Spain is known as a culinary dream, and no wonder – of the past fifteen years, seven years of those years featured a Spanish restaurant has come out on top as the best restaurant in the world according to the prestigious British magazine Restaurant.
Essentially, Spain has been ranked number one in food for half of the past decade! But more than international prestige and acclaim, Spain has a long history of caring deeply about its food. Spaniards have immense pride in their regional dishes, ingredients, and cooking methods. However, the dishes vary enormously region to region. For example, a typical Galician dinner looks very different from what you would be served in the Canary Islands.
This handy guide will help you travel according to your appetite (which, if we’re being honest, is everyone’s method of travel) and experience the very best of every region. Taste your way through the mountains of the Basque Country, the vineyards of Catalunya, and the orange groves of Valencia.
Andalucía is the birthplace of tapas which are small savory snacks that are usually accompanied by a drink. The location is proud of its gazpacho and salmorejo, fresh produce thanks to a warm climate, red tuna known worldwide for its quality, Iberian cured ham deriving from pigs which have been fed exclusively on acorns, stews, use of almonds and honey in desserts, as well as sherry.
Aragón boasts hearty dishes which frequently contain meat, stews, fresh produce, sausages and salted meats. The location also offers a variety of different ways to cook game (including rabbit and hare stewed in its own blood), trout, frog, Jamón de Teruel (an extremely famous Iberian ham), bread, as well as chestnuts in many desserts.
Asturias appreciates the natural taste of ingredients so the people there do not use many spices or condiments that could distort the original flavor. They are known for slow cooking over low heat, fabada (bean stew), Cabrales blue cheese aged in mountain caves, hard apple cider, shellfish and seafood, along with red meat.
Las Islas Baleares is quintessential Mediterranean cuisine, utilizing island resources while simultaneously blending with various cultures that have conquered the area in the past such as the Greeks, Phoenicians, Byzantines, Romans, Arabs, French, English, and Spanish. Olive oil and manteca (lard), Ensaimadas (famous pastry coils), bread pies and empanadas, fish and shellfish are all delicious aspects of Las Islas Baleares. Popular dishes include Caldereta de Langosta which is spiny lobster in a tomato stew, Sobrasada, a semi-cured spreadable sausage, and Pa amb oli which is toasted bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled in olive oil and salt. The area’s primary exports are mayonnaise, cheese, gin, and desserts made mostly of almonds.
Las Islas Canarias appreciate simplicity in their cuisine. This being so, Gofio (roasted maize or wheat meal) can be found in the majority of dishes. Mojo (spice sauces served with most dishes) are also important. The islands are on route to America so one can find a lot of potatoes and tomatoes in the dishes. One special potato dish is called papas arrugadas where small potatoes are cooked in their skins in very salty water, sometimes even seawater. Here, high-quality fish can be prepared in different three ways: in a casing of salt, lightly fried and baked, or dried in the sun and seasoned. Locals also like to eat rabbit cooked in salmorejo, tropical fruits like banana and pineapple, and honeyed rum.
Castilla y Leon has the nickname ‘España del Asado’ (Spain of the Roast) for the predominance of roasting fish and meat (i.e., suckling pig, lamb, trout). Cooking here is important and there are even food conferences featuring meats like lamb, pork, and game. Dishes that are highlighted are garlic soup with a poached egg in it, trout soup, and pulses which are made out of red, white and blank beans, chickpeas, and a variety of lentils. Oftentimes these pulses are accompanied by chicken and pork products, pig stomach stuffed with other parts of itself then cooked and eaten with potatoes, cured meat, doves, pigeons and other game.
Catalunya is known for its typically Mediterranean cooking and ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs, olive oil. They also like to use mushrooms as well as interesting combinations of seafood and inland foods. This region also has a taste for sweet and savory combinations, allioli (garlic sauce) and patatas bravas. There is also large wine production in the area along with Cava sparkling wine.
Extremadura prefers simple cooking with its cuisine being influenced by famous dishes from convents which acted as refuges for nobility. Their dishes are relatively uncomplicated with influences from Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Iberian pig is the most important component of Extremadura food because it produces the best-cured ham in the world, lamb, game, and Torta del Casar which is the best cheese in Spain that pairs wonderfully with good honey and fruit.
Galicia is an area of Spain thatdemonstrates its love for food through its culture. Hosting more than 300 gastronomic fiestas every year, it is obvious that the locals take their food seriously. Galicia and Britanny in France share the same Celtic culture meaning that the diet is similar, consisting of potatoes and shellfish, fish, ox and veal, roasted suckling pig, cow’s milk cheese, sausages, empanadas, and a favorite, Caldo Gallego (a thick stew).
Murcia loves the classic Mediterranean cuisine – cereals, vegetables and olive oil, rice, sausages, preserved foods, nuts, aromatic plants, fruit, confectionary, and vegetables. Murcian rice is particularly famous as it is used in many different dishes from rice and vegetables, rice with rabbit and snails, rice with pork, and really rice with everything else. A standard meal would include gypsy casserole, wheat stew, suckling lamb chops, game, meat pie, rice and fish, and fruit for dessert.
Navarra uses totally natural ingredients that come from the crops and products which are grown in special areas similar to those of the Old Kingdom. The region is very well known for its good food like milk, cheese, meat, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and potatoes. Products like asparagus, red peppers, and artichokes, river trout and salmon, cherries, game, beef and pork, wine and an alcoholic drink called pacharán are also found in Navarra.
Valencia prides itself in producing recipes that fit well in the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ by using natural ingredients like oil, vegetables, spices, fruit, pumpkin and sweet potato, and fresh meat or fish. They have a variety of special dishes such as Paella Valenciana, Horchata de Chufafamous (soft drink called tiger nut milk), salt cod and rice, and Ollas which are soups and stews made from the stock of pulses and meat. They also have a special way of preparing fish called salazón where the fish is covered entirely in salt. Valencian fruit (especially citrus) is renowned worldwide, as are the almonds which are used in nougat and pralines.
País Vasco loves and appreciates food so much that they have exclusive male gastronomic societies in the Basque Country called Txokos. It is like bar hopping in tapear in Andalucía and the rest of Spain but, instead of drinking, they eat pintxos. Pintxos are little bites of whatever the chef can think of served on top of a small slice of bread with a toothpick. Along with eating the bite-sized snacks, people drink txikitos, or small glasses of wine. Seafood (especially salted cod) is also very important here along with dried pepper sauce or dried peppers in dishes, sheep’s milk cheese, and cider.