There’s a whole lot of reasons anyone would want to visit Spain: gorgeous beaches, world-renowned art, colorful history, and of course delicious food.
Due to the mountainous regions of Spain and its history of various small kingdoms and ethnic groups, Spanish cuisine can be very regional. Different parts of Spain, from Catalonia to Basque Country, many traditional dishes can be specific to one culture within Spain, which makes Spanish cuisine so diverse.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Spanish Dishes
The two basic staple ingredients in almost all Spanish food are olive oil and garlic. Being on the Iberian peninsula, fish and seafood are plentiful and abundant as well as jamon (ham). Typical herbs used in Spanish food include oregano, parsley and thyme.
From Tapas to Fabada to Cazon en Adobo, the Spaniards know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to food. So, whenever and if ever you find yourself roaming the streets of Madrid and Barcelona, these are the Spanish dishes you absolutely must try.
With the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness, Salmorejo is a yummy cold soup from the south of Spain.
It bears a close resemblance to a world famous soup known as Gazpacho. It is a tomato and bread based soup and usually bright orange in color and with a thick texture due to the bread involved. Traditionally it is topped with chunks of boiled eggs and pieces of jamon iberico.
It is the perfect soup for a hot summer’s day, with a little bit of sherry vinegar known as jerez vinegar in Spain, and olive oil thrown in.
Rabo de Toro
Rabo de Toro is a dish consisting of stewed ox tail cooked for several hours in a red wine and tomato stock mixture.
Traditionally, Rabo de Toro was made out of the tails of fighting bulls – a male cow who had succumbed to a bull fight. Today, is more popularly made with ox tail.
These are tiny little clams collected from the coast of Andalucia. They are cooked with olive oil, parsley and garlic until they open up.
They are soft and sweet and a perfect pairing with a day at the beach. The leftover sauce from this dish is also used as a dip for bread, making this a complete and utterly delicious meal.
Espinacas Con Garbanzos
This is a perfect comfort food. Espinacas con garbanzos is made by first frying garlic and bread which become the base of the dish. Then the spinach is added and cooked with an assortment of spices such as cumin, pimenton etc.
Right at the end, chickpeas are added to top off the dish. It is best for a chilly day, served with a crunchy bread to soak up the leftover sauce.
Hailing from Cataluna, this magnificent dessert bares a resemblance to creme brulee. The Catalan cream is served cold and has a custard infused with lemon rind and cinnamon, making it more refreshing than its French counterpart.
It is perfect for a hot summer day while sitting at a shady cafe in Barcelona.
This is a very tasty cheese made from sheep milk. The original Manchego cheese is only made in the La Mancha region from a specific sheep breed called “Manchega”, but fear not because due to its popularity it can be found all over Spain.
Not found in many tourist restaurants but certainly a classic Spanish dessert, one must try the Leche Frita! It has a firm, sweet, milky and cold center made by cooking milk, sugar and flour until it turns into a dough.
The outside shell is warm and crunchy and dusted with cinnamon. Paired with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and some black coffee usually, it is definitely a must try dish.
Tapas is to a collection of hot or cold appetizers, each of which is an individually prepared small dish. One of the most popular meals in Spain, Tapas is enjoyed throughout the world in Spanish-style restaurants.
Tapas often consists of cured hams, cheeses, olives, seafood and bread, as well as hot foods such as calamari.
Spain has always been popular for its bean varieties but undoubtedly the king of Spanish bean stews is certainly the fabada. It originates from the northwest Asturia region and consists of Spanish white beans or faba asturiana as they are called in Spanish.
These beans are left to simmer with black pudding, pork shoulder, saffron and chorizo. It is often cooked and served in a traditional clay oven which gives it an additional smoky flavor.
A dish perfect for the winters with a crusty bread and a bottle of red wine alongside.
Pisto Manchego is a dish prepared using garden vegetables, with tomato and pepper as its base. The French have a similar dish which is known as the Manchego ratatouille.
Pisto is a very healthy and low-calorie vegetable dish, often served as an accompaniment to meat or fish, although in most cases, the vegetable ratatouille as it is better is with a fried egg and a good piece of bread.
Perhaps not the most appealing looking dish in this list but do not be put off by just the looks alone. Morcilla is a blood sausage and it tastes much better than it has any right to.
The pork sausage is traditionally made with rice or onions, pine nuts, paprika and almonds. Morcilla is so scrumptious that it can be eaten simply fried in a little bit of olive oil and served with a crusty bread, it can also be paired with flavor stews such as the above mentioned fabada.
Cazon En Adobo
Another dish that originates from the southern shores of Andalusia, cazon en adobo is a fantastic dish coming from very humble origins. Adobo is a generic term referring to the marinade rich in spices, oil and vinegar which is used to enhance the flavor and preservation of food across much of South America and the Iberian peninsula.
In Andalusia, adobo is frequently used to marinade Cazon, which is a small shark known as dogfish, with an almost meat-like, firm texture. Adobo serves as the tenderising agent and softens the meat which is then cut into chunks, battered and deep fried.
It is one of the tastiest spicy fried fish that is perfect with a glass of Jerez sherry.
Originating from the North-Eastern part of Spain, Valencia, this hearty seafood speciality is a must try. It is a close relative to the world famous paella, but instead of the rice used in paella, it is made with a special noodle known as fideua.
It is prepared in a fashion quite similar to paella. Huge amounts of rich fish stock and tasty morsels such as clams, monkfish and prawns are cooked in a large shallow pan.
Although paella might be more internationally famous, fideuada is by far the most popular choice for locals in the north-eastern region of Spain.
Pepito is a traditional sandwich made using beef, pork or chicken. It is also consumed throughout Latin America, in particular Venezuela where it is a popular street food and in Mexico. Additional primary ingredients used to prepare this sandwich include refried beans, black beans or pinto beans. The bread can be a soft roll, bun or baguette.
Although the ingredients do vary by region and by people’s preferences, there are a large number of common ingredients that can be added to a Pepito including eggs, onions, cheese, lettuce and avocado.
Papas Arrugadas With Mojo
So everyone who has been to Spain must have tried the famous potato based dish called patatas bravas which are essentially fried potato chunks topped with a spicy red sauce. But head over to the Canary Islands and you are in for a little known treat.
These “wrinkled potatoes” are small in size and boiled in salt water and baked until their skin shrivels. They are then served with a dollop of Canarian mojo – a sauce made with red peppers and spices which give the dish its warmth and rich flavor.
Bocadillo, also known as bocata, is a sub-type sandwich prepared using Spanish bread, usually a baguette or similar kind of bread, cut lengthwise. There are many variations but the classic bocadillo includes ingredients like slices of pickled green (or red) peppers, slices of pork loin, tomatoes, sliced Manchego cheese, and some olive oil.
Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega is an octopus dish which originates from the Galicia region of Spain. The dish is very simple. The octopus is boiled and, once cooked, it is sliced then drizzled with oil and paprika. It is often served over sliced potatoes and with a glass of wine.
Puchero is a Spanish-originating stew consisting of a wide range of local vegetables, the exact ingredients of which vary by region. The dish is also very popular in Yucatán, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Philippines, and the independent communities of Andalusia and the Canary Islands.
Angulas are quite simply baby eels (the worm-shaped seafood), which are popular in the Basque region of Spain. Considered to be one of Spain’s most expensive foods, they are generally consumed tapas-style, as an element of a multi-course meal or with spaghetti.
Baby eels were traditionally cooked and consumed individually in a small earthenware dish along with a unique wooden fork prepared using Boj wood.
Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago is a Spanish almond cake or pie, prepared using ground almonds, eggs and sugar. The cake is further flavored by lemon zest, sweet wine, brandy or grape marc, depending on the recipe.
Torrejas are a traditional dessert eaten in many Latin American countries such as including Mexico and El Salvador, made from bread which is dipped in eggs before being fried and soaked in a sweet syrup. It is similar to French toast or eggy bread which is prepared in a similar fashion.
Rosquillas are crown-shaped, deep-fried donuts. They are comparatively smaller in size to regular donuts, fluffy in texture, and consist of a hole in the center. They are generally made during the Holy Week festivities.
Croquetas de Pollo
Croquetas de Pollo, or chicken croquettes, is a dish of breaded then deep-fried chicken pieces. To make the croquettes, chicken is first cooked then cut into small pieces. The chicken is mixed into a bechamel sauce. The mixture is molded into small finger shaped logs which are dipped into eggs then rolled into breadcrumbs and fried.
Croquettes are popular as tapas when sold in restaurants and a staple of Spanish households.
Chicharrón is a pork dish made by frying pieces of pork skin or pork belly until they turn golden brown and crispy. While frying is the traditional and preferred method of cooking, chicharrón can also be made by baking.
Besides being the name of the dish, Chicharrón also means crackling in Spanish. The plural form is chicharrones. Chicharonnes and pork rinds are the same thing, however chicharonnes can be made from the skins of other meat like beef.
Natillas is a traditional egg custard dessert from Spain. The custard is made by whisking hot milk into an egg and cornstarch mixture. The mixture is then cooked in a pot until it is thick. The flavorings are added at various stages. After cooking, the custard is chilled for several hours to be served cold, with a Maria biscuit on top.
Bienmesabe is a sweet dessert made using ground almonds, egg yolk and honey as its main ingredients. Other ingredients such as cinnamon, lemon zest and sweet wine are also added, depending on the recipe used.