Known for famous delicacies such as tapas and amazing seafood, Spanish cuisine is delicious! With so many regions throughout Spain having their own culinary takes on national dishes, and their own local traditional food – you will be spoilt for choice! Like many European countries Spain is big on tradition and food plays a huge role in that. We have created a guide to our favourite dishes you must try in Spain, that will leave you mouth-watering. No matter where you head to in Spain you are guaranteed to have the best culinary experience.
Starting off with one of the most iconic Spanish dishes of all time, Paella. Originating in the region of Valencia, Spain’s third largest city on the south east coast. The modern-day version of the dish is traced back to the mid-19th century, though earlier forms are speculated to go as far back as the 10th century when Moors began rice cultivation in Spain. The name Paella means ‘frying pan’ as the cuisine is cooked in a large shallow traditional pan on an open fire. The dish is rice based and its other main ingredients include, vegetables, meats, and saffron – giving it its unique golden colour and luxurious taste. The traditional version of paella known as ‘Paella Valenciana’ contains chicken, rabbit and green beans. An increasingly common version of the dish is seafood paella also known as ‘Paella de Marisco’. It is no wonder though as the country has a love for seafood, with their long spanned coastal areas. Different regions in Spain tend to have their local twist on the dish, so you are sure to find something not only delicious but unique. Being the national dish of the country, it is easy to grab a bite no matter where you decide to holiday in Spain!
From Andalucía in southern Spain, a staple of the region, this tasty and refreshing favourite can be served either as an appetiser or a main meal. In the 19th century ‘red gazpacho’ was created when tomatoes were added to the ingredients, which has now become the commonly known form. A traditional gazpacho is made from red ripe tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and herbs. It is then blended until silky smooth, traditionally gazpacho was blended by using a pestle and mortar, modern day versions now use other techniques. It can be served either warm or cold, but it is typically chilled and poured into a bowl or a glass. The chilled versions of the dish can sometimes be kept even colder with a few ice cubes. This cold cuisine is ideal for cooling down on hot summer days.
Tortilla, widely available throughout Spain, is not to be confused with the Latin American flatbread. It is an egg and potato dish served either hot or at room temperature as part of tapas. Depending on where in Spain it sometimes can include onion – however this can cause controversy among Spaniards. The original recipe is a far cry from the British take on the dish that has in recent years come to include bell peppers and feta – so if you want to try the real deal it is best to have it in España! The word Tortilla stems from the word ‘Torta’ meaning ‘small pancake’. The beginnings of this dish are surrounded in mystery with various versions of how it came about. One version claims it was invented during the siege of Bilbao; another tale believes it is a recipe that Spanish prisoners acquired after their capture at the Battle of Montes Claros during the Portuguese Restoration Wars in the mid-17th century. Regardless this simple common dish is a must try!
Churros are a sweet fried dough pastry, mainly made of choux pastry. Originating in Spain and Portugal they have become an international dish with many countries having their own take on the sweet snack. In Spain churros are commonly sold by street vendors eaten throughout the day as a snack, or popularly eaten for breakfast on Sundays. There are also ‘Churrerías’ which are cafés that specialise in churros you can visit, and top 10 places in Barcelona for Churros. Churros are eaten hot and commonly have a sugar and cinnamon dusting or melted chocolate dip. They are typically long and have a rigid shape due to how they are piped with a star shaped nozzle. ‘Porras’ are thicker, less sweet versions of churros that are found in some regions in Spain. Whether you are dining or are grabbing a tasty treat on the go, Churros are guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Not strictly something you can eat, but a trip to Spain isn’t complete without a glass (or pitcher) of Sangría. This acholic beverage popular with tourists, is a red wine-based punch with chopped fruit and is sweetened with orange juice or sugar. Again ingredients can vary depending on the region in Spain, usually local fruits like apples, berries, and pears are used. Traditionally ‘Rioja’ red wine is used and is served in clay pitchers. The name Sangría literally translates as ‘bloodletting’, and the earliest documentation of the drink is from 18th century however it is claimed to go even further back. In 2014 EU law rule that only Sangría made in either Spain or Portugal is allowed to be sold as ‘Sangría’ in Europe – so to get an authentic experience trying the drink in its home country is essential! It is served chilled throughout Spain in bars, restaurants and at festivals.
Originally from North West Spain, in Galicia, Empanadas are in abundance and the tastiest in this little corner of Spain – however this comfort food can be found no matter where you decide to go in Spain! The Spanish word ‘Empanar’ literally meaning ‘to bread’ highlights that they are a baked or fried turnover pastry. Filled with savoury contents which may consist of meat, cheese, fish, and other ingredients. When it comes to Empanada’s there is a vast variety of flavours so you will be spoilt for choice!
Found in the majority of any Spanish restaurant or bar, this tapas dish is cylinder shaped, breaded, and deep fried. Filled with a variety of meats such as Jamón, fish such as Cod, cheeses, and most commonly accompanied with a thick béchamel sauce. Not only from region to region, but from bar to bar fillings will vary and are signatory to the establishment. Ensure you include it in your tapas order for hearty and filling mouth-sized bites.
Gambas al Ajillo is a tapas dish of garlic king prawns (shrimps) cooked in a small clay pot often with olive oil, lemon juice, sherry and spices like paprika, chilli, and parsley. This simplistic dish doesn’t need much doing to it as the fresh shellfish sings for itself. Fresh seafood is iconic to Spain due to their vast coastline, this is reflected with their various fish tapas dishes such as Pulpo a la Gallega - an octopus-based dish. Gambas al Ajillo is probably the most popular seafood dish among locals and you can often find the food served sizzling in tapas bars as appetisers.
Another tapas dish, these bite-sized chunks are white potatoes cut into cubes and fried in oil. Served with a spicy red sauce on top. Some variants can come not so hot but with aioli instead, or in Madrid the sauce consist of Spanish paprika, olive oil, flour and stock. Patatas Bravas can also include extra toppings like chorizo. Most commonly found in Seville, this seemingly modern dish is actually supposed to be devised at some point after the mid-16th century.
Crema Catalana is synonymous to the famous French Crème Brûlée. The dessert was traditionally served on Saint Joseph’s day but now can be found any time of the year. The first recipe of Crema Catalana appeared in the Catalan cookbook ‘Llibre de Sent Soví’ in the 14th Century - three centuries before the French version was published! The Spanish version of the recipe is made from milk and flavoured with cinnamon and lemon zest served in a shallow clay dish (rather than from cream and infused with vanilla as with the French dessert). Sugar is then sprinkled on top and burnt to create a sweet crust. Another nuance is that the French bake their Crème Brûlée in a bain-marie (placed in a tray of water in the oven) and served warm. Whereas Crema Catalana always is served cold - the ideal pudding for a hot Spanish summer’s day.
A few further mentions of some Spanish produce you must try include; Manchego (a Spanish sheep’s cheese), Jamón Ibérico (a cured Iberian ham), and the famous Chorizo.