Spain in-depth: practical information

10 regional differences to understand Spanish diet

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

10 Top regional differences to best understand the Spanish diet

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.

Galician gastronomy

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!

Pulpo a Feira (octopus)
Pulpo a Feira (octopus)

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!

Fideua from Valencia with monk fish
Fideua from Valencia with monk fish

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.

Catalan cuisine

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 catalan restaurants in Barcelona too 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) 

Escalicada dish
Escalicada dish

Andalusia famous dishes

Andalusia, in 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.

The ajoblanco is served with white grapes
Ajoblanco served with white grapes

Madrid dishes

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”

Cocido is the typical stew from Madrid
Cocido madrileño without the soup.

Canarian dishes

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. 

Gofio from Canary islands
Gofio from Canary islands

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. 

A tray with cocas in a market in Mallorca