Over the last decade Spain has been at the forefront of the world’s culinary fascinations. Chef Ferran Adria’s elBulli in Catalonia was for many years ranked as the best restaurant in the world and his signature style associated with the rise of molecular gastronomy put Spain’s kitchen creatives on the map. Across the globe chef’s have borrowed Spain’s tradition of tapas, serving small plates ideal for sharing, and showcased their own cuisine with concepts curated as Japanese, Peruvian or Moroccan tapas bar concepts.
There’s no better way to discover an authentic taste of Spain then by embarking on a culinary road trip. On a recent two week trip I was able to sample through local delicacies in Valencia, Mallorca, Ibiza, Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Malaga, each city offering its own unique taste of place. And while Spain has its own staples (you’ll find patatas bravas, sangria, and croquettes everywhere), local chef’s prepare each dish with their own regional flare.
I navigated the trips sips and nibbles with the help of Eyewitness Travel Spain, which features dedicated regional flavour profiles highlighting each destinations must-try dishes and drinks. For foodies like me, it’s a great help to review an eye-popping photo-feast for each destination so when dining out at restaurants and bars you can ensure you’re tasting each city’s most famous delicacies.
Editors Note: this is by no means a definitive list of Spain’s top dishes. Spain is a vast and culinary diverse country and this writer explored just three regions for this story (Eastern Spain, The Balearic Islands, and Andalucia). This list is intended to offer first time visitors a taste of what Spains’s kitchens and bars have to offer.
25 Must Try Tastes in Spain
Wine has been produced in Spain since pre-Roman times and it seems as though every region you visit has its own celebrated grape. The country’s most internationally lauded bottles come from Rioja, where Spain’s top selling reds are produced. Most restaurants have local wines (white, red, rose, and cava) on offer by the glass (typically offered for an affordable 1-3 Euros a glass). If you’re in Malaga be sure to sample the regions unique sweet reds, as well as famous fortified wines sherry and vermouth produced in the province of Cadiz.
The most popular beer (cerveza) in Spain is a stereotypical mass-produced lager with popular brands including San Miguel and Estrella. I was pleasantly surprised to see a growing craft beer scene in the destinations I visited. It just requires doing a little research in advance as most restaurants and tapas bars will likely serve the more recognizable big brands. After chatting with a brewer in Ibiza (the island’s only craft brewery) it seems like the biggest challenge on selling to locals is with the price point. Craft beers such as hoppy IPAs, chocolatey stouts, and citrus-forward wheat beers cost more to produce and are typically sold at boutique beer bars for one or two euros more per glass.
After spending a long day skipping around in the sun there is nothing more satisfying then watching the sunset over a jug of sangria. The popular thirst-quenching cocktail can be ordered in three varieties (red, white, cava) but the most traditional is made by muddling a bottle of red wine with apples, peaches, and citrus, orange liqueur, sparkling lemonade, and plenty of ice.
Shishito peppers (also known as Padrón) are a variety of petite peppers produced in Galacia, northwestern Spain. They are typically prepared scorched over a flame and served topped with sea salt. Only about one in ten of the small green peppers are spicy, so eating them with friends at a bar over a few beers can offer hilarious entertainment when someone finally bugles their eyes with surprise.
Patatas Bravas may just be Spain’s most iconic tapas. The dish typically consists of chunks of potato that have been deep fried and then smothered in a spicy tomato and creamy garlic aioli.
Pan con tomate, simply translates to “bread with tomato,” and is one of Spain’s most popular snacks enjoyed often at breakfast. The simple dish consists of toasted slices of top quality bread, with tomato rubbed over and seasoned with olive oil and salt.
My favourite bite-sized morsel in Spain are croquettes, a small deep fried savoury popular in tapas bars. The two most common varieties are creamy bechamel whipped with Iberian ham, and bacalao (cod) which is often topped with sweet mayo.
Paella is a Valencian rice dish named after the shallow pan used to prepare it. Most tourists consider paella to be Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Classic paella from Valencia is prepared with white rice, green and white beans, chicken, rabbit, snails, artichokes, saffron and rosemary.
Bocadillo are Spain’s take on the sandwich and are an excellent low-cost snack to enjoy midday at a beer bar or cafe. I visited one bar in Mallorca that offered a bocadillo menu featuring over ten sandwiches, from spicy sobrassada and scrambled eggs, to a simple slices of top quality Jamon Iberico topped with manchego cheese.
Much like its neighbours Portugal and France, Spain has an exceptional cheese (queso) tradition with many regions producing their own unique varieties. Spain’s most famous cheese is manchego, a sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha, which depending on how long it has been aged can be enjoyed as a young ripe cheese or a nutty variety similar to Gruyere or Parmigiano.
For Spain’s meat lovers Jamon Iberico is their fondest pride and joy. The hoofed hams can be seen throughout the country, hanging from the ceiling from food market stalls to tapas bars. Jamon Iberico is typically served on a plate, sliced paper thin with petite breadsticks to crunch on between swigs of wine or beer. The best way to enjoy Spain’s iconic ham is by placing a slice on your tongue for a few seconds to allow the fat and meat to warm up, releasing a multitude of magnificent flavours and aromas.
A popular staple in eastern Spain, Horchata is a refreshing plant milk beverage served ice-cold with fartons polo (slender glazed donuts). The seriously sweet drink is prepared using tiger nuts which were originally brought to the country by the Moors.
Pincho (pinxto) are a typical bar snack in northern Spain, which are related to tapas, the main difference being that pinchos are always spiked with a skewer or toothpick. They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks.
Sobrassada is a raw, cursed sausage from the Balearic Islands made of ground pork, paprika, salt and other spices. The best way to enjoy sobrassada is simply by slicing open the sausage and spreading it over a slice of freshly baked bread.
Spanish Empanada’s are distinctly different from the pocket- sized varieties most commonly found in Mexico, and through Central and South America. In Mallorca they’re served as pastry wrapped pies, stuffed with roast lamb, pistachio, and sobrassada), but across Spain you’ll find different fillings based on regional tastes.
One of Spain’s most surprising desserts is Flaó, which can only be found on the island of Ibiza. The circular shared cheesecake if prepared with sheep or goat cheese, eggs, sugar, peppermint leaves, and aniseed. A slice of Flaó is traditionally eaten after dinner with a glass of sweet wine or local liqueur.
In Ibiza every meal begins with a traditional snack featuring slices of crunchy bread, bowl of plump olives, and creamy white aioli. The island’s iconic dip differs from mayonnaise in that it does not require egg to form an emulsion. The classic Ibizan recipe features raw garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
I’m admittedly not the biggest seafood lover but if you’re a fan of the fish Spain offers plenty of options such as canned smoked oysters, perfectly grilled octopus, and an endless array of fish fillets. My favourite seafood staple was enjoyed on the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, a school of shrimp swimming in spicy garlic butter.
Torrija is Spain’s take on French Toast and traditionally prepared for Lent and Holy Week. it is usually made by soaking stale bread in milke, wine, or honey and then dipped in beaten egg and fried with olive oil. This technique breaks down the fibres in the bread and results in a pastry with a crispy outside and smooth, custard-like inside. It’s often sprinkled with cinnamon covered in warm caramel.
Out of the hundreds of dishes I devoured in Spain, Andalucia’s flamenquin was the one that I craved the most. The dish is typical of Cordoba and consists of jamon serrano wrapped in pieces of pork loin, coated with egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried. You can also find more creative varieties, my favourite being filled with pickled peppers and wrapped in manchego oozing onto the plate with glee.
A classic vegetarian dish popular in Seville, Espinacas con Garbanzos (or chickpeas and spinach) is a hearty stew enjoyed by locals in the cold winter months. The dish offers a history lesson as spinach was brought to Spain by Persia and chickpeas arrived here thanks Arab traders.
While everyone is likely familiar with Spain’s famed gazpacho, salmorejo is a popular soup served cold in Andalucia. The first time you spoon through a bowl of salmorejo you’ll quickly notice the quirky soup is as thick as pudding. The popular soup is prepared using fresh tomato, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and thickened with stale bread. The hearty soup is served topped with boiled egg and cured Spanish ham.
If you’re a fan of fried sweets Granada’s popular eggplant with molasses is bound to please. In the kitchen cooks remove the skin of the eggplant and then slice them into shoestring style fries which are battered, deep fried and served with a drizzle of sticky molasses.
The tradition of dunking Churros in chocolate is most common in Madrid, but if you’re a serious chocoholic you can likely find a cafe in every city in Spain specializing in the sublime sweet. Churros in Spain are typically served right out of the frier and accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate (served the consistency of warm pudding).
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