Spanish dishes you should try — from churros to jamón
1. Paella Valenciana
Paella is perhaps the most famous Spanish dish of all, and certainly one of the most abused. Authentic paella originates from the region around Valencia, and comes in two varieties: Paella Valenciana, with rabbit and chicken; and seafood paella.
Saffron gives the rice its color, and the base should be left to crisp into a mouth-watering black crust, called the socarrat. Always eaten at lunchtime.
Where to try? La Matandeta near Albufera, Valencia
La Matandeta, Carretera, 46910 Alfafar Spain;
2. Patatas bravas
A staple among the small dishes that make up a classic tapas menu, patatas bravas — “brave potatoes” — is named for its spicy sauce, rare in a land that generally shuns fiery food.
The potatoes are cubed and shallow fried and served the same everywhere. The sauce can come in any number of ways, from spicy ketchup to garlic mayonnaise with a dusting of pimiento (smoked paprika), or both.
One theory holds that the dirtier the bar, the better the bravas.
“Tapas originated in southern Spain and is an adaptation to the social culture of eating and drinking outside the home, and fulfills the same social function as the English public house and other similar institutions,” explains Shawn Hennessey, who runs tapas tours of Seville.
“It’s important to note that the tapeo (tapas crawl) is not primarily a ‘drinking culture’ thing — it’s oriented to friends and family with a communal atmosphere.
“Intoxication and rowdiness are rare. Key factors are the social sharing of food, and the opportunity to try a lot of different things in one meal. In short, tapas are a way of life.”
Where to try? La Taverna del Clínic, Barcelona
La Taverna del Clinic, Rossello, 155, 08035 Barcelona Spain;
This tomato-based Andalusian soup is most famous for being served cold. This can be quite a shock for those who aren’t expecting it, but in the searing heat of a Seville summer, the attraction becomes clear.
Its principal ingredients, aside from tomato, are peppers, garlic, bread and lots of olive oil.
Where to try? Enrique Becerra, Seville
Enrique Becerra, Gamazo, 2., 41001 Seville Spain;
A common dish on tapas menus, pimientos de Padron are green peppers that hail originally from the town of that name in Galicia, in Spain’s lush, rainy northwest.
Pimientos de Padron are fried and served with a deep sprinkling of salt. Though generally sweet and mild, their fame stems from the fact that the occasional pepper will be fiery hot — lending a Russian Roulette element of surprise to eating them.
Where to try? Bierzo Enxebre, Santiago de Compostela
Bierzo Enxebre, Rua Troia 10, 15704, Santiago de Compostela Spain;
Less well known to tourists, fideuà is a type of Spanish pasta similar to vermicelli. It’s popular in Catalonia and Valencia in seafood dishes that rival paella for their taste and intricacy.
Fideuà is typically cooked in a paella dish.
Where to try? El Rall, Valencia
El Rall, Calle Tundidores 2, 46001 Valencia Spain;
Jamón, or cured ham, is the most celebrated Spanish food product. Legs of ham were traditionally salted and hung up to dry to preserve them through the long winter months.
Jamón Serrano (of the mountain) is the most common kind and comes from white pigs; the more expensive Jamón Iberico (pictured) comes from black pigs.
The best ham should be enjoyed in thin, melt-in-your-mouth slices on its own, with a little bread.
“Jamón is the staple of the Spanish table,” says chef José Pizarro, the brains behind the celebrated José tapas bar and Pizarro restaurant in London.
“We eat it before we eat; its salty, acorn-laden taste is the perfect accompaniment to sherry and Cava, and it gets your juices flowing for the meal that is yet to come.
“It’s brilliantly good value and a leg can last ages as long as you cover and store it properly. Look for ‘waxy’ fat: when you rub it, it should melt into your skin like candlewax.”
Where to try? Museo del Jamón, Madrid
Museo del Jamon, Calle Gran Via 72, 28015 Madrid Spain;
The humble Spanish omelet can be made with chorizo, peppers and onions, among other ingredients, but purists will tell you it should only contain potatoes and eggs.
The potatoes are diced and lightly fried before being added to the egg mixture and fried on a high heat; the trickiest part is when you have to flip the pan over to turn the tortilla.
If you get it right, someone should shout “Olé!;” get it wrong and you’ll have gooey half-cooked tortilla everywhere.
Where to try? Any self-respecting tapas bar
Churros are a popular snack made from fried dough pastry, cut into sausage shapes and doused in sugar. They’re a favorite at fiestas, or street parties, when they’re sold by roadside vendors. Dipping them in hot melted chocolate is pretty much the law.
Where to try? San Ginés, Madrid
Iglesia San Gines, Calle Arenal 13 Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid Spain;
Another typical item on a tapas menu, croquetas are tubes of bechamel sauce encased in fried breadcrumbs, but a lot more tasty than that sounds.
Jamón croquetas and salt cod croquetas are common varieties. They’re tricky to make and are perhaps best enjoyed at a tapas bar, along with a cold beer.
Where to try? Casa Julio, Madrid
Casa Julio, Calle Madera 37, 28004 Madrid Spain;
A classic tapas item, albondigas, or meatballs in tomato sauce, are served all over Spain.
A tasty variation serves up the meatballs drizzled in an almond sauce, minus the tomatoes. The version pictured is a squid meatball, by José Pizarro.
Where to try? Cafe OMKA, Granada
Om-Kalsum, Calle Jardines 17, 18002 Granada Spain;
A legendary dish spoken of in almost hushed tones by Spaniards, migas is a good example of how much of Spain’s cuisine has evolved from peasant food.
It’s essentially dry breadcrumbs torn up and fried in a variety of combinations — often served with chorizo or bacon.
Migas, handed down from agricultural laborers who had to be thrifty with their ingredients, is comfort food supreme — and in recent times has found its way onto fancy restaurant menus.
“Like many traditional cuisines, the ‘rustic roots’ mostly show themselves in the use of basic or commonplace ingredients, ways of using everything available, such as nose-to-tail use of animals, dishes that use up leftovers — including migas — and methods of preservation such as curing and salting, pickling and preservation in oil,” says Shawn Hennessey.
“For a modern-day nation such as Spain, tapas still has a high proportion of locally sourced food.”
Where to try? Eustaquio Blanco, Cáceres
A prized dish in Spain, bacalao, or salted cod, was brought back by Spanish fisherman from as far afield as Norway and Newfoundland — the fish not being found in local waters; it was salted to preserve it on the journey.
It has to be left to soak in water for at least 24 hours to remove all but the slightest tang of salt.
Bacalao is served in all manner of dishes; one of the most popular is with pil-pil sauce, made of olive oil garlic and the juice of the fish, and typical in the Basque Country.
Where to try? Bar Gatz, Bilbao
Gatz, Calle Santa Maria 10, Bilbao Spain;
A favorite of the northwestern Asturias region and based around the white fabe bean, fabada is a one-pot feast usually served with a mixture of pork meats.
Chorizo, pork belly and bacon are common accompaniments, as is morcilla, Spanish blood sausage, which tastes far better than it should.
Where to try? Casa Gerardo, Prendes
Casa Gerardo-Prendes, Carretera, 33438 Candas Spain;
14. Leche frita
Think it’s impossible to fry milk? Think again.
Leche frita, or fried milk, is a popular dessert made by whipping up milk, egg yolks and flour. This is left to chill and solidify, before being coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
Can be served hot or cold.
Where to try? Casa Alvarez, Madrid
Casa Alvarez, Calle Santa Ana 10, 28005 Madrid Spain;
15. Gambas al ajillo
ou walk into a tapas bar, the barman is handing a customer an earthenware dish of sizzling prawns, the tantalising aroma hits your nostrils and you just have to order some too. To recreate it at home, just fry some sliced garlic and green chilli in olive oil, throw in the prawns for a couple of minutes and add some parsley. Couldn’t be simpler, couldn’t be tastier.
16. Tostas de tomate y jamón
Black pigs roam among the holm oak trees in western Spain in search of the acorns that give marbled magenta Ibérico ham its distinctive nutty flavour. Rub thick pieces of toast with garlic and tomato, pour on some olive oil and top with slices of jamón for a quick, delicious lunch.
17. Pollo al ajillo
Any Spaniard will tell you that the best garlic chicken ever is the one their grandmother makes. And of course they are right. Unpeeled cloves of garlic are fried in olive oil to flavour it, then taken out before adding pieces of chicken. When that’s cooked, the garlic goes back in with some rosemary, thyme and some dry sherry or white wine. But there is no definitive recipe for this much-loved dish.
18. Cochinillo asado
People might claim they are going to Segovia to see its astounding Roman aqueduct, fairytale castle or elegant cathedral, but really all that is just to build up an appetite for lunch. And in Segovia that means either roast suckling pig or lamb. The meat is cooked in huge wood-fired ovens and is so tender it is cut with the side of an earthenware plate.
The Spanish version of ratatouille turns up all over the country in different guises, but is most typical in the towns and villages across the plains of La Mancha, south of Madrid. Onions, garlic, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes are slow fried in olive oil – this is not a dish that likes to be rushed. It’s usually served as a starter, sometimes with fried eggs or chorizo, but is great as a side dish too.
Try making our pisto con huevos – serve this traditional Spanish recipe with rustic bread and a fruity red wine.
Spaniards devour massive amounts of turrón, or almond nougat, at Christmas, although it’s available all year round. Most of it is made in the small town of Jijona in the province of Alicante, using locally-grown almonds mixed with honey and egg white. There are two basic types – a soft, smooth version, called Jijona, and hard Alicante turrón, which contains pieces of almond.
21. Pulpo a la gallega
Octopus is a big deal in Spanish cuisine, whether it’s deep-fried and served as tapas or transformed into something a little more sophisticated. One of the more elaborate dishes is the popular pulpo a la gallega, which sees paprika, rock salt, and olive oil combined to bring out the very best flavors from the octopus. This is usually served on sliced potatoes for a light yet warming meal. The dish hails from the north-western region of Galicia, which is definitely something to note for seafood-lovers. After all, the region is well-known around Spain for it’s unique, seafood-heavy cuisine.
22. Wine and cheese
When it comes to wine and cheese platters, you might naturally associate this with French cuisine. However, a great selection of wines and cheeses can be found all across Spain. From moreish cheeses like manchego to exquisite Spanish wines from La Rioja, there’s something to satisfy all tastes.
There are few Spanish drinks quite as popular around the world as sangria, and it’s easy to see why. This delicious wine-based punch is great at parties and it’s super simple to make. You’ll come across plenty of pre-made sangrias in grocery stores and supermarkets, but the best tasting is made at home. Simply mix chopped fresh fruit with red wine and add some brandy to warm things up a little.
One of the most common ingredients in the best Spanish dishes, chorizo, can be found all over the world. But the sausage’s beginning harks back to 16th century Spain. Over the next five centuries, it took on a variety of flavors and you’ll now find spicy, sweet, smoked, dry-cured, and even a vegan version of the amazing chorizo.
But to get back to its roots, classic Spanish chorizo is a fermented, cured, and smoked sausage that is typically pork. It’s then chopped up, and seasoned with Spanish paprika, salt, and garlic with a splash of olive oil to taste.
As you travel around Spain, chorizos are split up into two simple groups: Picante (spicy) and Dulce (sweet). This will refer to the type of pimenton (Spanish paprika) used in the famous Spanish dish. Regardless of the type, chorizo gets its famous deep rouge color from the pimenton.
The delicate curing process plays a large role in Spanish chorizo having a mouthwatering flavor. But whether it’s been smoked or not, you’ll find it in a range of recipes, including on a Bocadillo and in Paella. You can enjoy it cold cut on a tapas or grill it up and try it alongside some authentic tomato sauce with some red wine on the side.
Escalivada is one of the more common vegetarian dishes you’ll find around Spain. In such a meat and fish-centric country, this is a blessing for vegan and vegetarian travelers or anyone who just wants to mix things up. Follow this recipe to make Catalan Escalivada at home.
The vegetable-laden dish hails from Catalunya (Catalonia) and can also be readily found in Valencia, Aragon, and Murcia. Escalavida comprises grilled vegetables like eggplant, onions, and red peppers cooked to give them a delicious smoky flavor.
The vegetables are first sliced thinly, or in the case of the eggplant in thin layers. All three then swim in olive oil and sherry vinegar until each welt and soak in the flavors. Traditionally they are then roasted over a fire or BBQ grill, although wrapping each in foil and placing it in the oven is the modern preference.
After they’re cooked you can enjoy them on their own. Or rub some oil and garlic on a slice of bread and chuck the cooked vegetables on top. For some additional Spanish food culture, pair it with a few slices of Manchego cheese and a side of Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine.
In the heart of winter, when the sniffles and coughs are floating around the community, tomato soups are a top choice for keeping warm and staying healthy. But in Spain, they have created a cold tomato soup as a way to stay refreshed in those stifling summer months when the old cobblestone streets disperse heat as much as the sun itself.
Salmorejo is the name of this soup and it was created in southern Spain, within the charming city of Cordoba. Tomatoes had long been a focal point in Spanish cuisine, but this unique twist lead to one of the country’s most delicious recipes.
Salmorejo has some similarities to the iconic gazpacho, but for the most part, it stands on its own. The soup comprises skinned tomatoes mixed with olive oil and garlic. Bread is then added, and the amount is used to determine just how thick the soup is. The combination leads to a wonderfully creamy flavor profile.
Common additions to Salmorejo include ham (Iberian if you’re feeling fancy), finely chopped tuna, and slices of hard-boiled eggs. You’ll find many versions served throughout Spain, and it also makes for some delicious leftovers for an easy lunch.
If you find yourself in a rush while traveling around Spain, then do what the locals do and get your hands on a Bocadillo. This is a sandwich and a common midday meal throughout the country. This Spanish food is a baguette-style bread loaf stocked with your choice of vegetables, meats, and cheeses to fashion a delicious, hunger-busting sandwich.
Bocadillo has been popular for centuries, as it was one food the poorest in Spain could afford. From there it gained popularity across the nation with the endless fillings, meaning you can have a different Bocadillo every day of the week.
Like a lot of sandwiches, cold-cut meats are the most common ingredient in a Bocadillo. These can include ham (of course), salami, or thin-cut beef. Add in some famous Spanish cheese, thinly cut olives, and tomatoes and you’ll find yourself in lunchtime heaven.
You’ll find this classic Spanish food in “Jamonerias” throughout the country. These delis-slash-cafes have the full range of Bocadillos. But if you can only try one, enjoy the Bocadillo de Jamon, which includes Iberian ham, Manchego cheese, piquillo peppers, and black olives and the baguette is brushed with oil and garlic.
27. Spanish Omelette
When it comes to simple dishes, Tortilla Espanola is even easier to make than Gazpacho. All you need is eggs, potatoes, and onions to create a Spanish omelette. In fact, if you want to keep it truly traditional, you can part with the onions. But we aren’t here to keep things basic, flavor is at the heart of Spanish cuisine and the simple omelette is merely the foundation of this dish.
Like many other famous Spanish dishes, Tortilla Espanola bounced onto the scene in the 19th century. It was a common working-class meal thanks to the affordable ingredients of eggs and potatoes. Today, it’s a common side dish, found on tapas, or just an easy, delicious way to start the day.
To make this beloved staple, cube the potatoes and fry them in a thin layer of olive oil. If you wish to go against the bollistas (those against onions) add them in as well. From there it’s a classic Spanish omelette dish with the addition of eggs, with the combination grilled on both sides before being sliced into bite-sized pieces.
28. Burnt Basque Cheesecake
Now that we’ve covered some of the best Spanish dishes served for lunch and dinner, let’s take a look at two that are served afterward. Just like the many main meals, Spanish desserts are full of flavor.
A great example of this is the Burnt Basque Cheesecake. From the Basque Country, this dessert is famous for its crustless creamy composition. Now known around the world, if you’re traveling through this part of Spain, you can’t pass up the opportunity to try the real thing.
There’s just one place to go to try authentic Burnt Basque Cheesecake, and that’s in San Sebastian at a restaurant called La Vina. The smell of baked desserts will hit you before you enter. Then you’ll have the painful wait (just a minute or two) until you get the cheesecake in your hands.
The first bite is the most memorable, when you taste the creamy deliciousness for the first time. The good news is, that its fame has carried across the globe, and there are countless recipes you can follow back home.
29. Pan con tomate
Not so much a dish in its own right, but an essential accompaniment to any dish eaten during a meal, pan con tomate is a staple of the Catalan diet. It consists simply of bread rubbed with tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt. How good it tastes depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients used: an authentic pan de coca, rubbed with a tomaquèt de penjar, covered in virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt, gives the best results.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample pan con tomate on our four-day Mini Trip in Barcelona – where better to try it than in the Catalan capital?
Small and dark, big and green – olives come in all shapes and sizes. Spain is one of the leading producers of olive oil in the world, and is responsible for 56% of global production – so it’s no surprise that olives feature heavily in Spanish cuisine. They are commonly eaten as a snack alongside other preserves, and are found stuffed with anchovies, almonds and other ingredients. Gordal olives are large and bright green, with a mild, fruity flavour. Arbequina olives are small and dark brown, with an intense, nutty aroma.
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