Imagine yourself sitting outside a little Spanish bar, basking in the warm Spanish sun, watching people bustle in and out of the fruit shop across the street, and listening to old Spanish men at the table next to you laugh and ramble on in their thick pueblo accents. Finally the waiter comes, and you realize that you’ve been so absorbed in your surroundings that you have no idea what to order. Luckily, Spain’s cuisine is so delicious, that you could choose any dish at random, and it’s sure to be incredible. However, if that’s not your style, here’s a bit of advice and insider knowledge on Spanish food, so you’re sure to get the most authentic and tasty experience.
It’s important to know that Spanish gastronomy extends far beyond its traditional jamón (ham), paella, tortilla de patatas, and churros con chocolate. In fact, Spain’s cookery is as diverse as its geographical terrain, with stews and meats being typical of the northern regions, seafood along the coasts, and many fried foods and summery soups in the south.
The weather also plays a great role in the specialties of each region. For example, in the southern region of Andalucía, where major cities like Seville, Granada, and
Cordoba lie, the weather is dry, warm, and sunny, making it the perfect climate for olive trees to grow and therefore one of the top producers of olives and olive oil in the world. For this reason, almost everything in Andalucía is cooked or fried in olive oil. Any kind of pescaíto frito (fried fish) is to die for, along with flamenquín (a typical fried dish from Cordoba with cured ham wrapped in pork) and solomillo al whiskey (a Sevillan favorite: pork cooked in whisky). Andalucía also combats its hot summers with two cold, tomato-based soups, gazpacho and salmorejo.
One of the unique aspects of Spanish dining is the tapa, a smaller and cheaper portion of food. According to legend, tapas originate from the 13th Century when King Alfonso X fell ill and was only able to eat small amounts of food with a bit of wine. Upon his recovery, he decreed that all drinks should be served with a small snack, something that, in Granada, is still practiced to this day. If you’re ever in Granada, simply order a wine or a beer, and they’ll surprise you with a tapa!
Finally, end your meal with a typical Spanish postre (dessert). While the south has many tasty sweets made with honey, a characteristic that derives from the heavy Arab influence, the north has a plethora of impressive desserts that you simply cannot pass up. One of the best, crema catalana, can be found in Catalonia, the northeastern region containing Barcelona. This creamy, custard dessert, the Spanish version of crème brûlée, is a must, so make sure you don’t fill up on tapas!
Now, go find an outdoor table at a quaint Spanish restaurant, soak in that warm, Spanish sun, and order yourself some of the best (and most authentic) food you’ve ever eaten. Your stomach will thank you, guaranteed!