Many tourists enjoy flying to Spain to spend the holidays because of its weather, language, culture, and storied history. Another major attraction to foreigners is the Spanish gastronomy: the art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food.
In this article I'm going to show you some of the main aspects of the Spanish gastronomy, talk about the Mediterranean diet, and show you some typical products and dishes you must taste at some point when you come to visit Spain. Warning alert! Don't keep reading if you haven't had dinner yet.
Nowadays, Spanish gastronomy is considered one of the most influential in the world. With three restaurants rated among the world’s ten best restaurants, Spain has become a model in international gastronomy, and Basque and Catalan cuisines are a well-renowned not only in Spain but all over the globe. El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant run by three Catalan brothers who grew up around it and recently inherited it from their parents, is an example of the fusion between traditional and modern cuisine. This year the British magazine Restaurant awarded El Celler de Can Roca as the top restaurant in the world. If by any chance you would like to book a table there, I'm afraid that you’ll have to wait about a year due to the establishment’s high demand.
Another Spanish chef, Ferrán Adríá, considered by many people as the planet’s foremost chef and the founder of this contemporary cuisine, was awarded the same prize four years in a row with his famous restaurant El Bulli. Nowadays, he's working on a project to build a museum where his restaurant used to be and a foundation to develop new recipes in collaboration with some of the finest chefs in Europe and beyond.
But not everything is about high cuisine and expensive restaurants in Spain. There are plenty of good restaurants with more frugal (economical) menus where you can taste the typical food of each region. There is also a great variety of bars where you can enjoy the gastronomy. Spanish bars typically accompany drinks with a small portion of food called tapa. The origin of las tapas in Spain is quite ancient. It is said that the king Alfonso X El Sabio (13th century) imposed that wine should be accompanied by some food, or otherwise, people would get drunk too easily.
Initially, the food was placed on top of the glass of wine--that's why it was called tapa (lead), because it covered the glass and this way it protected the drink from insects or dust. In many parts of the south of Spain, you can have tapas for free. You only have to order a drink and the waiter will serve you a nice tapa with your beer or wine. Tortilla de patatas, ensaladilla rusa, patatas bravas or croquetas are some tapas that you can enjoy with your drink. Las tapas in the north are more elaborate and they are called pinchos. It's spectacular to see a bar full of pinchos in San Sebastián.
The Mediterranean diet is the basis of Spanish gastronomy. It's not just a mix of food products; it's something a bit more complex. With olive oil as the main element, the Mediterranean diet is about a combination of vegetables and fresh and seasonal products (as long as it's possible), cooked simply and eaten in the company of family or friends. It's well known as a healthy way of eating, and Spain, Morocco, Italy and Greece are the countries where you can enjoy this diet. This diet was included in the list of cultural and intangible (cannot be touched or held) heritage of UNESCO in 2010!
Rice and cereals are other important ingredients on this diet as a source of energy, and rice is the main ingredient of the most popular meal in Spain--la paella. La paella is typically from Valencia, but you can have this meal in other places in Spain. In Spanish homes, la paella is a meal that people usually have on Sundays and a man usually cooks it. But in bars and restaurants of cities such as Madrid or Barcelona, you can enjoy this meal normally on Thursdays when most establishments include it on their daily menus.
In each region there is a great variety of products and meals. In the south of Spain, products like el jamón (cured ham), las gambas (prawns and olive oil) can be found. El gazpacho, a cold soup made of tomato, is a must in summertime. El pescaito frito (fried fish) can be tasted in almost all the provinces of the south.
On the east coast, la paella is the most characteristic meal, and products like the orange in Valencia and the tomato in Murcia are very well known outside the country.
On the north coast of Spain, there are really nice fish dishes and seafood with different types of sauces and in Galicia, you have to try the octopus Galician style (pulpo a la gallega).
In inland and central Spain, stew dishes are delightful. El cocido madrileño is just an example of these types of dishes. Dishes of roast meat are also on the menu.
Cheeses are very tasty and there are many types of them. Goat, sheep and cow cheese are bountiful across the country. Cabrales cheese in Asturias, tetilla cheese in Galicia, or manchego cheese in La Mancha are the most popular.
Wines are also very important in the Spanish gastronomy. Probably the drink best known abroad is la sangría: a mix of wine, lemonade or soda, pieces of fruit (lemon, orange, peach) and brandy or another liquor. But the quality of the wine in Spain is also very good. Besides la sangría, the internationally known Rioja (produced in the north of Spain) and el Jerez, a.k.a., Sherry (in the south) are the most popular wines, but not the only ones.
In future posts I will explain in detail the gastronomy of a particular region or the different types of wine and their production, as in one post it's impossible to cover all of them. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have taken notes for your visit to Spain. ¡Que aproveche!