The thing I miss most when I’m away from Spain is the whole food culture. Not just the food itself but also the whole assortment of tapas bars and restaurants that are tucked away on sidestreets all over the country. Wherever you are in Spain you’re rarely far from a good meal. The beauty of Spanish food lies in the use of fresh ingredients rather than fancy sauces. Freshness and simple cooking techniques help create tasty and varied cuisine throughout this diverse nation.
Spanish people love their food and they’ll swear to you that Spanish food is the best on the planet and nothing else compares. They rave about ‘migas’ (deep fried breadcrumbs) and ‘callos’ (tripe). They suck the brains out of prawns “because that’s the best part” and they scrape the ‘socarrat’ from the bottom of the paella dish as their favourite part of their nation’s flagship dish. So what’s the story on Spanish food?
As much as I love Spanish food I don’t subscribe to the ‘best cuisine in the world’ theory as there are a lot of very basic, deep-fried dishes on offer in Spain especially in proximity to tourist resorts. When I moved south from Madrid a friend whose wife is from León in the north asked me what we eat in Andalucia having visited the region and struggled to find much of quality. At the time his question surprised me but I soon understood where he was coming from. There are good restaurants throughout Spain including Andalucia but (in my opinion) they’re less common in the south than elsewhere.
In Madrid and north the quality and selection of food is way superior to the south. Quality restaurants abound in Barcelona and Valencia now attracts a lot of tourists and a large number of new restaurants have appeared to satisfy the tastes of the new arrivals. But it’s to the north I’d like to suggest you go if you want the best of Spanish cuisine.
San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than any other city in Europe and neighbouring Bilbao has some top notch restaurants. Located on the Atlantic coast with the fertile mountains inland there is no shortage of fresh ingredients from which young innovative chefs produce the finest quality fish and meat dishes.
My personal favourite places for Spanish food are in Galicia and Asturias in the very north west of the peninsula.’Pulpo a la Gallega’ (boiled octopus served with boiled potatoes and seasoned with olive oil and paprika) is one of my favourite dishes and is common all along the Galician coast. ‘Lacon con Grelos’ (pork shoulder with turnip heads) is another one to look out for. And in Ribadesella on the Asturian coast as well as in the villages of the Picos de Europa their ‘Fabada’ (hearty bean stew) and beef dishes are to die for.
Madrid has plenty to offer the gourmet diner thanks to the high quality meat from the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama and the lorry loads of fresh fish arriving every morning from Galicia. Such is the demand for fish that Madrid has the world’s second largest fish market after Tokyo. A day excursion to Segovia is a great idea if you like roast lamb or roast suckling pig as it’s the speciality of this Roman town. Alternatively, just stay in Madrid and visit Botin’s Restaurant for the same dishes in what is documented as being the world’s oldest restaurant.
Regional Food Specialities
Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions with each region priding itself on its local food dishes. Here are some of my favourite dishes from these regions:
Fried fish tapas in the bars of Malaga and ‘Salmorejo’ (thick tomato based dip) from Cordoba.
‘Cordero al Chilindrón’ (lamb cooked with red peppers) in the mountain villages of the Pyrenees.
A delicious ‘Fabada’ (bean and sausage stew) in a village bar in the Picos de Europa.
‘Frito Mallorquin’ in local bars and restaurants all over Mallorca.
Eating ‘Pintxos’ (Basque tapas) off the bars in the ‘Parte Vieja’ of San Sebastian.
‘Papas Arrugadas con Mojo Picón’ (potatoes with a spicy sauce) in restaurants all over the Canaries.
‘Merluza Rellena’ (stuffed hake) in one of Santander’s excellent fish restautrants.
Castilla La Mancha:
I simply enjoy stopping off at a bar to order local Manchego cheese with a glass of Valdepeñas red wine
Castilla y Léon:
This is the largest of Spain’s regions where meat is king. I just can’t get enough of their ‘Cordero Asado’ (roast lamb) and the ‘Cochinillo Asado’ (roast suckling pig).
In Barcelona I like to head over to Barceloneta for a paella in one of the old restaurants there or find a place offering ‘Mar i Muntanya’ dishes which combine seafood and meat.
Whilst a hearty ‘Cocido Extremeño’ stew is superb on a cold winter’s day it is the ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’ that I look out for on trips through the region as it is Spain’s best cured ham from acorn fed pigs.
Wandering the tapas bars of A Coruña is heaven on earth for seafood lovers. ‘Pulpo a la Gallega’ is my personal favourite.
I love ‘Patatas a la Riojana’ (potatoes and chorizo) in this wine growing region. There are loads of variations of the dish in the tapas bars of Logroño which offers one of the best tapas crawls in the country.
My favourite breakfast worldwide is ‘Tortilla de Patatas’ in Madrid. In the evening I like to wander around the wonderful tapas bars of Huertas.
I’ve had little experience on Murcian cuisine but do recall a nice ‘Arroz Caldero’ overlooking Mar Menor.
There are countless Pyrenean villages serving up superb lamb and beef based stews. In contrast ‘Trucha a la Navarra’ is local trout baked with serrano ham wrapped around it.
This is the home of ‘Paella’ in its many forms. Another similar dish that I really enjoy is ‘Fideuà’ which is a similar idea but is based on noodles rather than rice.
The thought of all this food has started my stomach rumbling so let me leave you with a link to our ever growing list of Spanish recipes.
And if you’re interested in getting hold of an excellent Spanish recipe book take a look at: