If you are deeply interested in the huge food and wine scene in Spain, we recommend you look for specialised guides on the subject.
Gourmetour was possibly the best food guide to Spain you will find.
elvino.com has a comprehensive insight into Spanish wines.
In our section about regions you will find a description of the typical dishes from the described provinces. Below we will provide an overview of the food highlights of the country.
Spanish food is one of the most well known and highly admired foods in the world. Quality, variety and an inmense number of dishes lay at the core of the culinary tradition of the country. With its Arab influence in fruits and vegetables, the olive oil or desserts produced in the South or with the long tradition of fishing, this land is an inmense source of quality raw material for cooking. The different climate zones and ways of life within its geography make food very diverse. But in many ocassions the reputation in food comes from the masterly craftsmanship of professionals that have reinvented —with passionate creativity— many traditional dishes making them more suitable for modern life. Today Spanish food is still on the rise and ranks among the most interesting to explore within the international food scene.
Eating time is an important moment in the daily life of the country. The richness of the local gastronomy and the deep rooted culture of the 'dish-and-mantelpiece' (referreing to eating properly by sitting at a table) make it fairly easy to find places where to have a great eating experience, both in cities or at country side. From home-made foods to the renowned 'Five Fork" restaurants (maximum category for restaurants), everyone can find a close to optimum value within their preferences and budget frame. Eating hours are approximately delayed one or one and a half hours from the European average, though due to long opening hours one can choose to use a different eating timetable than the local one.
The menu or price list is many times displayed at the entrance of restaurants and often includes a 'Menú del día' (menu-of-the-day) which normally has a cheaper price. Service is included in the bill, being the norm -though not compulsory- to leave a 5-10% tip depending on how good the service was. Most restaurants are closed one day a week (usually Sunday or Monday) though there are several places with a continued timetabe that will allow you to eat in them at any given time and day of the week.
NORTH OF SPAIN
Coastal areas provide different kinds of fish and seafood, some of which is considerd to be the best in the world. Real gourmet seafood and fish are 'percebes' (goose barnacles), 'berberechos' and 'almejas' (in the shell fish category) specially in the region of Galicia. In the Basque Country it's the 'Bonito del Norte' (literally 'Beauty of the North', a special tuna kind), the 'centollo' (something between a crab and a lobster) or anchovies that are considered a must. The cold and humid climate in winter is the source of powerful dishes like the 'pote galego' (stew), the 'fabada asturiana' (white beans and chorizo based stew), 'fabes con almejas' (white beans with shell-fish), cocido montañés (mountain stew) or the 'bacalao ajoarriero' (cod in Basque traditional recipee). To go with it there are some excellent white wines like 'Ribeiro' and 'Albariño' in Galicia, 'sidra' (cider) in Asturias and 'Txacolí', in the Basque Country.
The north provides a rich food variety both in fish and meat. The Basque Country produces a rich seasonal food based on the traditional family cooking places, with dishes such as 'Marmitako' (potatoes with tuna) or the 'Txangurro' (shell-fish with a kind of big crab). Asturias also provides a large variety of foods of which white beans and curated pork products are at its core. Not to forget in Asturias their traditional 'Cabrales' cheese with cider. Cantabria has a reputation for quality beef, anchovies and milk products. Worth mentioning are also Galicia's 'pote' and 'caldeiradas' (stews), pulpo (octopuss), milk products and bakery products.
In general terms it can be said all along the north of Spain you will find simple and natural but powerful food. The inner regions of the north with their fertile valleys, enable the completion of the list of rich produtcs: asparagus, peppers, peaches, pears and many other vegetables and fruits reach their highest quality in these regions. Potatoes, salads, beans, peas, pulses and the like are the basis for many dishes that can be served with trouts, or meats, for example. Almost in every ocassion there is the possibility of trying their milk products, like cheeses, cuajada (a type of very firm yoghourt) or fresh fruits. Their long tradition of bread rounds up the picture of this much apreciated gastronomy.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Mediterranean diet enjoys great prestige at both a national and international level. Its traditional recipes are prepared using natural ingredients such as oil, vegetables, spices, fruit, rice, fresh meat or fish. The incredible variety of rice dishes and desserts is outstanding. All this without forgetting the great variety of fruit which the mediterranean coast produces in abundance. Its traditional soft drinks have also become well-known, such as 'horchata de chufa' (tiger nut milk). Its long wine-growing tradition has given rise to a delicious range of wines with their 'Denominación de Origen' (official quality certification) which —when added to the local foods— comprise some of the most exquisite recipes. Some of the most famous tadicional dishes have to do with rice such as the paella, 'arroz negro' (rice with squid's ink) or the 'arroz caldoso' (rice in soup). Bakery has a remarkable influence from the Arabs. All along the coast of the Mediterranean Spain as well as in the Balearic Islands, you will be able to taste what has been considered one of the healthiest and richest existing diets.
CATALUÑA / CATALUNYA
Catalonian food is the maximum expression of culinary character in Spain today. Since the middle ages Catalonia has had a very rich and refined cuisine, from the sea to the lower lands and to the mountains. Today its innovative cooking often looks back into its history for inspiration. The region has been influenced by various cultures over the centuries: the Greeks, Romans, the Italians in the eighteenth century and the French, have all left their mark on this complex cuisine. This region has absorbed the best of each culture and created a culinary package which forms part of its popular wisdom.
By definition Catalonian cuisine belongs —with its very singular identity— in the Mediterranean cooking. It can be divided between the mountain-inland recipes, with meats, cheeses, curated products, farm products,... and the coastal recipes, full with fish, rice, noodles and potatoes. There is a thrid variety in city food, that remakes traditional foods and mixes them with innovative imports of international food.
- Escalivada (roast of vegetables)
- Pan tumaca, (popular snack of toast bread, garlic, brushed tomatoes and garlic)
- Butifarra con alubias (typical saussage with beans)
- Escudella i carn d'olla (catalonian stew)
- Arroz a la cazuela (rice stew)
- Arroz negro (Rice with squid's ink)
- Los canelones típicos de San Esteban
- Coca de recapte (sort of pizza with vegetables, sardines, etc.)
- Habas a la catalana (white beans)
- Níscalos asados (mushrooms)
- Guisantes rehogados (fried chickpeas)
- Fricandó con setas (mushroom dish)
- Albóndigas con sepia (meatballs with squid)
- Caracoles a la llauna (cooked snails)
- Manitas de cerdo (porks 'hands')
- Bacalao con pisto (cod with vegetable tomato gravy)
- Sardinas a la brasa (grilled sardines)
- Zarzuela de pescados (fish mix)
- Suquet (fish stew with potatoes)
- Pato con peras (duck with pears)
- Conejo con allioli (rabbit with garlic mayonnaise)
- Crema catalana quemada (typical catalonian cream dessert)
- Coca de chicharrones
Catalonia alone has been awarded several Denominations of Origin (official quality certification that distiguishes a kind of wine, like Rioja, in central-northern Spain). They are all worth being tried: Priorat, Penedès, Terra Alta, Tarragona, Conca de Barberà, Costers del Segre, Empordà-Costa Brava, Alella, y Montsant among others. Sparkling wines are famous, and follow the "champenoise" method (the one used to produce champagne), In Catalonia champagne takes the name of "Cava". Worth mentioning are those from the area of Penedès (Sant Sadurní d'Anoia).
The 'meseta's' (plateau) cooking tradition is a direct result of the extreme climate conditions that require big and continued effort from inhabitants in their daily working life. Castilla and Leon's peoples put pulses at the heart of their food traditions though the 'Matanza del cerdo' (killing of the pig) —of which the 'cerdo ibérico' (Iberian pork) variety, fed with chesnuts and acorns is the most tasty and appreciated— is central to many typical products like the 'botillo de León', 'morcilla burgalesa' (bloodpudding from Burgos) or the 'cantimpalo segoviano'. Young goat, sheep and pork (or sucklings) belong in the famous 'asados' (roasts) but not more than cod or trout viands, helped by portions of cow's, goat's and sheep's cheeses. Arab tradition dominates in bakery as in most od the Iberian peninsula. Extremadura region shares many of this products and produces the some of the finest iberico pork and cheese products in Spain. Its that sort of foods reminiscent of that described in "Don Quixote", produced with the use of safron, honey, and 'manchego' cheese (a popular goat cheese). With slight changes from one province to the next over central Spain one would find these food tradition in most food, also including gazpacho or some imported recipees at times and mixing mountain traditional foods with exquisit arab cakes and sweets. Like an island, Madrid is home to some special dishes like the 'cocido madrileño', cod or tripe among other curiosities.
Southern or Andalusian cuisine enjoys the richness of a mixture of cultures that lived there in the past and forged its gastronomy. In this region we find orchard and riverside products together with traditions of sheperd/winter stews combined with the Mediterranean diet of the coast. One will also find delicious bakery, a legacy of the many centuries of Arab culture. There is a rich repertoire of pork recipees and curated products. Gazpacho and soups or deep-fried fish are just some of the must-try elements of southern food. The Canary Islands have a very particular tradition involving cereals, tropical products like their famous 'mojos' (sauces with balck peper and coriander).
Wine is an essential element in every single regional food in Spain. The romans brought the art of viticulture that has made of Spain one of the largest producers of wine, with a strong reputation of quality (today subject to strict controls) and with more than 60 different production areas. Among them we will mention Rioja wines with qualities that have deserved worlwide recognition. Other outstanding wines are those of the 'Ribera del Duero', 'Penedés' and 'La Mancha', that have been upgraded in the last years due to the good quality of their products. Sherry wine is also an Andalusian wine internationally acknowledged for its quality in its different forms (fino, manzanilla, amontillado, dulce and oloroso). "Cava" or Spanish champagne has its center of producton in the Catalonian region of Penedès although it has extended its area of influence to other areas in recent years. Beer is very popular in Spain, specially for the 'aperitivo' (typical snack-event outside eating hours that many times takes place in tapas bars one or two hours before lunch). Spanish beer is mild and is served very cold. Liquors or spirits abound too, being brandy a highlight among the many other 'aguardientes' (literally burning waters) one can find locally produced in most parts of the country. Popular ones are the 'queimada gallega', herbs or fruits liquors, 'anís' or 'pacharán'.