Spain bridges Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The territory of the country has been under the influence of many different cultures, each of them adding something to the traditional Spanish cuisine. Olives, oil and wine are a Roman heritage, cooking meat and fish is a Celtic one, the Arabs introduced honey, almonds, citrus fruits and spices like cumin and saffron. Spanish expeditions during the Age of Discovery brought various products from the New World – tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers and chocolate. Gradually these foods become a permanent part of Spanish dishes. Modern Spanish cuisine is delicious and diverse. But there are a few traditional courses that you absolutely need to taste.
Paella in Valencia
A popular urban myth claims that the Valencian mix of rice, vegetables, meat and seafood was created by a man who wanted to surprise his loved one with a home-made dinner. When he came back home, he realised that he had only leftovers. He quickly mixed all that he had in the fridge and presented the new dish to his lady. That is how the name paella was born: coming from the Spanish “para ella” that translates as “for her”.
The true story about how paella was born is not even remotely as romantic. The food was popular among servants who brought home the leftovers from the exquisite banquets of Moorish kings. The name comes from the Latin word for the pans in which paella was cooked.
Paella has a number of variations in Spanish cuisine, depending on which region you are visiting. It could be vegetarian or served with meat and seafood. The key to the savoury taste of this dish lies in the use of onion and saffron. Regardless of which type of paella you get to try, you will most definitely be impressed.
Every year Pamplona attracts a number of visitors for the famous festival of San Fermín. The celebration is known for the run of six fierce bulls down the cobbled streets of the town. The festival is very popular but far less beloved than the delicious tortilla de patatas of Pamplona.
This dish was used during the 19th century as a simple, cheap and easy way to feed the Spanish army. The potato omelet is a staple in most bars around the country. Some world-class chefs have developed their own recipes inspired by the tortilla. The original, however, is still a Spanish cuisine classic that you should not miss.
Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup from Andalucia, the most southern region of Spain. Firstly, the cream soup was made with bread, olive oil, vinegar and garlic. In the different places the dish had variations including local vegetables or almonds. When Columbus brought tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from his travels, the recipe got modified to what we know today.
A popular Spanish refrain says “You can never have too much gazpacho”. Taste this refreshing soup and you will surely agree!
Pintxos in the Basque country
You have probably heard of tapas – food bites that usually “accompany” your beer n typical Spanish bars. In the past people used a piece of bread topped with hamón to protect their drink from dust and insects. Nowadays tapas are not so practical but a lot more diversified and surprisingly appetizing.
What are pintxos? Well, more or less the same as tapas just better because they are made in the Basque country in the North of Spain. This region boasts with flavourful food thanks to the high quality products that are produced locally. San Sebastian is one of the most touristic places in this part of the country. The city is literally laden with pintxos bars, each one of them offering a vertiginous range of tastes.
Chocolate con churros in Madrid
Photo by Waferboard on Flickr, Curves correction by me
For dessert I want to offer you one of those sugarcoated temptations that are not to everyone’s taste but are still a must-try. Fried sweet bread served with hot chocolate is one of the most common breakfast meals in Spain, especially in Madrid. The origin of churros is a culinary mystery. Some claim that the recipe was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Portuguese who travelled to Asia. There is a similar food in the North of China known as “youtiao”. Others say that churros were first made by shepherds who wanted to prepare something indulgent and easy. The authenticity of this version is supported by the existence of a sheep breed Churra.
Churros and chocolate were first combined in the 19thcentury and haven’t stopped to impress foodies ever since. To my taste street churros are too greasy and not sweet enough. But the home-made bread sticks rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon are a whole another thing. Nevertheless, I am yet to meet someone else who has not fallen in love with churros from the first taste. That is why it is imperative to try them. To top it all, churros in Latin America are filled with chocolate, dulce de leche, cheese or even guava!
Spanish cuisine is colourful and diversified. You should seriously consider a gastronomic trip through all 17 regions of the country. Each one offers dishes to impress. If you love good food, check out my list of the best from Italian cuisine.