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:
“Rick Stein’s Spain: 140 New Recipes Inspired by My Journey Off the Beaten Track“.
11 thoughts on “Spanish Food – What to Eat in Spain”
Have to agree with you over the Balearics, Frito has to be one of my favourite dishes. Also, on the islands I enjoy Sopa Mallorquin,
When in Sevilla recently, I found a bar (Casa Manolol) in Triana which did the most amazing Cola de Toro. And also tried and enjoyed Sesos and Menudo de Ternero, both were great and might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Yep, the food is great,healthy and varied. One of the dished served to me by Spanish friends in Andalusia was … Cuban rice. Served at lunch, simple but delicious … deep fried eggs in olive oil, on a bed of rice with a rich tomato sauce and topped off with fried bananas … sounds weird but today I still love fried eggs on rice with tomato sauce … real comfort food.
I came to love Spain and Spanish food during my junior year abroad–more than a few years back–and still do. At that time, my favorite dish was the Rinones al Jerez that were found at a small tapas bar on San Bernardo. Who could imagine that I would love kidneys cooked in sherry! I’ve gone back many times since then and still love the traditional foods. One year we found a great paella with bogavante on top when we were on our way to Santiago de Compostela. At other visits we’ve enjoyed Cocido Madrileño in a place just outside the walls of Avila. And more recently, we’ve dined on “modern” style cuisine at the restaurant at Salones Miravalle near El Escorial. We’ll be heading back soon and are sure that there will be many more wonderful meals awaiting us.
Thanks Dianne for these mouthwatering comments. Fortunately the best of Spanish food, all the traditional regional dishes are still there if you want them. Just ignore the dreadful fast food joints and you’ll have a great time where food is concerned.
I LOVE the old favorite Crouquetes with Jamon–you can find them pretty much all over Spain. They are much better then our American cheese sticks!
In February we went to Malaga for a few days, and I tried the best homemade burger ever. An oxtail burger at Restaurant Manzanilla is to die for and it proves that all burgers are not junk food.Well worth trying.
We’re just back from an April trip to Spain and getting ready to invite friends to a tapas
evening. Thanks for this nice set of recipes! One of my favorite dishes of the trip
was served in a café across the Roman Bridge from the Cordoba Mezquita. I expected the
salmorejo to be soup-like as that was what Granada and Seville cafes had served.
But this was thick, served on a flat plate with deep-fried eggplant sticks surrounding
Love Spanish food especially Sopa de Mariscos. Best I ever tasted at Las Chinas Frigiliana. Lovely food at El Descorche in Torrox Costa. Brilliant singer of traditional Andalucian songs on Sunday evenings but I love the range of foreign foods like the Danish cuisine at Restaurante Bravo in Algorrobo. Like the Dulce wine of Torrox and Frigiliana rather like Beaumes de Venise at a fraction of the price Thank you for Articles always interesting.
We live in Murcia and where I agree with you’re comments re the nice food in the North….there is also good food to be found here in Murcia….and at a great price!
If you keep away from the greasy tourist traps of the coast and head inland about 30 km you can find loads of places dishing out menu del Dias for a fraction of the price of UK restaurants ….ok so it’s not Michelin stuff but it’s always cheap, simple and tasty.
One place we go to weekly is El Tumar in Totana….a tuna salad, starter, main meal, pudding, a bottle of wine and a coffee for €9 a head….can’t go wrong and although it doesn’t change the menu is always delicious ….
…..and there are similar places all over Spain….restaurants are obliged to provide a menu del dia every day Mon-fri and provide newspapers or news tv channels to watch when eating….a legacy from the Franco days….
….these meals are mostly intended for workers….hearty, filling, affordable meals. So they include traditional, filling recipes designed to support the working man! So they are hearty, flavoursome stews etc based on local produce.
….experiment and try different things….you may not like them all but at this price you can’t go wrong….and in the process realise that Spain, although not in the same league as its famous neighbours, does have a special cuisine of its own which is delicious ..
I too am a big fan of the Menú del Día … great value & with local specialities often included.
All the Best
I have had a holiday home in Torrevieja for about 12 years now. I just love the Spanish food especially tapas. I always visit a little restaurant in the harbour in Torrevieja called La Marina Bar. I believe its one of the oldest in the city and survived the earthquake that brought the city to the ground. Usually we have a fish basket when we go there but on our last visit we decided on tapas. Great decision. I also love the black sausage. Freshly made Paella and many others. Love this very social way of eating. When we return to the UK we are always seeking out restaurants in the city (B’ham) that serve authentic Spanish dishes
Comments are closed.