Spanish food is often recognised as one of the top cuisines in the world, and some traditional Spanish dishes and recipes date hundreds of years. Food has become as integral to Spain as its rich and tumultuous history, with each region of Spain – once a collection of numerous, distinct kingdoms – boasting their own unique cuisines and flavours.
In bars you’ll quickly find the usual top Spanish tapas all around the country, for example olives, Manchego cheese, tostadas con tomate (grated or scratched tomato on Spanish bread), pinxtos (Basque-style, mini sandwiches) or a plate of Spanish bravas (fried potato with spicy tomato sauce). While Spain’s tapas are a gourment exploration in itself, here are some more top Spanish foods you have to try.
You can find Spanish a plate of croquetas in almost any restaurant or bar, each made to the establishment’s own – sometimes secret – recipe, combining ingredients such as jamon (cured ham) or bacalao (Atlantic cod fish) with béchamel sauce, which is then breaded and fried. The creamy cheese (queso) croquettes pack a smooth flavour, or try the croquettes of local sweet-spiced black sausage (morcilla) or Spanish blue cheese (queso de Cabrales) for unique Spanish flavours.
The Spanish omlette is another beloved top Spanish food – and everyone has an opinion on how to cook it. It’s a great starter (or meal) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no doubt you’ll come across many Spanish potato omelettes during your time in Spain. Like croquetas, you can find them in almost any bar and to varying degrees of quality and flavour.
3. Pisto – Spanish ratatouille
This vegetarian top Spanish dish is for all ages, eaten in Spain as a tapa, appetiser, a side dish to meats, or even as a meal with a fried egg on top or chorizo. It’s a Spanish ratatouille of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, and of course, olive oil. The palatable competition of intense roasted flavours makes this a tasty recipe to try at home. You can find it in restaurants around Spain, and especially in the towns across the plains of La Mancha, south of Madrid.
4. Cured meats – jamon, chorizo, salchichón
Jamon is ubiquitous in Spain, carved thinly off cured legs of pork that you will see hanging in most bars and restaurants. Jamon is a serious business and an art in Spain, with many factors in place to determine quality, such as what the pigs are fed, the type of pig and the curing process. Jamón ibérico de bellota is the top category, where Spanish pigs (Ibérico) are free-range and acorn-fed (bellota); other types include Ibérico (corn-fed) or Serrano ham, which are typically cheaper.
This rice-based dish is well known internationally, although in Valencia you will find many authentic variations that equally vie for attention. Some consider this a national dish of Spain, but many consider it a Valencia dish, from where it originated and you can typically find the best paella. The most traditional Valencian paella is a mixture of chicken or rabbit (or both), white and green beans and other vegetables, but seafood is also common, where you can find an array of seafood suprises among the flavoursome rice, such as calamari, mussels, clams, prawns, scampi or fish, depending on the type you order. For the adventurous, a black rice stained by octopus ink is a must try (arroz negro), and if you find paella with less common ingredients such as eel (anguila) or duck (pato), don’t miss the rare chance. Fiduea is tasty twist on the rice-based paella, as it uses a small curly pasta instead.
6. Patatas bravas
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of tapas, patatas bravas vary quite a bit around the country, but all versions involve chunks of fried potato. In Madrid, bravas sauce is made with sweet and spicy pimentón – Spanish paprika – olive oil, flour and stock – but never tomatoes. Some people add garlic, some a dash of fino sherry, while others selfishly insist of keeping their secret ingredients to themselves.