Spain has a lot to offer on its table when it comes to culinary experience. It is one of the best places to get excited when it comes to food, because of the plentiful number of local and traditional dishes you can try.
Each region and city in the country has its own dish of specialty they are known for. There are all kinds of must-eat food you can indulge into wherever part of the country you are, with some of them having a history dating back hundreds of years ago.
Here are some of the must try dishes that you should not miss when visiting Spain.
No food adventure or trip to Spain perhaps is complete if there is no Paella feast. It originates in the Valencia region where it is said that you could have a different rice dish every day. This iconic dish was traditionally made with beans and meat /different from the rice and shellfish we know now. The traditional Paella Valenciana uses chicken or rabbit meat, rice, butter beans, and runner beans.
The Paella Valenciana of Casa Salvador in Albufera (south of Valencia) has been cooking excellent paellas for more than 60 years. It is where the bomba or calasaparra rice varieties are grown – these two are types of rice are said to be the best to use because they absorb flavor well.
If you want a different take on Paella you can try the Squid Ink Paella. The appearance may not be appealing to some but the taste would surely keep you digging in more. Envalira Restaurant and Restaurante 7 Portes both in Barcelona are one of the best places to try this version of Paella.
Casa Salvador – casasalvador.com | tel. no. 96 172 01 36 (reservations can only be made via telephone)
Envalira Restaurant – Placa del Sol, Barcelona | +34 932 18 58 13
Restaurante 7 Portes – Passeig d’Isabel II, Barcelona | 7portes.com | +34 931 76 88 90
In Spain, lunch is usually served past noon around 1 to 4 p.m. and dinner is served around 9 p.m. to 12 midnight. This leaves a significant amount of time between finishing work and dinner. Consequently, people would often go ir de tapas or tapas bar hopping after work and on weekends at noon before having lunch.
Tapas are the equivalent of appetizers in the Spanish cuisine. They can be served cold like mix of cheese and olives or hot such as fried squid. Tapas are very popular in Spain that restaurant have 8 to 12 different tapas ready for their guests – some serve it for no charge but some do charge additional for an order. This also led to the birth of Tapas Bars which are like restaurants but dedicated for tapas only, something like a café or snack house.
Tapas Bars in Spain are very common that whatever city or region you are, there is a good tapas bar to try. If you are looking for a place to drink and try some tapas, Quimet & Quimet and La Tusqueta de Blai in Barcelona are two of the well-known places to go.
Quimet & Quimet – Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, Barcelona | +34 934 42 31 42
La Tusqueta de Blai – Carrer de Blai, Barcelona|grupotasquesta.com| +34 931 73 05 61
Spain is truly home to great pork products, one of them is the chorizo. This Spanish take on pork sausage is a savory treat which is often added to other dishes can also be eaten on its own. It is made with coarsely chopped pork and flavored with pimento or dried, smoked red peppers (paprika) which also gives its distinct color and smoky flavor.
For starters, a general rule of thumb, although this is not always the case, is that long and thin are sweet or (chorizo dulce), and short ones are spicy (chorizo picante). They can be eaten without further cooking depending on the variety, or baked and cooked alongside other dishes and are commonly served in many tapas bars.
4. Wine and Cheese
When it comes to cheese, France may be the most well-known country in Europe and even in the world. Spain however, with its variety of quality cheese and cheese dishes, comes close. The Manchego Cheese or Queso Manchego also known as the Cheese of Don Quixote is very famous in Spain. It is produced in the middle regions of Spain and is made with Manchega sheep’s milk. These sheep have a specific diet responsible for the slightly salty taste and intense flavor of the cheese.
Other famous varieties of cheese includes the Cabrales cheese which is a blue cheese, Burgos cheese which is commonly used in deserts or fried, Murcia cheese which is usually eaten with wine, and the Torta del Casar which is the most expensive variety of cheese in Spain.
Speaking of cheese, the best partner to it is wine in which Spain is very famous. Spanish vineyards and wineries are source of many of the world’s best and most priced wines. Their Sangria which is served in almost every restaurant and bar may be the most popular drink in Spain and is truly a must-try.
If you are looking for the best wine experience, the La Rioja province in Spain is a must visit. It is home to hundreds of wineries and thousands of vineyards, just don’t get too excited and drink moderately.
Gambas is a common prawn dish popular in most tapas bars in Spain and is commonly served as an appetizer in restaurants. The Gambas al Ajillo is made with peeled shrimp cooked in sizzling olive oil and seasoned with chili, garlic, and parsley. The Gambas a la plancha on the other hand are whole unpeeled shrimp seasoned and cooked on a flat iron grill.
The La Casa del Abuelo restaurant is a great place to try when you are in Madrid. It is home to one of the best Gambas al Ajillo you can find in Spain, it is definitely a must-try for everyone. Or you could try their Gambas rojas at El Farallo or the Suquet de Gambas which is a stew from the Catalan Region in Cal Campaner.
La Casa del Abuelo – Calle de la Victoria | lacasadelabuelo.es | +34 910 00 01 33
El Farallo – Carrer de Fenix, Denia | elfarallo.com | +34 96 6430652
Cal Campaner – Mossen Carles Feliu, Roses | calcampaner.cat | +34 972 25 69 54
6. Hamon Iberico
Spain is also very well-known for their dry-cured ham called Jamon Iberico. They are made from Black Iberian pigs or cross-bred as long as the pig is 50% iberico. These dried legs of pigs which requires century old technique are often seen hanging in local shops and bars.
Jamon in addition to gazpacho is what the southern region of Andalusia is very well-known for. So if you happen to be in Andalusia, head over to Jaylu Restaurante in Sevilla to experience traditional Jamon Iberico. Their Jamon at the Taberna Real Restaurante in Madrid is also an absolute must try.
However, you may want to indulge yourself with as much Jamon Iberico as you can while still in Spain because bringing them to some countries including the United States is considered illegal.
Jaylu Restaurant – Lopez de Gomara | eltenedor.es | +34 954 33 94 76
Taberna Real – Plaza de Isabel II, Madrid | tabernareal.com | +34 915 59 69 22
7. Suckling Pig
Locally called Cochinillo, roast suckling pig is huge part of the Spanish tradition. It is like the turkey of the United States, which is served in special occasions and family gatherings. It is very famous especially in the Castilla-Leon region where it is cooked in large wood-fired ovens. This cooking technique makes the pork very tender.
Suckling pig tend to have gelatinous texture because of the amount of collagen present in young pigs. The pigs used in making this dish are usually two to six weeks old and are still being fed on their mother’s milk, hence the name suckling or sucking pig.
Their suckling pig in Mama Bistro Toro in Don Pedro in Ronda and La Cuchara de San Telmo in San Sebastian are one of the best you can try in Spain.
La Cuchara de San Telmo – 31 de Agosto Kalea, San Sebastian, Donostia | lachuradesantelmo.com | +34 943 44 16 55
Croquetas are famous for being the dish that “every Spaniard claims that their mother has the best recipe”. These deep fried rolls are made with mashed potatoes or ground meat, fish, vegetables, and ham, cod, spinach or chicken flavored-béchamel sauce.
The Michelin-starred El Portal del Echaurren restaurant in Ezcaray, owned by the famous Chef Francis Paniego serves tapas and croquetas that are one of a kind. Of course, the recipe according to him, is from his mother.
El Porta del Echaurren – Echaurren, Ezcaray | echaurren.com/elportal
Pulpo a la gallega is an octopus dish made by repeatedly dipping the tentacles in boiling water by holding it by its head. This is to make the tentacles curl, which are preferred over the head. The tentacles are then cut and seasoned with salt, paprika, and olive oil.
In Spanish tradition, octopus dishes should not be accompanied by water when eaten, so a cold beer or Galician white wine is the preferred drink when eating pulpo a la gallega. This octopus dish is also the highlight of A Pulpeira de Melide in A Coruna.
A Pulpeira de Melide – Plaza de Espana, A Coruna | pulpeirademelide.com | 981 152 187
Gazpacho is a cold soup made with ripe tomatoes, olive oil, cucumber, carrots, onions, garlic, and vinegar blended together until a smooth consistency is achieved. They are eaten or drank as a light snack or refreshment perfect for those humid and hot Spain summer.
Gazpacho originally came from the southern region of Andalusia but other regions have also their own take on making this famous dish. Taberna Luque in Andalusia serves the traditional Gazpacho.
Taberna Luque – Calle Blanco Belmonte, Cordoba | +34 699 80 65 60
11. Tortilla Espanola
Tortilla Espanola is the Spanish counterpart of omelet. It is made with potatoes, eggs, and onions, its rather simple but its super delicious. A good tortilla is soft and moist, not dry and salty.
Tortilla is served in almost every restaurant or bar whatever region you are in, you just need to find the right place. One local favorite when it comes to tortilla is Bar Nestor in San Sebastian. They only cook two tortillas a day, one at lunch time and one in the evening, serving only 16 customers. So you better be there early.
Bar Nestor – Arrandegi Kalea, Donostia | bar-nestor.negocio.site | +34 943 42 48 73
12. Almadraba Bluefin Tuna
Tuna are prized for their exquisite texture and taste, they are caught on the coasts of Cadiz province during the late spring. This is the time when tunas migrate from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to mate and reproduce.
The almadraba or labyrinthine trap system is a fishing method used in catching these tuna. The technique originates back 3,000 years ago from the Phoenicians who first settled in the area.
The El Campero Restaurant is the undisputed tuna sanctuary in Spain. Located in Barbate on the Coast of de la Luz, they serve variety of tuna dishes from sashimi to marinated loin, tartare, and tataki.
El Campero Restaurant – Avenida Constitucion, Barbate | restauranteelcampero.es | +34 650 42 07 92
13. Rabo de Toro Estofado
Rabo de Toro or braised oxtail is one of the most traditional Spanish dishes. It should be or ideally made with bull’s tail and cooked in red wine. It is slowly cooked until it becomes very tender and the tastes rich.
Rabo deToro are one of the specialties of the cities of Cordoba, Pamplona, and Madrid. The Europa Restaurant in Pamplona serves Rabo de Toro off the bone and comes with parsnip puree.
Europa Restaurant – Calle Espoz y Mina, Pamplona | hreuropa.com | +34 948 22 18 00
14. Fabada Austriana
Fabada Austriana or the Austrian Bean Stew is made with butter beans, bacon, chorizo, pork shoulder, and morcilla sausages. This flavorful stew goes that with the locally made cider. Village restaurants and traditional cider houses in the region of Asturias always have a fabada ready.
But if you want to try the best, head over to Casa Gerardo near Gijon. This Michelin-starred restaurant is owned by Chef Marcos Moran who created a lighter and more delicate version of their family’s fabada recipe that has been evolving ever since it opened in 1882.
Casa Gerardo – Prendes, Asturias | restaurantecasagerardo.es | +34 985 88 77 97
15. Patatas Bravas
Patatas Bravas is the Spanish version of the French Fries that everybody loves. It is made with chunks of potato cuts fried and topped with spicy red bravas sauce. The sauce is with of tomato sauce and cayenne base.
A good Bravas depends on how delicious the sauce is, but this potato bites are always a sure crowd please. They can be eaten as appetizers or snack during afternoon drinks. Bravas are very famous in Spain you can literally see it in the menu of every tapas bar or restaurant.
This one is not for the faint of stomach, this chewy and slippery pork and beef stew is made of intestines of various cuts of meats, beans, and chorizo. This may not be appealing for some but for those who are looking for a different kind of food adventure will surely love this.
If you are looking for one of the best Callos in Spain, then head over to Malacatin restaurant in Madrid. Not only that the ambience and surrounding is good, but their callos are also praised.
Malacatin Restaurant – Calle Ruda, Madrid | malacatin.com | +34 913 65 52 41
Pisto is the Spanish version of ratatouille. It is made with tomatoes, eggplant, onions, green and red peppers, and olive oil. They are perfect as appetizers or side dish, and are commonly served with chorizo or fried eggs.
The Tamara Lorenzo Restaurant in Madrid is not only known for their good tortilla but also for their excellent Pisto.
Tamara Lorenzo Restaurant – Paseo de la Habana, Madrid | restaurantetamaralorenzo.com | +34 914 15 51 76
18. Pimientos de Padron
Spaniards love flavorful and complex dishes, but this one is rather simple. Pimientos de Padron are small green peppers fried in olive oil. This simple and healthy dish is sprinkled sea salt or other condiments you prefer and they actually taste better than they seem to, so make sure to try one when you visit Spain.
They are usually served in tapas bars, but if you want to make sure you eat fresh ones, head over to Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. It is not a fancy restaurant but some public market of some sort where you can buy fresh produce and eat in various food stands.
Bocadillos are sandwich made with Spanish bread filled with pork loin, potatoes, and cheese. It is very similar to the typical hotdog sandwich we buy in fast food chains. Madrid is popular for their Bocadillo de Calamares which is a bocadillo but with fried squid or calamares as filling.
Bocadillos are sold all throughout Spain, you can buy it I food stands or tapas bar anywhere.
20. Churros con Chocolate
Of course who would forget the desert! These fried sweet sticks dipped in hot Spanish chocolate are perfect for desert and for all those who have a sweet tooth. They are sold in many restaurants and food stalls but their churros at the Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid are very famous for being exceptionally delicious.
Chocolateria San Gines – Pasadizo de San Gines, Madrid | chocolateriasangines.com | +34 913 65 65 46