If you’re planning to explore Spain and to fully experience this wonderful land, there’s no better way than with your taste buds. Spanish cuisine is among the most varied and celebrated in the world. Many dishes are simple to prepare but are filled with unparalleled richness. The most famous Spanish foods are served either as a main entrée or in smaller portions known as tapas.
Through the centuries, Spanish cuisine has developed into a range of delicious dishes made with fresh and interesting ingredients from all corners of the country. Let’s explore some of the most famous Spanish dishes to try when you’re in the country:
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One of the most famous Spanish dishes, paella originates from Valencia. The most traditional variations of paella are made with chicken, rabbit, or seafood. The meat or seafood is typically simmered with white beans, green beans, rice, and fresh herbs such as rosemary and saffron. It usually takes some time to prepare, but the slow cooking method highlights the distinctive flavors beautifully. Most Spanish restaurants offer a form of paella typically served with bright yellow rice.
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Gazpacho is a popular dish best described as cold tomato soup — a description that doesn’t really do the dish justice. A proper gazpacho is made with fresh tomatoes, red bell peppers, cucumber, bread, garlic, and olive oil blended into a smooth liquid. Gazpacho is often served in shot glasses as tapas.
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Gambas al ajillo
The Spanish just love seafood, and many of their finest dishes include the best flavors found in the sea. One of the best Spanish foods is gambas al ajillo. Whether you try it as tapas or an appetizer, the dish will stand out. The dish is made with prawns that are cooked in a small clay dish filled with olive oil, cut roasted garlic, and a pinch of chili. It is usually served with crusty bread that can be used to soak up the delicious garlic sauce.
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One of the typical — and most celebrated — foods from Spain is jamón, or cured ham. Jamón is made of legs of ham that are traditionally salted, hung up, and dried to preserve them through the winter months. The most common type is jamón serrano (ham of the mountain). This ham comes from white pigs; the more expensive ham, jamón Iberico, comes from black pigs. The best Jamón should be enjoyed in thin slices on its own, with bread. If you’re in Madrid, check out the unique Museum of Jamon.
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Escalivada is one of the more popular vegetarian dishes found in Spain. This vegetable-laden dish originates from Catalonia and can also be found in Aragon, Valencia, and Murcia. Escalivada consists of grilled vegetables such as onions, eggplant, and red peppers cooked to give them a smoky flavor. The vegetables are sliced thinly and cooked in olive oil and sherry vinegar. Traditionally, they can also be roasted over a fire or barbecue grill.
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This famous Spanish food is prepared with a buttery béchamel base that is chilled and formed into round patties and coated in egg wash and breadcrumbs. The patties are then fried until crispy and golden. Most popular versions of croquetas use ham or shredded chicken in the base, but other ingredients such as cod, mushrooms, or shrimp are also common. Today, they are often served as tapas and enjoyed with a few drinks.
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This is a staple among the small dishes that make up the typical tapas menu in Spanish restaurants. This Spanish food, which translates to “brave potatoes,” is named for its spicy flavor. The potatoes are cubed, fried, and spiced. They are served with sauces from spicy ketchup to rich garlic mayonnaise with a dusting of smoked paprika.
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One of the most typical dishes of Spain found on most menus in restaurants is migas. This is a traditional, ancient dish served as comfort food during winter in Spain. At its base, it is made from soft bread cooked in fat. The name “migas” translates to “crumbs,” which refers to its main ingredient, breadcrumbs. In Spain, the ingredients of migas may vary from region to region. But generally, the dish consists of water-soaked bread, paprika, garlic, and olive oil.
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Now for something sweet! Churros are a popular sweet snack of hot fried dough covered in sugar crystals. They have a long, spiral shape, making them ideal to munch on the go. These treats can be found at most roadside street stalls and are typically served with hot chocolate for dipping.
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Spaniards simply love turrón, or almond nougat, mostly enjoyed over Christmas, although it’s available throughout the year. Most turrón is made in the town of Jijona, using locally grown almonds mixed with egg white and honey, but you can also make homemade turron. There are two basic types: a hard alicante turrón with pieces of almond, and a soft, smooth version called jijona.
Lesser known Spanish dishes you should absolutely try
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Orejas de cerdo, aka pig’s ears, are a Madrid specialty. If you’re an experimental eater, these pan-fried snacks are ideal. The taste is porklike, and most people flavor them with just salt, paprika, or both. This savory crispy dish is actually much tastier than it sounds.
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Percebes, also known as goose barnacles, are a delicacy in Spain. And they are quite expensive! Contrary to the name, this is a crustacean. The taste of percebes is very intense, so most chefs simply boil them for a few minutes, without seasoning. Once cooked, the barnacle is twisted apart and the flesh is sucked out. Some say it has a taste similar to lobster.
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Snails are not just a French specialty. Spaniards can be very sophisticated eaters too, and they are really good at cooking mountain snails. Locally going by the name Caracoles a la montañesa, snails are usually enjoyed in the spring when it’s rainy, and are sautéed in a tomato garlicky sauce or served with rice or meat.
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The best Spanish cuisine: Something for everyone
The variety of Spain’s cuisine separates it from the neighboring Portuguese cuisine (which is also delicious). Whether it’s zesty soup, fresh fish, or delicious tapas, you’ll never get bored with food in Spain. Whether you’re traveling to Valencia on the beautiful east coast or to the Basque Country in the north, there is a dish for every taste to try, because every region claims to have the best foods in Spain.
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