Spanish gastronomy is one of the most varied and richest cuisines in the world. You only have to see that everyone who comes here is captivated by the most typical Spanish dishes. Or that everyone who leaves, longs for our food. Moreover, in this world of haste in which it is less and less common to cook; and we opt for fast food and ready-made dishes, we want to make a parenthesis to know, in detail, the Spanish gastronomy. Its most typical and characteristic dishes, ingredients, customs, etc.. And appreciate a little more one of the icon gastronomies of the popular Mediterranean Diet. Will you join us?
We want to introduce you to Spanish gastronomy in a different way, taking a gastronomic tour through this land of contrasts, flavors, light and color. For this reason, we will finish the tour with a fantastic gastronomic tour that will take you to the best corners of Spain; at the same time that will show you the most representative dishes of each region. But first, let’s see what Spanish gastronomy is all about:
What is Spanish gastronomy?
The gastronomy of a place is not only its most representative dishes. It also encompasses its customs, ingredients, cooking techniques… In short, the whole culinary tradition that, for centuries, has shaped that gastronomy. And, in Spain, we have a great variety of this gastronomy. There is a difference between the cities and the more rural areas, between the interior and the coast, between north and south… That is why Spain has such a rich and appreciated gastronomy. At the same time, it is a standard of the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest in the world.
Spanish gastronomy also stands out for its creativity and innovation. There are many Spanish chefs who have achieved an important reputation in the culinary world. World-renowned chefs who have managed to combine modernity with tradition in their dishes.
All this makes our gastronomy a fundamental part of our identity and culture, something to be proud of and to pay special tribute to every time we get into the kitchen to prepare anything.
Typical Spanish dishes that conquer any tourist
In addition to our beaches, our sun and climate, and of course, our people, if there is a reason that leads millions of people to choose Spain as a summer destination, that is the food. Many come for the beaches and the climate, but even more come back for the gastronomy. And some of the dishes most appreciated by tourists when they arrive in Spain are the following:
- Ham. Yes, without a doubt, ham, although it is not a dish in itself, must be in the first place. Since it is an icon of our gastronomy and something that no one who has tasted it can easily forget.
- The Spanish Potato Omelette. Another classic, moreover, very humble. It is nothing more than an elaboration based on potatoes and eggs, created with the purpose of alleviating hunger. This simple preparation has conquered even the most exquisite palates.
- Paella, another classic of our gastronomy. A typical dish of Valencia but known all over the world.
- The Cocido is also another of the great protagonists when we talk about Spanish gastronomy. A hearty chickpea stew, of which we find countless versions depending on the area.
- The Gazpacho: To taste the best gazpacho, it is best to head south. And, with the climate there, what is most appealing are refreshing, light and full of flavor dishes. And all this is perfectly fulfilled by this drink made only with vegetables.
But these are just some of the most representative and popular examples of Spanish gastronomy. But they do not show even a tenth part of the richness of our cuisine.
So, what do you eat in Spain?
Although our gastronomy is very varied, and we have a multitude of typical products, we can generalize with some foods. Well, we must not forget that Spanish gastronomy is based on the Mediterranean Diet, and, as such, there are some common characteristics.
- Undoubtedly, a standard of Spanish gastronomy is olive oil. Known as liquid gold, it is the most used fat in our cuisine. This makes our dishes healthy and beneficial for our health. Since the oil has innumerable properties for our organism. In fact, there are few dishes in our diet that do not require a minimum of oil to prepare or serve them. Well, we also make much use of it raw.
- Cereals, like bread. In Spain we eat with bread. It doesn’t matter what dish there is, bread is a must. From breakfast to dinner it is a must in practically every house.
- Ham is an icon of Spanish gastronomy. Everyone who tastes it is completely captivated by this pork sausage. Nowhere in the world will you find ham like the one we have in our lands, and it is something that few can do without. It is also a symbol of the appetizer, always accompanied by a cold beer or a good glass of wine. Tapas are also a great icon of our gastronomy.
- Vegetables and Legumes. Also very consumed in our diet. And if there is something that characterizes the Spanish cuisine are the stews, the spoon dishes. Each region has its own vegetable and legume stew. Traditional dishes, of humble origin, but very hearty, perfect to recompose the body after hard days of work in the field. Our gastronomy is based on traditional, humble, workers’ cuisine.
Typical ingredients of Spanish gastronomy
After seeing some of the most popular dishes, and some of the products that drive tourists crazy, let’s go now to the most used ingredients in our gastronomy. Although, we insist that it is an arduous task being a land so full of contrasts.
- Vegetables and Fruits. As food of the Mediterranean diet, the consumption of vegetables and fruits also stands out in Spain. Our country has always been known for being the vegetable garden of Europe. Both the climate, the land and the hours of sunshine have favored agriculture here. That is why we have so many dishes made only with vegetables, which makes Spanish gastronomy a very healthy and beneficial diet for our organism.
- Fish and seafood, two fundamental ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet, and which could not be missing in our diet thanks to the many miles of coastline that our geography has, but without forgetting freshwater fish.
- Meat, game and sausages, another emblem of Spanish gastronomy. In this category, if there is one meat in particular that we have to highlight, it is pork. Although we have already seen it in the previous section, ham is an emblem of Spain. A product that has even been copied outside our borders without success. Because, in order to obtain a good ham, the raw material is essential. Something that the land and the climate provide.
In addition to pork, game meat is very popular in Spain (a country of farmers and hunters, two fundamental pillars of our gastronomy); something that is demonstrated in many of the most traditional recipes of our land.
- Sweets and Desserts. In this category we also have a wide variety. Something, undoubtedly, that we owe to the convents, which are responsible for the great majority of the most traditional sweets of our land.
A Walk through Spanish Gastronomy
Now that we have seen some of the most representative dishes of Spanish gastronomy, and what makes tourists crazy about our food, let’s start this fantastic gastronomic tour that we promised you. So that, region by region, town by town and area by area, we can get to know the most representative dishes of each place. Because, if there is one thing we have in Spain, it is variety and contrasts.
Galicia, land of Meigas and good food
When we think of Galicia, we think of its fantasy novel beaches, those cliffs that defy the laws of the world, the mysticism and the rain. But our mouths also water when we talk about this land. Here, we can’t miss the Pulpo a Feira, or Galician octopus, an emblem of Galician and Spanish gastronomy. In Galicia you can fish the best octopus specimens, specifically in the island of Ons. A paradisiacal place worth visiting if you come to these lands.
The Cíes Islands, a protected natural paradise with pristine beaches of white sand and turquoise waters that have nothing to envy to the Caribbean, are also a must-see. We also find the highest cliffs in Europe, in the Sierra de Capelada. And the only river that flows into the sea in a waterfall is also found in Galicia, the Xallas River, which is very close to Finisterre, a place that was believed to be the end of the world in Roman times.
And, returning to the food, in addition to the octopus a Feira we cannot forget the Galician pot, the stew of the area; as well as the empanadas, so characteristic of Galicia; or the Galician broth.
A walk through Spanish Gastronomy, get to know this highly appreciated gastronomy in depth.
Asturias, a land of contrasts
We continue to know the Spanish gastronomy through the Costa Verde, Asturias, an authentic natural paradise. Here you will undoubtedly know that you can eat very well. Asturias is famous for the generosity of its dishes (not to mention the incredible quality of its elaborations). And, to whet your appetite and to be able to put between chest and back a full menu with its Fabada asturiana and cachopo, we find plenty of routes, all of them as spectacular as the Cares. And beaches as idyllic as the inland beach of Gulpiyuri, the smallest beach in the world and landlocked, declared a Natural Monument in 2001.
A walk through Spanish Gastronomy, get to know this highly appreciated gastronomy in depth.
Nor can we forget the Asturian cheeses. Asturias has four cheeses with Designation of Origin: Cabrales, Gamonéu, Casín and Afuega’l Pitu.
And, before leaving Asturias, remember to try the rice pudding. Although it is a typical dish of Spanish gastronomy, and is known throughout the peninsula, the Asturian rice pudding is special. Made with the best cow’s milk found in the country, and its slow cooking, make it the creamiest and most flavorful rice pudding you have ever tasted.
We continue to know the Spanish gastronomy in Cantabria.
We leave Asturias behind to move on to Cantabria. With a very rich gastronomy in terms of fish and seafood from its coasts, or the good meat from its beautiful pastures. There we will be able to taste a spectacular stew, the Cocido Montañés, made with beans instead of chickpeas, or the clams to the sailor.
Regarding the landscape, Cantabria offers paradisiacal beaches, such as the wild beaches of Costa Quebrada, with more than 10 km of coastline. If we prefer mountains, we cannot miss the incredible views of the Picos de Europa offered by the Fuente Dé cable car. This cable car reaches a height of 1,823 meters.
Spanish gastronomy is very varied depending on the region.
And, before continuing our gastronomic tour we will stop in its capital, Santander, where we can buy in many stores very typical products of this land. Surely you know the Anchovies of Santoña, the most prestigious and with a huge fame beyond our borders. Or cheeses with Denomination of Origin such as Picón Bejes-Tresviso cheese, Nata de Cantabria cheese or Líebana cheese.
In Cantabria we also find prehistoric jewels such as the famous Altamira cave, in Santillana del Mar. Declared World Heritage by Unesco.
We continue our tour, Basque Country
We will continue our tour towards the east, until we reach the Basque Country and taste a delicious Codfish in pil-pil sauce. A typical elaboration of Spanish gastronomy, originally from the Basque Country, which consists of cooking the cod with a sauce resulting from the emulsion of the juices and gelatin of the cod with olive oil.
This land, with a unique culture and identity, is full of traditions, such as its dances or the aizkolaris (log cutting competitions). In Bilbao we find the Guggenheim Museum, one of the most famous museums in the world. Inaugurated in 1997, this contemporary art museum welcomes more than one million visitors a year. And after seeing it, how not to eat some pintxos, the essence of its gastronomy.
The Basque Country has areas not to be missed, such as the islet Gaztelugatxe, where some scenes of the series Game of Thrones were filmed. In addition, here you can also find several products with Denomination of Origin, such as Txakolí, or Idiazabal cheese.
La Rioja, not only a land of wines
We continue this tour of Spanish gastronomy by going down to La Rioja, to taste its typical Rioja-style potatoes, accompanied, of course, by a good local wine, a Rioja, the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain, and also one of the most prestigious.
This region has very special places, such as the Monastery of Yuso, in San Millán de la Cogolla, built in 1553. Or natural jewels such as the Pico de Urbión, full of legend.
In Logroño, the capital, we find Laurel Street, famous for being a good place for tapas in the old town. And, continuing with its culinary tradition we find other typical dishes of the area are the Pochas with quail and lamb chops with vine shoots. Unique dishes of this community with a lot of charm.
Navarra, land of diversity
We will continue our trip to Navarra, with its artichokes with clams, perfect to get strength and stroll through the cobblestone streets of the old town. Or Casco Viejo, as the people of Pamplona call it, which even has a day in its honor. In the day of the Casco Viejo of Pamplona you will be able to enjoy giant troupes and regional dances. We cannot leave the Casco Viejo without tasting in one of its bars the pimientos stuffed with cod or the pochas con chistorra (beans with chistorra sausage).
Navarre has true architectural gems, and is a community with a great historical weight. You can soak up this art, culture and history by touring the Romanesque Route of Navarra.
All this, of course, without leaving aside the nature of this place, with places like the Irati Forest, undoubtedly one of my favorite places. The Irati Forest is the second largest beech-fir forest in Europe, with 17,000 hectares practically untouched. A true natural treasure.
We will not leave Navarra without first seeing its products with Designation of Origin, such as Roncal cheese, asparagus from Navarra or Pacharán from Navarra.
A Walk through Spanish Gastronomy, Aragon, Land of Contrasts
In Aragon it is practically obligatory to try the Codfish with Ajoarriero, a traditional recipe. It has its origins in the shepherds who traveled the Pyrenees with their livestock, and cooked this dish with what they had on hand. It is a very tasty and hearty dish, with a creamy texture and an intense garlic and bell pepper flavor.
We will continue visiting the Chinese Wall of Finestres, in the province of Huesca, in the abandoned village of Finestres. It is located in the Sierra del Montsec, a protected natural area of the Central Pre-Pyrenees. It borders with our next stop on this trip, Catalonia.
After this hike, what better than to recompose the body with a good roast shoulder, lean meat with tomato or Aragonese trout, other of the most typical dishes of the area.
Nor can we miss the Saladas de Sástago and Bujaraloz, one of the four Aragonese wetlands included in the list of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Located in the area of the Monegros desert. Spectacular salt flats full of fauna and flora adapted to these soils
Catalonia, Land of Castles
We leave Aragon to continue our trip through Catalonia. One of the biggest tourist destinations in the world for its tourist, cultural, leisure and gastronomic offer, for which we are making this fantastic trip.
In Catalonia you can find typical dishes such as Calçots, with romesco sauce; Esqueixada de bacallà, Fricandó…
Of course, to talk about Catalonia is to talk about the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, the capital. A Catholic basilica designed by Antonio Gaudi, started in 1882. In Catalonia we also find such unique places as the Cap Roig Gardens, one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in Catalonia, with the Costa Brava in the background. They have 17 hectares with more than a thousand botanical species. Or the villages of the Catalan Pyrenees, such as Castellar de n’Hug, where the source of the Llobregat River is located. In these villages of the Catalan Pyrenees, one of the most typical dishes is the Coca with Honey or the sweet sausage with Apple.
Valencia, land of flowers
As its hymn says, land of flowers, light and love. And if you have been there, you have surely come back in love with this land, its people and its climate. The most mythical of Valencia, of course, is the paella. The traditional one is made with rabbit and snails, but there you will find endless varieties of this wonderful dish. Brother cousin of the paella, we have the Fideuá, a dish very similar to the paella, but made with noodles.
And as this tour of Spanish gastronomy is not only about food, we will go to the capital, where we will find the Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe, within the avant-garde architectural complex of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciènces.
As not everything is eating, in Valencia you have wonderful beaches, such as L’Arbre del Gos, to relax quietly in front of the sea and enjoy the views it offers. If you prefer the city, you can visit the Cathedral of Valencia, popularly known as La Seu, in Valencian, built in the year 1262, an Asset of Cultural Interest. Or the Central Market of Valencia, considered one of the masterpieces of Valencian modernism.
Balearic Archipelago, sea and mountains
We continue our journey through the Spanish Gastronomy in the Balearic Islands, where we will start in Mallorca. Here we find one of the most beautiful villages of the island, Valldemossa. Itis the highest village of Majorca, hidden between the mountains of the Serra de la Tramuntana. In this island we will be able to taste the typical Majorcan ensaimada, to finish with a walk through the mythical Plaza Mayor.
Here you will be able to lose yourself in its virgin and deserted coves, it is the island with more beaches of the Balearic archipelago. In this island you have to taste its cheeses, spectacular. Above all, the most famous, the cheese of Maó. And how not to try the mythical Caldereta of lobster. On this island you can forget the world in such paradisiacal beaches as Macarella and Macarelleta.
We cannot leave these islands without tasting the sobrasada, typical of the Balearic Islands, or the Arroz brut, one of the most representative dishes of this archipelago.
Murcia, university city
Bathed by the waters of the Mar Menor and the Mediterranean, in its city you can take a romantic stroll through any of the two most famous and historic streets of Murcia, the Trapería and Platería. Here you can try the zarangollo, a scrambled egg and garden products, which the bars usually serve as an appetizer.
We can continue our journey through Spanish gastronomy passing through Calasparra, a Murcian municipality that gives its name to its rice with Denomination of Origin. At 350 meters above sea level, it has an enviable cultural heritage, such as the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Esperanza or the Clock Tower.
You can also enjoy its beautiful beaches such as Cala Cortina or Calblanque, integrated in the Protected Natural Area of Calblanque Park. After spending the day in one of these spectacular beaches, we cannot leave without eating a good Caldero del Mar Menor, or Caldero Murciano, an essential rice dish when you travel to this region.
Other typical dishes of this land are the meat pie, which dates back to the Middle Ages; the marineras, a well-known tapa of Russian salad with an anchovy crowning it and the Murcian salad, with tomato, black olives, onion, tuna and hard-boiled egg.
Andalusia, cradle of art
Andalusia sounds like flamenco and sevillanas. Undoubtedly it is a land full of art, with the grace and sympathy that characterizes its people, this land offers a multitude of places to discover. In this walk through the Spanish gastronomy we are going to see only a few of them, so as not to make our trip eternal. And we will begin with the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, one of the most ecologically rich areas of the Mediterranean.
Walk through the Spanish Gastronomy, get to know in depth this highly appreciated cuisine.
And in Cabo de Gata you can not miss its famous red mullet with ajoblanco, a delicious cold soup made with garlic, bread and almonds. You can also lose yourself in any beach from the Costa de Almeria to the Costa de la Luz and taste the famous fried fish in any beach bar, or try some good espetos. Commonly sardines, skewered on long reeds, roasted on firewood on the sand of the beach.
We will continue to Granada and its architectural jewels such as the Alhambra or the Generalife, a 12th century palace with spectacular gardens. And here you can relax in any terrace bar and eat your fill of tapas. Something very typical of this area.
Extremadura, cradle of conquerors
From this magnificent land came important historical figures such as Pizarro, Núñez de Balboa or Hernán Cortés, among others, who took the Extremaduran character to the other side of the pond. In Extremadura we find geographical jewels such as the Monfragüe National Park, between Navalmoral de la Mota, Plasencia and Trujillo. And after a good walk through this beautiful place, what better than to recharge your batteries with any dish of traditional Extremaduran gastronomy. Its gastronomy is fundamentally a simple and rural cuisine, but elaborated with first quality raw materials. As for example the garlic soups.
After lunch we can continue enjoying nature and visit the Jerte Valley, where the famous Jerte cherries, with Designation of Origin, come from. To finish our visit we can get lost in magical villages such as Guadalupe, Trujillo or Robledillo de Gata. The latter has been declared a site of Cultural Interest.
Other very typical dishes of the area are the lamb stew and zorongollo. We can not leave without trying them.
Castilla y León, History and Culture
In Castilla y León you will find everything you could ask for in a good holiday destination. Historical monuments, archaeological sites, nature in its purest form, as well as a very elaborate gastronomy with very peculiar and characteristic stews of the area. An example of these stews are the Castilian soup and the Maragato stew.
With regions such as Babia, in the Leonese Alps, full of ancient traditions and great cultural values. Here are very famous sausages and meats, protagonists of this livestock region. But they also have sweets such as the Babiana cake.
Nor can we miss one of the most historic cities in the region, Segovia, with an important architectural legacy. Its icon is the aqueduct of Segovia, a Roman aqueduct with more than 160 arches. A spectacular construction dating from the second century A.D. And in Segovia how not to eat a delicious roast suckling pig, its most typical dish.
Madrid, the capital
Our capital has culinary traditions coming from all the surrounding areas, from when Felipe II created the capital, which have been adapted to the customs of this area. The most traditional of the capital are the “rosquillas listas” and “tontas”, eaten during the festivities of San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid. Other very typical dishes of Madrid are the cocido madrileño, tripe and snails. Also the chickpea stew, very common at Easter.
To discover the capital what better way to get lost in its streets full of history, such as the Gran Via or visit the Royal Palace. In Madrid you can spend entire days visiting museums, such as the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia or the Thyssen-Bornemisza. And how can you leave the capital without eating a good calamari sandwich or a tapa of tortilla de patatas, very common in any bar in the capital.
But Madrid is not only bustle of the city, it also has magical natural places, such as the Sierra Norte de Madrid. With villages like Puebla de la Sierra, La Hiruela or Patones de Arriba. In any of these villages you can taste homemade game dishes such as rice with rabbit.
Castilla la Mancha, land of Don Quixote
Castilla-La Mancha is one of the most universally known regions thanks to the Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, who traveled through this region in his adventures, from the hand, or rather, from the pen of Miguel de Cervantes. So much so, that in this region you can follow his route and come across the windmills that terrified Don Quixote. They are not windmills, my lord, they are giants!
And in this literary land you can taste the typical Gachas, the Gazpachos manchegos, a stew made from shredded game meat cooked with pieces of Manchegan cenceña cake, or the pisto manchego.
In Castilla-La Mancha you will find wonderful places like the town of Sigüenza, which has the cathedral of Santa María de Sigüenza and the castle, now converted into a Parador hotel. You can get lost in any route of the Hoces del Cabriel river or visit the National Park of Cabañeros, of spectacular ecological value.
In Cuenca you will find the source of the Cuervo River, a spectacular route where you will be surrounded by nature in its purest state. And how to name Cuenca without seeing its famous Hanging Houses. As after all this you will surely be exhausted, we can finish the trip with, for me, the best dish in the area, Migas manchegas, and for dessert, some miguelitos.
Canary Islands, Paradise on Earth
Let’s finish our journey through Spanish gastronomy with a grand finale, in the islands known as the Fortunate Islands. With a subtropical climate and a great international prestige for its beautiful landscapes, these islands also have their own high quality gastronomy, thanks to the products offered by the sea and the crops of their peculiar lands.
As an example of their own cultivation, we have the curious vine plantations that are carried out in Lanzarote, where large holes are dug in the volcanic soil to access the topsoil. This form of cultivation is unique to this land and gives us that famous wine, extracted from the volcano, in addition to the genuineness of its cultivation, which even makes this landscape is protected by law due to its high cultural and scenic interest. But what do we accompany this original wine with? Well, in this land, and as the first example of its gastronomic culture, we have to try the papas arrugás with mojo. Probably the most emblematic food of the Canary Islands.
After lunch, this archipelago offers entertainment for all tastes. If you want to relax and enjoy the contemplative life in front of the sea, in the Canary Islands you will find beaches of all colors, literally. Do you like the beaches of fine white sand? You can visit the beach of Corralejo, in Fuerteventura. Have you ever been on a black sand beach? Go to Tenerife, to Bollullo beach, near Puerto de la Cruz. If you prefer golden sand beaches, in La Graciosa you have the beach of Las Conchas.
The Tapeo, a very Spanish custom
Although in Spain we have very popular products and dishes, if there is a custom that hooks everyone who tries it, it is the tapas. Going out for tapas is nothing more than going out for a drink, usually a beer, a wine, a vermouth… from bar to bar tasting the tapas, or small portions of food served in each bar or tavern to accompany the drink.
Tapas, or pinchos, are small portions of food served in the bars along with the drink. Some of the most typical tapas are patatas Bravas or alioli, croquettes, boquerones, olives, ham, etc.
We have tiptoed through each community and its gastronomy, since there would not be time to describe each place as it deserves and mention each of its wonders, its people and places, traditions and typical dishes.
But I hope it has fulfilled its function, and although it has been very superficial, I am sure that we have all known some place that we did not know or we have noted down ideas for future trips.
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