It’ll come as no surprise to most that the Spanish know their way around the dinner table. But with such a wide variety of climates and terrains, not to mention a long history of invasion and occupation by different peoples, Spanish cuisine across the nation is as diverse as it is tasty. Which, if you’re unfamiliar, is very!
With so many scrumptious staple dishes to choose from, here’s an overview of what’s cooking around the country and, more importantly, what not to miss.
Snug in the northwestern corner of Spain sits the coarse and rocky region of Galicia. Here you’ll find the popular pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela and a strong tradition of myths and legends inherited from Celtic ancestors.
It’s not a coincidence that the symbol of the Way of St James is a scallop shell. Found in abundance on Galician shores, Vieiras a la gallega, stuffed with breadcrumbs and paprika and baked golden brown, are an exquisite local delicacy.
For a less clammy treat, try the empanadas – savoury pastry pies filled with finely chopped seasonal vegetables, a little spice and whatever kind of meat you fancy.
Wash it down with: Queimada, a traditional drink containing ground coffee, sugar, lemon peel and strong orujo liqueur, made in a clay pot and set on fire!
In the Asturias, traditionally home to shepherds and farmers, it’s all about rich and invigorating mountain stews slow-cooked over a low flame in cosy rustic kitchens.
The Fabada Asturiana, a hearty butter bean casserole featuring spicy chorizo, morcilla (black pudding) and pork shoulder, is guaranteed to warm your belly and your bones on a chilly winter’s day.
Thanks to its rolling green hills, the region also yields excellent dairy products. Keep an eye out for the strong-flavoured Cabrales, a much cherished blue cheese aged in limestone caves.
Wash it down with: Sidra, an ancient recipe of slightly sparkling cider made with Asturian apples that has become popular throughout the country.
Bordered by the French Pyrenees to the North and the Mediterranean to the East, the cuisine of Catalonia features both mountain and coastal flavours and, in a stroke of pure genius, happily combines the two.
One such dish blending the best of both worlds, known as Mar i Muntanya (sea and mountain), pairs braised chicken with juicy shrimp in a thick garlicky ground-almond and white wine sauce. Yum!
Order a side of the classic Escalivada, smoky vegetables roasted in the embers of a wood fire and generously laced with olive oil, for the quintessential Catalonian foodie experience.
Wash it down with: Cava, the sweet, bubbly and far less pricey Spanish equivalent to champagne.
Sunny Valencia on the Eastern coast is the undisputed rice capital of the country and the birthplace of, arguably the most notorious of Spanish feasts, seafood and saffron-plenty paella.
This sturdy grain, introduced by the Moors, along with several other ingredients and cooking methods that are today a staple of Spanish cuisine, is the star of every menu in the region.
It can be cooked in a deep earthenware vessel or a pot for a sticky finish, baked in the oven to crispy perfection or, needless to say, fried in a sizzling paella pan.
Fideuà substitutes rice for noodles in a twist on the classic recipe and paella Alicantina is more meaty than fishy. And if you’re in Alicante, don’t forget to try the world-renowned turrón (almond nougat).
Wash it down with: Horchata de chufa, a milky soft drink made from tiger nuts and served cold.
Castilla y Leon, Extremadura and Castilla La Mancha are known collectively as España del Asado (Spain of the roast) and when it comes to juicy and tender suckling pig and lamb, Castilians are the resident experts.
Baking good bread is a serious endeavour here and a fresh batch should always be on hand to complement the substantial spicy broths popular throughout the winter months.
There’s more to La Mancha than Manchego cheese and you need only pick up a copy of Don Quixote to learn all about the region’s simple but elegant game-based recipes. Conejo al Ajillo (rabbit in garlic and coriander sauce) and Huevos de Codorniz (Quail eggs) are an absolute must.
Wash it down with: A cup of creamy hot chocolate, so thick it barely qualifies as a liquid. Ideal for dunking crispy churros.
The emblematic tapas tradition is said to have originated in Andalusia and it is customary in these parts to receive a plate of the tasty tid-bits when you order a caña (beer).
One story claims that it all began when King Alfonso, travelling through Cádiz, stopped for a rest and a glass of Jerez. The inn keeper covered the glass with a slice of ham to protect it from dust and the king took a liking to it, ordering a second glass and another tapa (‘cover’) to go with it.
The Andalusian confectionary tradition, Moor-inspired and adopted by Christian convents, is nutty and partial to fragrant honey – the perfect offset to salty jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) or boquerones (fresh anchovies).
Wash it down with: Jerez, a syrupy brandy produced exclusively in this region’s ‘Sherry Triangle’.
The ‘eternal spring’ of the Canary Islands makes for a tropical diet that naturally distinguishes itself from the mainland, with a mix of Native Guanche and African influences, along with many foods brought over from the Americas during the Age of Discovery.
Gofio (roasted maize) is a favourite ingredient in all sorts of dishes, from savoury to sweet, and the tangy island Mojos (sauces) are doled out with equal relish – particularly with a serving of Sanchocho Canario (salted white fish) and Papas Arrugadas, small unpeeled potatoes cooked in Atlantic seawater.
Wash it down with: Barraquito, the flamboyant Canarian version of a latte, sweetened with condensed milk and Cuarenta y Tres (43) liqueur.
Now that you’re dying to try all these mouthwatering Spanish delicacies, all that’s left is to book your flight to Spain!