Today we are taking a gastronomic journey through Spain in 20 mouthwatering specialities. For those who want to experience the best that Spain has to offer, here are the 20 most famous dishes and foods from different autonomous regions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are so many amazing foods to try that Spain is an endless discovery for foodies and gourmands, with prime high quality ingredients and regional specialities.
(There is much, much more to Spain than Jamon. Please forgive me for leaving it off this list but I figured it was so well-known and well-recommended that I did not need to mention it.)
Warning: there are a lot of meat dishes and some of them may not be for the faint of heart!
1. Paella in Valencia
One of my personal favourites, this is a dish traditionally made with rabbit in Valencia but the most popular version is with seafood. A thin layer of rice cooking with stock creates something called “soccarat” which is the burnt crispy crust at the bottom of the rice. Considered a delicacy. I will be posting a recipe in the near future for you to replicate paella at home.
However, there are many other rice dishes that can’t technically be classified as paella but are cooked in the same paella pan in the same manner such as black rice with squid (arroz negro con chiperones), my personal favourite!
Remember don’t put chorizo in! British chef Jamie Oliver received death threat from serious Spaniards offended by this addition.
2. Cochinillo in Segovia
This is a succulent local dish of suckling pig baked to perfection with crispy crackling skin from Segovia is a must to try. Cooked in a clay oven over many hours this dish is a must-try in Segovia. Usually they cut it with a plate to show you how tender the meat is and how it falls away from the bone.
The piglets are fed only their mothers’ milk and are slaughtered at the age of 4 to 5 weeks before being transported to restaurants, they are then butterflied and rubbed with olive oil, garlic, salt and thyme. roasted in the fireonce for about an hour in a clay dish the roasted at a higher heat after it has cooled to brown and crisp the skin.
Ernest Hemingway wrote about Casa Botin’s cochinillo in The Sun Also Rises. The American writer loved the dish and had his very own table at the restaurant. So if you can’t make it to Segovia, drop into the world’s oldest restaurant El Sobrino de Botin, Calle Cuchilleros, 17, Madrid.
3. Lamb in Sepulveda
So a little off the beaten track is the small, sleepy town of Sepulveda just outside of Segovia is unmissable if you are looking for delicious and succulent roasted lamb. The road to Sepulveda is lined with fields of beautiful sunflowers and the town itself is a “living museum” of traditional 11th and 12th century streets and home to the site of the first Romanesque church constructed in the province, El Salvador Church, dating back to 1093.
This restaurant was recommended to us as unmissable, so much so that we took a detour off our road trip to stop off and try the lamb, cooked in large clay ovens. The waiters don’t take your orders as the only dish is lamb served with a generous loaf of bread, and a fresh and delicious tomato salad.
To finish off you can try the famous Ponche Segoviano, a super sweet cake made of pastry, almonds, custard and cream.
Figón Zute el Mayor Tinín, Calle Lope Tablada de Diego, 6, 40300 Sepúlveda
4. Cocido In Madrid
This is the most typical Madrileño dish, loved by Spanish people on the wintertime. It is a warm, hearty stew made with chickpeas, pork belly, chorizo and morcilla as well as some vegetables.
Though the origins are undetermined, many people believe this dish was an evolution of a sephardic dish called adafina, the first versions being kosher and not containing eggs or pork.
During the 15th and 16th century anti-semitism grew in Spain and Jews were forced to leave in an exodus or convert. The converted jews, Marranos, wanted to prove themselves as Christians and incorporated pork into their meals, this led to the introduction of lard, bacon and chorizo to be added to the cocido recipe.
During the growth of the city in the 19th and 20th centuries, its low cost and heartiness made it a firm favourite in Madrid. Some of the most popular restaurants serving cocido are Malacatin, Calle de la Ruda, 5 (www.malacatin.com) and La Bola, Calle Bola, 5.
5. Fabada in Asturias
Fabada is very similar to cocido and is my favourite among the two. The secret is down to the quality of the beans or “fabes“, they can cost up to 20 euros for a packet depending on the quality. Other ingredients include morcilla, chorizo, pork shoulder and saffron.
Some historians claim that fabada already existed in the 17th century, however there is no evidence to confirm this theory. Others say that it is similar to the French dish, Cassoulet from Languedoc, and entered Spain through French pilgrims that ventured aong the Camino de Santiago during the middle ages.
Whatever its origin, this tasty Asturian dish is one you must try if you make it to the North of Spain.
6. Pinchos in Basque Country
One thing you notice about the Basque country is the sheer quantity of pinchos in all the bars. Pincho which in basque means “spike” is the answer to Spain’s tapas. The small pieces of bread topped with delicious bitesized toppings and held together with a wooden cocktail stick evolved from the Spanish tradition of Tapas and reached the Basque Country in the 1930s, in San Sebastian.
Not content with ordinary tapas, bars created their dishes in miniature and displayed them along the bar, so that customers could help themselves. One of the best and legendary pincho bars we went to was called Bar Sport, Calbeton Kalea, 10, San Sebastian. They even had amazing txangurru which is a mouthwatering baked dish of shredded crabmeat cooked in the oven with a topping of cheese. Highly recommended!
7. Pescaito in Malaga
Now from Southern Spain, delicious fried fish called pescaito! Another dish said to have originated from 16th century Jews in Andalusia and Portugal, this was a favourite for late breakfast or lunch after synagogue services on Saturday mornings.
There is also a common belief that pescaito frito was inspiration for English fish and chips and brought to England by Sephardic Jews.
Various fish and seafood is coated in flour and deep fried in olive oil, sprinkled only in salt. Served hot and fresh with a squeeze of lemon, this delicious meal goes down well with a nice cold beer while taking in the salt smell of the sea along the Andalusian coast.
8. Prawns in Huelva
Whit prawns also known as ‘Gambas Blancas de Huelva’, this crustacean has a long and well developed body which is larger than the head. Captured on the Atlantic coast of Andalusia, in the Gulf of Cadiz, 95% the prawns are caught entirely by hand.
This delicious and flavourful prawn is highly prized. The most common way of eating them is simply cooked or char-grilled, sprinkled with coarse sea salt. It’s flavour is unbeatable.
9. Cecina in León
Leon has a few famous dishes but the most well known is Cecina, this is served at for free with your drink at various tapas bars in the old quarter. There are different types of cecina, from venison to beef to donkey and at various degrees of spiciness.
The first references to the Cecina de Leon in writing date back to the 4th century BC with instructions on its preparation process being much the same as nowadays. The Asturs, the first inhabitants of Northeast Spain prior to the arrival of the Roman Empire, were the first to cure the meat which came to be known as “Cecina de León.” The meat is salted and air dried and served in thin slices, best accompanied with a rich, red wine.
10. Tuna from Barbate, Cadiz
In early January 2012, Tokyo restaurateur Kiyoshi Kimura paid Y56.5m for a 269kg bluefin tuna at the Tjsukiji fish auction. This single fish would provide him with up to 10,000 pieces of sushi, the tuna was from Barbate, near Cadiz, south-west Spain, where tuna has been caught for more than 3,000 years.
Tuna from Barbate is world famous, they are not harvested by huge fishing vessels but herded by small boats and caught by hand. This tuna is so popular with the Japanese that they travel to Barbate to select tuna straight off the fishing boats, vacuum pack and freeze them and send them by plane to Japan.
The method of fishing is called almadraba in Spanish, fishermen have stretch huge maze-like nets from sandy beaches to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna, the heavy nets heaving with fish are lifted by fishermen onto their boats and taken to the markets and restaurants.
The tuna is most famously served as Mojama, wind-dried tuna cured in salt and served in this slices like carpaccio.
Tuna here is succulent, tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I would highly recommend giving this foodie destination a visit.
11. Ensaimada in Mallorca
Ensaimada, the famous Mallorcan pastry, originates from the 17th century where it was served in celebrations. It is a spiral-shaped pastry made from flour, eggs, water, sugar, dough and ‘saim‘ (pork lard). Often eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack or ‘merienda‘. Ensaimadas can also be filled with ‘cabell d’angel’ (a very sweet pumpkin filling ), cream or chocolate. During Carnival, it is typically eaten with sobrasada (pork lard) and pumpkin.
Mallorcan emigrants brought the recipe across the ocean to Latin America, and adaptations can be found in Argentina, Puerto Rico and even in the Philippines.
At the airport you can see many hexagonal ensaimada boxes, is is one of the most popular souvenirs to take home from the island.
12. Migas from Extremadura
Migas is a traditional dish all across Spain and was originally a breakfast dish that made use of leftover bread. In Extremadura, this dish is made of day-old bread soaked in water, garlic, paprika and olive oil and is served with a spinach or alfalfa and maybe some pork.
This dish is a typical Spanish comfort food dish and is not often found in restaurants.
13. Octopus in Galicia
Galicia is a region that provides some of the best seafood in Spain, one of the most popular ingredients is octopus. Pulpo a feira, as it is known in Galician, is alternatively known as pulpo estilo feira in Spanish.
First, the octopus is boiled inside a copper cauldron. Before immersing the octopus, the tentacles are dipped in and out of the boiling water three times, held by its head. The objective of this operation is to curl the tips of the tentacles. The tentacles are preferred over the head, which sometimes is discarded. Once the octopus has been boiled, it is trimmed with scissors, sprinkled with coarse salt and both sweet and spicy paprika. The perfect tenderness of the octopus meat requires boiling for approximately a 40-90 minutes, then the octopus is left to rest for a further 20 minutes inside the boiled water away from the fire.
14. Arroz Meloso in Murcia
A strong contender with Paella, the rice dishes of Murcia are delicious and full of seafood, cooked to the point of not being too soupy or too dry, similar to a risotto. Aside from rice and seafood, Murcia is also known as the greenhouse of Spain and famed for their flavourful tomatoes and watermelons, there are many gourmet discoveries to be made in this region that is not as popular with foreign tourists as other parts of Spain.
15. Espeto in Malaga
This traditional dish dates back to 1882 and is typically served along the Andalusian coast in beachside restaurants known as “chiringuitos“, the Spanish cultural commission of the Spanish Senate has proposed its addition to the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Espeto is a typical dish along the Malaga coast and are sardines threaded onto a cane and cooked over a fire with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Putting forward espetos for UNESCO recognition will be a ‘unifying project’ that will help preserve the ‘acenstral and collective’ knowledge of cooking espetos. The proposal ‘seeks to protect and become aware of a heritage which is part’ of the diversity of culture and which ‘unites all the people of Malaga’.
16. Escargots in Catalonia
When you mention snails as a gastronomic speciality, the mind often goes to France. Catalonia is famed for its escargot, so much so that they have an annual gastronomic snail festival in May which takes place in Lleida where over 200,000 people take part and consume a total of 12 tonnes of snails!
The most popular method of cooking snails is “a la llauna”, which translates loosely as “with a can”. The llauna is a flat, shallow roasting tray of thin steel in which snails are arranged before the entire tray is placed on a hot grill. The sound of snails popping and hissing can be heard and they are served seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper during the cooking process and are succulent in their own natural juices. It’s finished with a dash of wine vinegar and olive oil and sprinkled with garlic and parsley.
The snails are eaten with a toothpick and a side dish of allioli is a required accompaniment.
The small snails, known as caracolíns blanquillas, are the tastiest and are only available in summer months. While snails are served in many ways, there are three staple preparations: a la llauna, stewed a la gormanta, with parsley and bacon and thickened with cornstarch, and stewed in samfaina, a classic Catalan tomato sauce very similar to ratatouille.
17. Morcilla de Burgos
Morcilla is the Spanish version of a blood sausage, similar to the British black pudding but with more spice. It originates in the region of Castile and Leon and has a dry firm texture, due to the inclusion of rice, and retains its Moorish influence in the use of cumin as a seasoning.
Morcilla is often served with crusty bread, fried in olive oil or served with scrambled eggs, it’s also a main ingredient used in cocido and fabada however the recipe for morcilla varies from region to region.
18. Bacalao a la Riojana in La Rioja
Bacalao is Spanish for codfish and this dish originates from Spanish wine country in La Rioja. The cod is baked in the oven and served with a rich tomato sauce.
Cod in Spain is often purchased salted, it is normal to soak the salt cod for two days and change the water three times to remove the salt, to remove the salt. The recipe oalso uses Riojan dried red “cristal” or “choricero” peppers, garlic and olive oil. The finished dish is best accompanied with a good red wine from the region.
19. Pisto Manchego from La Mancha
Pisto Manchego is a Spanish dish from the Region of Murcia and Castilla La Mancha and resembles a ratatouille and is served with a fried egg. The dish is said to have evolved from the dish alboronia which was introduced to Spain during the Muslim rule of the peninsula in the years 711 to 1492.
Pisto is believed to have evolved from the Muslim dish alboronia, during the years 711 to 1492. It was served at the wedding of the caliph al Ma’mūn and his wife Būrān, in honor of the bride.
The first versiones of alboronía in Spain contained eggplant, but later were replaced by tomatoes when they were brought to Spain from the Americas. The dish eventually changed its name to Pisto which originates from the Latin “pistus” which means pounded or beaten.
Its history dates back to before that of ratatouille and therefore is thought to be its predecessor, possibly introduced to France from Spain via the Camino de Santiago.
20. Tarta de Santiago in Galicia
This Spanish cake is typically served in Easter, also known as Semana Santa or Holy Week and its name derives from its medieval origins. Named after the apostle, St. James, the patron saint of Spain, this cake is made with egg, lemon, sweet wine or brandy and almonds.
It was awarded recognition in the UNESCO list of foods with Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
The cake is recognisable through its marking of the St. James cross (similar to the shape of a fleur-de-lis) made by sprinkling powdered sugar over a cardboard cutout of the cross onto the finished dessert.
I wanted to end the post on something sweet. Until the next time, buen provecho!