market, local gastronomy associations, etc.
Bizkaia (the region where Bilbao sits) is very famous in Spain for cod recipes. Bacalao (cod) is prepared here in different styles. Bacalao al pil pil is a very simple recipe in which cod and oil go hand in hand. Bacalao Bizkaina makes use of tomato and pepper. Marmitako is also a very famous dish. It used to be cooked by sailors while fishing in the sea. Tuna and potatoes are its main ingredients. Pisto Bilnbao style is a ratatouille that includes ham and egg. Gernika beans is also one of the most typical dishes. A very filling dish!
San Sebastian is home to many Michelin starred restaurants and is meant to be Spain´s gastronomy capital. Besides fine dining, you will be able to find lots of bars that specialize in pintxos. Pintxos are the way locals in the Basque country refer to Tapas. A pintxo is a stick from where you will grab the pintxo, and on many bars you will still today show the number of sticks you have to pay the bill.
Probably the best advertising for Catalan gastronomy is the Boqueria Market at the heart of La Rambla in Barcelona. Mediterranean in its nature and ingredients, has some typical dishes that make it stand out. Dishes like Escalivada or the Exqueisada de Bacalao make extensive use of vegetables (and cod in the second case). Other tradicional dishes include black rice, Esudella i carn d`olla (a stew served in winter time), botifarra sausage, anec amb perez (duck with pears) or cargols. Catalan wines have evolved enormously in recent years and from traditional cava many more wine regions have appeared. Priorat is best for red wines. Despite we believe the best of Catalan gastronomy is to be found in rural area, you will be able to enjoy top local restaurants and also discover local food at some of the food markets in Barcelona (La Boqueria is the most famous one, but there are other fantastic food markets in Barcelona worth visiting, less touristic and where more locals enjoy their daily shopping)
Valencia and its gastronomy
Valencia´s most famous dish is also probably the best well-known Spanish dish too.
Yes, we refer to Paella, a rice-based dish which can be cooked in many different shapes. Whilst locals from Valencia do not call their traditional dish a paella, most other people do.
Paella is meant to be the pan used to cook it. The dish is “arroz”. Valencians cook their Arroz with either meat or fish, vegetables, snails or anything they have at hand. If we refer to a meat paella ingredients will be: chicken, rabbit, pork ribs and sometimes snails. Vegetables are always added: tomatoes, paprika, rosemary, saffron, garlic and beans (a local bean called garrafón) or sometimes artichoke.
A fish or seafood paella would contain normally monkfish, mussels and schrimps. There are many variations to local paella and despite the so called “mixed paella” is the type of paella most frequently found at restaurants in Spain (outside of Valencia) or elsewhere, locals do prefer not to mix.
In any case, the most important things for a great paella are probably the broth and the quality of the rice itself. This dish was born as a Phoenician soup which explains why the broth is key to ensure the rice will get all of its flavour! If you visit Valencia we recommend you have a look at these restaurants that specialise in paella in Valencia.
There are many other interesting dishes in Valencia and they are part of the daily diet of locals.
Arroz amb costra is a very special rice-dish. What set´s it appart is the egg used at the end of the process when the rice is put in the oven.
Fideau. This is a paella style of dish but cooked with noodles. Sailors run out of rice whilst in the sea and it seems they prepared a seafood paella with noodles… fideua was invented! Monkfish is normally used. You can find interesting information about the differences between paella and fideua in this article.
Olla valenciana is a bean and meat stew, very tasty and normally used in winter time.
Valencia is well-known in Spain for the quality of its vegetables, so we strongly recommend to try local grilled vegetables.
You should not leave Valencia without trying horchata, a very refreshing and natural drink. There are few experiences that define Valencia best than drinking horchata at a terrace. Enjoy it!
Andalusia famous dishes
Andaluscia the South of Spain, is a land of white villages and impressive cities like Seville, Cordoba or Granada.
Some of Spain´s top icons are located in Andalusia. Some of Spain´s top dishes come from Andalusia. Salmorejo, gazpacho, ajoblanco…
Andalusian diet, unlike the Spanish diet from other regions, is specially suited to high temperatures. Cold soups like gazpacho and fried fish define Andalusian gastronomy above any other dishes. Wines from Jerez de la Frontera are the most famous wines from Andalusia, but there are many others, like amontillados from Cordoba or the excellent wines from Malaga and its nearby sierra.
We start this list with salmorejo, a tomato soup made with olive oil, bread, ham and boiled egg toppings. Simply delicious. Salmorejo maybe less well-known than gazpacho, but it is equally tasty.
Gazpacho comes in many different local versions, with or without garnish, etc. It is Spain´s most famous summer starter, and it is easy to do, extremely healthy and unexpensive. Could anyone ask for more?
Flamenquinos are associated with Cordoba. These are battered pieces of ham (sometimes also pork) with cheese inside.
The Rabo de toro or bull tail is normally served as a stew. Regañas is the local shape bread takes here: dry, crispy and perfect with tapas. Last but not least we should mention the local wines of the Montilla Moriles DOC
Ajoblanco is one of Malaga´s most famous dishes. A cold and refreshing soup, ajoblanco may not be as famous as gazpacho but it is as tasty and healthy as its cousin. Ajoblanco is made with almonds and garlic. Small bit of melon and breadcrumbs are added to the dish. If you are in Malaga around September 2nd you will be able to taste ajoblanco in many different variations since this is the dedicated to ajoblanco in Malaga!
Porra Antequerana from the village of Antequera is also a cold soup. It is however thick and with tomatoes as its main ingredients. Unlike gazpacho, la Porra antequerana is usually served as a tapa rather than as a starter.
Espeto of Sardines is a fantastic way to taste healthy sardines. A traditional espeto implies to grill the sardines right after they have been taken from the sea. As a matter of fact, a espeto is tradionally roasted in the beach, with a burning firewood (though slowly cooked) .Meatballs in almond sauce. This is a typical tapa you will find at many bars and restaurants in Malaga.
Despite Madrid is a melting pot of Spanish cultures, and that you will be able to find restaurants that specialize in gastronomy from all regions of Spain, there are some dishes which are typical “Madrileños”. Some of these dishes can be tasted at the food markets in Madrid that offer not just food stands, but also stands that offer ready prepared dishes.
Cocido madrileno is Madrid´s best known dishes. A chickpea stew served in many different formats, this is a great option to enjoy in winter, specially at some of the restaurants that specliase in cocido.
Bocadillo de calamares is a cheap way to enjoy a simple lunch or dinner. A very simply dish it can be delicious if all ingredients (squid,oil and bread) are of excellent quality.
Callos a la madrileña: this is a beef tribe stew and many traditional restaurants are proud to serve “the best callos in Madrid”
Most visitors to the Canary islands miss enjoying local gastronomy. Why? Tourist resorts and all-inclusive hotels in the Canarian islands tend to offer “international menus” that please to most tastes.
The most popular dishes in the Canary Islands are papas arrugadas, mojo picon, and gofio Canario. But there are many more local specialties and Canarians are really keen on desserts. The islands were isolated for centuries and with not much diversity in raw ingredients. This brought imagination to their food.
Dishes from the Balearic islands
If there is one place in Spain that can describe its gastronomy as “Mediterranean” this is for sure the Balearic islands. Not only the islands are surrounded by the mediterranean sea, but they have also remained loyal to their origins and retained many dishes from local gastronomy. Some of the most famous dishes from Mallorca are very well known all over Spain (tourists that visit the islands gain a taste for these dishes and even bring some of them along!) Ensaimadas, cocas, sobrasadas are among the most famous local delights. Fish is great in the islands and there are many versions of local rice dishes, local cheese, sausages, etc. You can discover many more dishes from the Balearic islands in this article.
Famous Tapas Districts in Spain
The Old Part of Donostia – San Sebastián
First thing you need to know is that in San Sebastián tapas are called pintxos. The second thing you need to know San Sebastian is a gastronomic Mecca and features the highest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants in the world. The city’s old section “Casco Viejo” of the city and walking through streets such as Pescadería, 31 de Agosto or Fermín Calbeltón is the place to go.
Try as many pintxos as you can, from the classic Gilda (olive, chili, and anchovy) to the more creative offerings you encounter. You will not be disappointed.
As you stroll around this area, you will find many bars and restaurants that serve delightfully delicious pintxos.
The Old Quarter of Bilbao
The Basque country is the land of the pintxo. Although you can try them all over Bilbao, the tradition is to go to the Old Quarter and walk through streets such as Somerda, del Perro or Plaza Nueva, where pintxos of squid, mussels, mushrooms, cod or omelet, are served. There’s no limit to the imaginations of Basque chefs and the options here are practically endless. Be brave and try something new.
The Neighborhood of La Latina in Madrid
If you want to experience one of the most traditional neighborhoods of the city, this is a good place to start. Its streets, such as Cava Baja, Cava Alta or Humilladeros, near the famous Plaza Mayor, are home to some of the most historic taverns in Madrid and, especially on weekends, they are abuzz with people enjoying tapas.
The most typical being:patatas bravas, potato omelets, croquettes, olives, cured cheeses, and offal. These are commonly received as a free companion to a drink. You may be interested to know that when you walk through this neighborhood you will be treading through the first urban area of Madrid during the Middle Ages.
The Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona
This has become a very trendy street in the city. In the past, gastronomic offerings of tapas in Barcelona were always more common in Poble Sec or, more recently, in Sant Antoni.
Now Passeig de Sant Joan is where hip folks in the know flock to enjoy tapas. Tapas range from the most traditional (often modernized for today’s pallet) such as salads, bombs (breaded potatoes stuffed with meat) or small sandwiches to haute cuisine tapas influenced by the culinary genius and innovations of world-famous chef, Ferran Adrià.
Valladolid, a Tapas Route in its Center
The historic center of the city is a comfortable route to do on foot to savor the delicious tapas of Valladolid. Most of the restaurants are located around the Cathedral, between the squares of Portugalete, Universidad, San Martín, and Martí and Monsó. The importance of tapas in the city is such that every November it hosts the National Tapas Contest in which various chefs with Michelin Stars choose the best tapas in Spain. Here you can try some of the tastiest entries recognized by this award, such as the “Lechazo Taj Mahal” (in Don Bacalao, Plaza de las Brigidas), the “Bocata de calamari wrapped in obulato” and the “Tigretostón” (in Los Zagales, Pasión street ).
The Historic Center of Seville
Tapas are one of the hallmarks of the capital of Andalusia and you can find them during your breaks en route through its main monuments.
Among the essentials: gazpacho and “aliñás potatoes” (recommended especially in summer), flamenco eggs (so-called for their color and for being very typical of Seville), “rabo de toro” a savory oxtail stew,” Carrillada Ibérica” Iberian pork cheek), “pringá” a spectacular braised meat concoction that is eaten with the fingers using bread in lieu of cutlery, and marinated fish.
Granada, a City of Tapas
The city of the Alhambra is, for many, one of the best places in Spain to go for tapas. They are commonly served free with your drink. Fried fish, Moorish skewers “pinchitos morunos”, sausage montaditos, and patatas bravas or aioli are typical.
You can enjoy tapas all over Granada but, because it draws so many tourists, some of the best tapas are found around the Granada Cathedral. Look along streets such as Navas, San Mateo or Elvira and the Nueva and Campillo squares.
The Húmedo Neighborhood of León
Did you know that the beautiful city of León is the city in Spain with the most bars per inhabitant? This is probably due to the fame of its tapas and the Húmedo neighborhood, the main area in which to enjoy them. As in other places in Spain, they mostly serve them free with a drink.
Húmedo is very close to essential tourist spots such as the Cathedral of León or Casa Botines (designed by Gaudí). So a great idea is to make small stops between tourist visits to taste the most classic tapas offered.
The Ruzafa Neighborhood in Valencia
This is one of the trendiest areas of the city and one of the most frequented to go for tapas hopping! Locals abound between Burriana, Ciscar, and Cádiz streets. In Valencia, seafood tapas are typical, such as grilled cuttlefish, pickled anchovies, cod croquettes, clams, and mussels, or different types of salted fish, of course.
Small portions of rice dishes such as the traditional paella are popular. In the area, you will also find several signature cuisine restaurants.
El Tubo of Zaragoza
They are small narrow streets full of bars known for serving delicious tapas of croquettes, anchovies, migas (bread crumbs with chorizo), mushrooms, and dumplings. Glance at the plates displayed in each establishment and decide what you’d like to try. This area of Estébanes and Libertad streets and its surroundings is very popular during lunch hours, but is especially busy at night. The Spanish custom is to make a route through various places to taste a varied selection of tapas.
There is always a festive atmosphere in the neighborhood. In Zaragoza, there is another very popular area to go for tapas: La Magdalena (around Estudios Street). On Thursdays the bars run promotions to taste tapas. Take advantage of this offer if you can.
Laurel Street in Logroño
A street with more than 60 bars or restaurants where you can savor the gastronomic delights of La Rioja. On Calle Laurel, you will find a bar every two meters and you can taste typical products such as asparagus, borage or peppers and rich preparations such as potatoes a la Riojana or chops al Sarmiento. Of course, you should have a glass or two of world-famous Rioja wine to complement your tapas. In addition to this street in Logroño, you will find bars with tapas on Albornoz, San Agustín, and Travesía de Laurel.
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor and its surroundings
A university city filled with must-see monuments. It’s almost impossible to think that going out for tapas is not a tradition in this bustling city. There are plenty of places where the tapa accompanies a drink for free or with a set price. You should check out the taverns of the Plaza Mayor and its surroundings with streets such as Prior, Consuelo, Concejo or Plaza del Peso.
You will be able to savor all kinds of tapas, but among the most characteristic you will find the hornazo(a bun usually stuffed with ham, chorizo and pork loin), black pudding and chorizo, Moorish skewers, tripe casseroles, battered pork snout, chanfaina (meat stew and lamb offal), and pigeons (salad on a crunchy wheat base).
More articles to understand Spain´s culture
The current flag of Spain features two red stripes, one wider yellow stripe in between, and the Spanish crest is featured, slightly offset to the left. But the flag of pain has suffered many transformations over the centuries, as the governing powers changed hands. In this article, we go over all of the changes the flag has experienced and why. … Read More
The Canary islands are a group of islands Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, west of the coast of Morocco. The islands enjoy a stable, warm weather all year round and boast diverse natural areas and excellent beaches which have contributed to the development of tourism. Its history is surrounded by mysteries, theories and fantastic myths and stories. … Read More