By spending almost 3 weeks in Spain, one of the most important part of my travel experience is to discover new tastes and enjoy traditional local food. Experience culture through local food gives a better understanding of Spanish’s history, societies, customs and traditions.
Spain is never just about beautiful art and architecture, but how their food has influenced the country’s rich and vast culture. Over the centuries, Spanish cuisine has developed into a wide range of delicious dishes, using fresh and colorful ingredients from every corners of the country.
There are plenty of old establishments which had been carry on by third of fourth generation of the family. This is where you can find a true authentic food and the recipes are still preserved and retains its original tastes.
Going on a Food Adventure
From delicious tapas, warm stews, freshly catch seafood and sweet desserts, there is never short of food choices in any parts of the country.
Since I am backpacking alone around Spain, the best way to go sampling a variety of local food is having t tapas from different regions of Spain. They are a variety of small snacks and appetizers commonly found in bars, taverns and restaurants.
On occasion, there are some dishes better off eaten on its own rather than just having them in small portion such as flamenquin and oxtail. I get to indulge myself from every inch of the flavorful dishes.
Okay, enough with the talking and get to the bottom of list of “MUST TRY” food in Spain.
Anchovies in Vinegar
Spanish: Boquerones en Vinagre (Tapa)
Anchovies in vinegar is a common appetizer or tapa in Spain. The main ingredient is fresh anchovies. The fillets will be cleaned, deboned and submerged in a bath of salt and water for 3 hours and vinegar for another 6 hours in a cool place. Then, they are marinated in vinegar or sometimes mixture of vinegar and olive oil and seasoned with garlic and parsley. The fish will be kept for 2 days before getting ready to serve.
Diners usually eat the anchovies with beer or soft drinks and the best time to have them during the hot summers between April and September. Although this dish is originated from Málaga, simply step into any bars or restaurants and you can find this dish on the menu.
Spanish: Bomba Trébol (Tapa)
Bomba Trébol is one of the signature tapas in El Trébol, Toledo. It is similar to croquette and made with simple ingredients such as potatoes, minced meat, peppers, tomato sauce and aioli.
Spanish: Empanada (Tapa)
The bread pie is one of the most famous Galician snacks consists of pastry and fillings. The fillings can be meat, fish, shellfish or pork. It can be served as dinner, but more often eaten in between meals.
Spanish: Callos (Stew)
Callos is one of the most typical food eaten during the winter. The recipe dates back to the 16th century and has served as a cold-weather dish in taverns and bars for centuries.
The stew is usually served in a clay and consists of strips of beef tripe (stomach), chunks of chorizo and slices of morcilla (blood sausages). It varies from different region of Spain with some added cheese or paprika to enhance the flavor.
Spanish: Carcamusas (Dish)
Carcamusas is a traditional Toledo dish made with lean pork and seasoned vegetable that stewed with tomato, diced chorizo, ham, peas and bay leaves with a spicy touch of hot chili pepper sauce.
This stew was invented by the owners of Bar Ludeña, José Ludeña and Rufo Herrera in 1965. Its name came with the fact that elderly gentlemen called “carcas” entertaining some younger girls who were nicknamed “muses” for amusement. Hence the name “carcamusas”. The restaurant is located in the Plaza de la Magfalena in Toledo and the business is now run by the third generation of the family.
Char Grilled Octopus
Spanish: Pulpito a la Brasa (Dish)
The way of cooking the octopus is by grilling it using charcoal. It is originated in the northwestern region of Galicia when octopus is the specialty and a common catch for local fishermen. The juicy grilled octopus will be added with olive oil, sprinkle around with sweet paprika and served with slices of potatoes
Cheese Mix- Goat Payoya and Sheep
Spanish: Mix de Quesos Artesanos (Tapa)
The cheese mix is served with exceptional high quality Payoya goat cheese and sheep cheese. It comes a little side of sweet roasted ground nuts.
The name “Payoya” originates from Villaluenga del Rosario, in the province of Cádiz, which is one of the towns where the birth of this goat species. The inhabitants here are called Payoyos. The distinguish between the Payoya goats (Montejaqueña goat) is that they are considered endangered. Therefore, the goats are protected and only use for the production of its cheese.
Spanish: Churros (Pastry)
Churros is one of Spaniards’ favorite pastries and is popularly eaten during breakfast. This soft pastry come with various shapes and sizes. Some people prefer short and straight while others like them spiraled and twisted. They can be dipped in many sweet treats such as delicious hot chocolate, champurrado or caramel.
Cuttlefish and Prawn Meatball with Black Rice
Spanish: Albondigas de Choco y Gambas con Arroz Negro (Tapa or dish)
These tasty meatballs are an Andalusian specialty which is a mixture of cuttlefish and prawn. As for the black rice, it is made with seafood stock and squid ink which gives the characteristic black color as well as a spectacular flavor. It is one of the most special dishes of the East of the Iberian Peninsula.
Spanish: Huevos Rellenos (Tapa)
This classic deviled egg is only made with two key ingredients- tuna and eggs. Its origin came from Andalusia and the recipe went through several changes, mostly because mayonnaise wasn’t used in the past. Back then, it was made with a similar sauce called “Murri”, a fermented fish of what the present day recipe for tuna.
Today, it is prepared by taking out and mixing the egg yolks with the filling of mayonnaise, salt, paprika and pepper. Once they are smashed, the fillings are placed back on top of the white and is ready to eat the appetizer. It can either eaten at room temperature or store in the fridge for 30 minutes before eating.
Spanish: Flan (Dessert)
This egg custard has a characteristic deep golden, caramel top and a caramel sauce that cascades down the side of the creamy custard. This elegant dessert is made up of milk, eggs and sugar, but some people do add extra flavorings like lemon or cinnamon.
The egg custard dates all the way back to Ancient Rome where the people were known for their creation of egg dishes, most likely because they were the first people to domesticate chickens for the eggs. You will find both sweet and savory egg custards being enjoyed in Rome.
Its recipe has widely spread throughout Europe and Spain used caramelized sugar as their signature indigent. When the Moors conquered Spain, they brought citrus and almonds to make them and those flavoring are still commonly use today. This dessert is became very common in Latin America when the Spaniards took their recipe into the New World.
Spanish: Flamenquin Córdobese (Tapa or dish)
Flamenquin Córdobese is made with pork loin, Serrano ham, mozzarella cheese, flour and eggs. It is well coated and deep-fried before serving with side dishes such as French fries and salad.
The dish was created by the people of Córdoba several centuries ago. The name may be named after the flamenco animal since it could look like one of its legs, or may be because of the uniform of the flamenco soldiers at the time of King Carlos I.
Fried Eggplant with Honey
Spanish: Berenjenas Fritas con Miel (Tapa)
Popular around Andalusian region, fried eggplant with honey is sweet and savory dish, and is well-loved by Sephardic Spanish Jews. It is best eaten right after it’s been made when it’s hot and fresh, otherwise its crispiness will turn soft.
Olive oil will be filled around the skillet and heated until warm. Then coat the slices of eggplant in the flour and place them in the olive oil. It take a few minutes to cook on each side or when turning golden brown. The crispy fried eggplant will be sprinkled with salt and drizzle with honey before being serve.
Fried Squid Sandwich
Spanish: Bocadillo de Calamares (Dish)
This is one of the most awkward times I have in Spain. Having fried squid itself is very usual thing. But eating as a sandwich, that’s something you won’t see everyday. However, it is one of Madrileños’ favorite food and is commonly found at the side streets and bars.
The most traditional fried squid sandwich consists of fresh, crusty bread loaded with flour-coated, deep-fried squid rings. Some Spaniards upgrade with two ingredients-tomato and paprika puree or homemade garlic mayonnaise.
Now you feel more convince, just give it A GO!
Spanish: Gambas al Pil Pil or Gambas al Ajillo (Tapa)
One of most popular Spanish tapas, the dish consists of shrimps that are sautéed in a pan with minced garlic, lemon juice, paprika and olive oil. The garlic shrimp is garnished with chopped parsley and pair with some crusty bread on the side to dip in the flavorful sauce.
Spanish: Bocadillo de Jamón (Dish)
This ham sandwich is made with Spanish-style baguette that has been cut in half and layered with slices of Spanish ham such as Serrano ham (jamón Serrano) or Iberian ham (jamón Iberico).
The bread is often drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with ripe tomato halves and garlic to make the sandwich much juicier and flavorful. Some variation of the sandwich will include slices of cheese, tomato slices, strips of roasted piquillo peppers and pitted black olives. These ham sandwiches is usually accompanied with a glass of fresh orange juice, coffee, tea or even a glass of wine.
Spanish: Cazon en Adobo or Pescaito Frito en Adobo (Dish)
The marinated dogfish is an unique dish from Andalusia and the recipe was created in the 17th century in Cádiz. Since the region is located along the Mediterranean Sea, it has a rich tradition of cooking with fishes. The dogfish is a common fish in the area, categorize as a shark species.
The technique used to preserve the fish was to cover them with a kind of “dressing” called Adobo which is a mix of vinegar, water and spices usually used to marinate fish. Eventually, it evolved into the marinated fish known these days. It can be served with mayonnaise or sweet mustard sauce.
Spanish: Marzipan (Pastry)
The sweet marzipan is meant for someone with a little sweet tooth. The traditional recipe is made with raw, ground almonds, sugar and almond paste but some confectioneries add in other subtle components like honey, almond oil, almond extract or egg white. It can be found throughout the ancient city of Toledo.
The true origin of the delicacy remain unknown and some said it is from Spain, Turkey, Italy, Greece and Germany. But according to Spanish version, the origin lies with them, as historical texts indicate that Postre Regio was eaten in Toledo as a specialty during the reign of Alfonso VII.
It is also believed that sugar and almond could have been used to make an almond paste during the famine that ensued in Castile after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. To top all of this off, the European Union does recognize the name, Marzipan de Toledo, as the protected designation of origin.
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Spanish: Albondigas en Salsa en Tomate (Tapa or Dish)
This Spanish meatball in tomato sauce is slightly different than what I see elsewhere. This meatball in tapa size served with potato wedges in it. Meatballs are commonly eaten with spaghetti or rice, but in Spain, you can just them alone as a hot dish. These meatballs are made with ground beef and pork or only one type or another.
Migas with Chorizo
Spanish: Migas con Chorizo
Migas con Chorizo was usually cooked for breakfast using leftover bread, but over time it became a fashionable dish that was served for lunch and dinner in many Spanish restaurants. The ingredients needed to prepare this migas are stale bread, Spanish chorizo, salty pork (or bacon) and sometimes vegetables. Everything is cooked in olive oil with garlic, then flavored bell pepper, bay leaves and Spanish paprika.
Spanish: Rabo de Toro (Stew)
Oxtail is one of my favorite dishes I had in Spain. It is one of the most underrated fatty cuts of meats packed full of flavor. Originated from Andalusia, each restaurant and region has their own recipe, but it’s usually made with a combination of oxtail, olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, paprika, tomatoes, red wine, dry sherry, bay leaves and parsley.. Once it is ready, this slow-braised stew is typically served with mash, wedges or fried potatoes on the side.
This typical Spanish stew goes back to Roman times and is said to have created from the Southern region of Spain famous for flamenco dance. Traditionally the bull will be killed after a bullfight and its tail would be braised and eaten in celebration.
Spanish: Pimientos de Padrón (Tapa)
Padrón Pepper is a true delicacy originated from Padrón in Galicia in the northwest of Spain. These bright green peppers are small, about two inches long and their bodies twist and bloat at certain points. They are traditionally fried in hot olive oil until they crumple, with the stalk left on. Then, drizzled in olive oil and seasoned with salt. The taste is quite mild, but intense hot at the upper part and can be eaten as a whole.
Spanish: Paella Mixta
One of the most loving dishes by Spaniards, mixed paella is a classic grilled rice dish perfect for sharing. Everything is cooked together in one pan and absorbs the smoky flavor from the fire. It was created by outside influences on the Valencian Paella.
Its origins are ancient and rooted around Valencia near Albufera Lagoon where both fishing and rice growing dominated the region for centuries. Paella was the food of farm workers who cooked dishes of rice over wood fires, embellished with whatever ingredients they could find.
Spanish bomba rice is a medium-grained stubby rice used to cook paella to absorbs liquid well but maintains some firmness when it cooks. The key to this dish is the crusty caramelized layer of rice called “socarrat” that forms on the bottom of the pan. The ingredients often have here are seafood, Spanish chorizo and chicken. The mixed paella is incredibly satisfying.
Spanish: Oreja a la Plancha (Dish)
Oreja a la Plancha is a traditional dish from Madrid and literally translates as “pan-seared ear”. The pig’s ears are cut into slices or cubes and grilled in olive oil with spices and seasonings.
They are usually served as ración, or large portion with mushrooms or bacons and eaten using small toothpicks. It is often sprinkle with salt or paprika and occasionally squeezed with fresh lemon. I love its texture from the crunchy cartilage to its chewy skin.
Red Tuna Tataki
Spanish: Tataki de Atún Rojo (Dish)
Red tuna tataki is one of the finest seafood dish have to try when traveling around the Andalusian region. The fish is considered a high quality product due to its soft texture. The best way to make this dish is to use the loin of the tuna since the flesh is the cleanest and contains less fat.
The origin of the Japanese tuna tataki dates back to the times of the samurai. Legends has it that a famous samurai from Tosa used the same technique for bluefin tuna as how some European travelers cook their food at very high temperature.
Although the origin is Japanese, the truth is that Spaniards use red tuna caught at the coast of Cádiz or sometimes substitute with yellow fin tuna or northern albacore to make this healthy and juicy dish. The finely sliced fish will be marinated in rice vinegar, ginger and soy sauce, then coated with sesame seeds and briefly fried.
Pork Rind from Cádiz
Spanish: Chicharrón de Cadiz
This pork rind is a type of cold meat typical of Andalusia that is prepared by grinding different parts of the Iberian pig and seasoned with various spices.
In the 13th century, the settlers from the north of the peninsula brought the traditional way of preparing pork with them to the southern part that was made up of the Nasrid Muslim kingdoms. This famous food was later brought to the Canary Islands and America by these emigrants. It is therefore this reason today there are so many versions and variants worldwide.
Spanish: Salmorejo (Soup)
Salmorejo is a traditional soup originating from Andalusia. It is made of tomato, bread, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. The tomatoes are skinned and then puréed with other ingredients. Different versions of this recipe use diced Spanish ibérico ham, diced hard-boiled egg or chopped tuna.
This pink-orange soup is much creamy and thicker in texture because more olive oil is added. It is served cold and is a comfort food to keep you cool and refreshed on a hot summer day.
Spanish: Paella de Mariscos
Seafood paella is another dish Spaniards always craved and I myself love it too. The delightful dish become popular on the sunny beaches of Valencia and Barcelona. Being substitute for chicken and vegetable, this paella is replaces with scallops, shrimps, squid, mussels and chopped pieces of fish.
But the real treasure of the seafood paella is the rice. Cooked with a delicious saffron and seafood broth, the rice is a true taste of sensation all on its own. It is a must-have dish to try whenever you make a trip to Spain.
Serrano Ham Croquettes
Spanish: Croquetas de Jamón Serrano (Tapa)
Every Spaniard has the love of this classic Serrano ham croquettes. The creamy filling will melt into your mouth and might wonder if it is filled with ham flavored mashed potatoes or some yummy melted cheese and ham concoction. The answer can be neither.
Being a traditional poor man’s food, ham croquettes are a tasty bechamel sauce (olive oil, butter, flour and milk) enriched with leftover scraps of Serrano ham deep-fried into crispy perfection.
Snails in Sauce
Spanish: Caracoles a la Andaluza (stew)
Originated from Andalusia, this snail in sauce is made with a combination of snails and a rich sauce consists of tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, white wine and brandy.
The snails are first boiled in salt water, then mixed with the sauce. The dish is served hot in earthware bowls. They are easy to eat using toothpick and well paired with a glass of sherry.
Spinach with Chickpeas
Spanish: Espinacas con Garbanzos (Tapa or dish)
This traditional spinach and chickpea stew is popular food in Seville and is served in all the local tapas bars. The key ingredients to this Andalusian dish are spinach, chickpeas, stale bread, Marcona almonds, tomato sauce, sherry vinegar, olive oil, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and minced garlic.
Spanish: tortilla de patatas (Tapa)
This yummy Spanish omelette goes by a few different names- tortilla española or tortilla de papas. It’s like a frittata made with egg, potato and onion. This dish can be served as a tapa, a main dish with a baguette and green salad or a snack. It tastes great at warm, cold or at room temperature.
Spanish: Torrijas (Dessert)
Torrijas is some sort of Spanish French toast covered with honey and is made by soaking leftover bread in rich wines or milk and then in egg. Honey used in the soaking stage gives this dessert a delightful sweetness in every bite. Frying the bread creates a doughnut-like fried outer casing, while the center remains wonderfully soft.
Avoid tourist traps at popular tourist sites, streets and plazas like La Ramblas in Barcelona and Plaza Mayor in Madrid. The prices are extremely pricey and are mainly cater for tourists.
Instead, step into nearby neighborhood to enjoy a true authentic local food. They are usually located a few blocks away from city centers and touristy sites.
The easiest way to spot a tourist trap is to look at their menu. Many local bars, taverns and restaurants offer food menus in Spanish or English. If there are menus with more than 2 languages, they are most likely cater to tourists who don’t speak or a little Spanish or English.
If you have any problem in translating, some easy tips are to get food recommendations from a waiter or waitress, or use Google Translate to translate them. It does LOTS OF WONDERS in your travel experience.
Going Elsewhere in Spain?
If you are looking for more adventure in Spain, you can look at my other posts for some travel guides: