Spanish food
Spanish food

10 Best Foods to Eat in Spain

It’s almost impossible to emulate the gastronomical variety of Spain. There are so many regions – each with their own traditional dishes and cooking techniques, that tourists will find themselves overwhelmed by the diversity of fragrances and tastes that emerge from this passionate and bountiful land.

Spain is famous for many things – flamenco, football, and the long, lazy sunny days, to name just a few. It’s the birthplace of Picasso and siesta, and prides itself with gorgeous beaches, stylish islands, and some of the most striking architecture to be found anywhere in Europe. Its warm, friendly locals have incredibly long names, and their sweet, melodious language is one of the most widely spoken on Earth after Mandarin Chinese. Not only will you find raucous nightlife and fiestas here, but this vibrant area of the Iberian Peninsula is also widely known for its delicious food.

Whether enjoyed in a humble tapas bar in Andalusia or a Catalan restaurant awarded three Michelin stars, the Spanish cuisine is an explosion of colors, aromas, and Mediterranean flavors. It’s a glorious fusion of cultures and ethnicities, of past and present, of sea and mountains. It’s also reason enough to visit this idyllic country, and, obviously, one of the things I most love about Spain.

When I started this post, I had the intention to make a “Top 10 Things to Eat in Spain”, but while writing, I realized that I just can’t decide about the order, so I chose to make a list instead. For me, each of these foods tells a story, reminding me of some great moments spent in Spain, and I hope that one day, they will become some beautiful memories for you, too.

Tapas

Spanish tapas with crab tartare

You are not allowed to visit Spain without experiencing the famous tapas! It’s like visiting Paris without seeing the Tour Eiffel, or like exploring Italy without having a proper espresso.

First of all, tapas are not a particular type of food; they are a sort of little meals that Spaniards eat any time of the day or night, anywhere. I won’t make a general presentation of tapas because you can find that anywhere on the Internet. Plus, it will probably take me a few hours to share my own personal tapas experience, so I will just try to summarize some interesting facts about this Spanish way of eating.

Tapas are part of the Spanish culture, and, for a better understanding of this fact, you should know that in Spain, there is also a verb “tapear”, which means “eating tapas”.

Unfortunately, these little meals are not always free. While cities like Madrid, Granada, and even Barcelona provide tourists with these little pleasures free of any costs every time you order a drink in a bar or a pub, there are still many areas, especially around the Basque Country or Andalusia, where you probably won’t get any free tapas.

The best tapas I’ve ever had were in Madrid, in their popular tapas bars, where you don’t even have to pay for your lunch or dinner, because every time you order a beer, you’ll get a nice plate with mini sandwiches, almonds, squids, or any other snacks, but never the same dish – which is absolutely great!

On the other hand, the tastiest tapas I’ve ever tried consisted of a platter of blue cheese on a beach in Mallorca, for which I had to pay though, but it was definitely worth every penny.

Tortilla Espanola

Tortilla de patatas

First time in my life when I’ve tasted tortilla I was on a ferryboat on my way to Ibiza. I remember it was a big “bocadillo con tortilla”, a tortilla sandwich. I liked it so much that I could not resist and ate three of them.

Later, I’ve discovered that there are actually many forms of tortilla, some of them with a thicker texture and other thinner and softer. However, this traditional Spanish omelette always consists of potatoes, eggs, onion, salt, and pepper, being the most common dish in the country.

Although they say tortilla is very easy to prepare, I’ve always had a problem in cooking it, never managed to bake it properly in the middle, I wonder why.

The recipe goes like this:

Cut the potatoes into thick slices and fry them in a pan with a little olive oil until soft, not brown. Next step – drain the potatoes and mix them lightly with the chopped onions and the raw beaten eggs. Put the mixture back in the pan (preferably a ceramic, lid-like utensil), let it fry first on one side for a few minutes, and then flip it over with the help of a plate and let it fry on its other side.

Simple as ABC! Let me know if you succeed!

Paella

Seafood paella

Paella is a traditional rice dish originating in Valencia. In Spain, there are three common types of paella: Paella Valenciana (white rice, vegetables, chicken, duck and rabbit meat, land snails, beans, and spices), Seafood Paella (rice, seafood, and seasoning), and Paella Mixta, which is actually a freestyle mixture usually made of rice, chicken, seafood (including clams), vegetables, olive oil, saffron, and other spices.

I love paella mixta, especially served directly from paellera, as a romantic dinner on the beach in a late summer evening, accompanied by a cold glass of sangria and…the breeze.

Gazpacho in Andalusia

Andalusian Gazpacho

Like most Spanish dishes, gazpacho can be cooked in more than one way. Warm or cold, soup, salad, or even stew, this staple of Andalusian cuisine is generally made from tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, a little olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, and sometimes (rarely) ham.

My favorite gazpacho is a refreshing soup made of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and salt – all blended, served with croutons, ice cubes, and an addition of fresh, chopped vegetables. Perfect for a late, refreshing lunch in the sizzling south of Spain!

Crema Catalana in Barcelona

Crema catalana

Many say that crema catalana and the French crème brûlée are the same thing, but there are some tiny differences between the two fabulous desserts. For example, the French always bake their crème brûlée in bain-marie and serve it warm, while the Catalan cream is always served cold and it has a custard infused with lemon rind and cinnamon, instead of vanilla, being much more refreshing than its stylish French sister.

I like them both, I love vanilla, but for a hot summer day, nothing compares with a crema catalana at a shady pavement café in Barcelona!

Gambas Ajillo (Garlic Prawns)

Gambas Al Ajillo

I am usually quite reticent when it comes to seafood, but believe me, gambas ajillo in Spain are simply delicious! Whether served as tapas or as a main dish, garlic prawns are very quick and easy to prepare: take some fresh prawns, cook them in a little olive oil with garlic and chili flakes, and, in about 10 minutes, you’ll have one of the tastiest meals on your table. Buen provecho!

Queso Manchego (Spanish Sheep Cheese)

Queso Manchego

Queso Manchego, also known as “The Cheese of Don Quixote due to the fact that Cervantes mentioned it in the legendary “Don Quixote of la Mancha”, is a very tasty cheese made of sheep milk. The original Manchego cheese is exclusively prepared in La Mancha region from a specific sheep breed called “Manchega”, but, lucky for us, it can be consumed all over Spain. I was lucky to try it in Madrid, and I can say that its wonderful intense flavor has totally impressed me from the very first bite. Amazing!

Allioli, Alioli, Aioli

Aioli sauce

I’ve always thought alioli, allioli, or aioli means the same thing – a Spanish mayonnaise with lots of garlic. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong. Apparently, this garlic mayonnaise popular all over Spain called alioli is neither Spanish, nor French, and not even Italian – it actually originates in the Middle East, according to Jamie Oliver, and I have no choice but to believe him.

Allioli, on the other hand, is a Catalan sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and salt – no eggs at all, while aioli is a Provencal term describing the same garlic and olive oil emulsion. Think this is confusing?! Just wait to see Spain’s crazy coffee varieties!

Anyway, I first ate alioli in Spain, and for me it’s a Spanish sauce, albeit a very addictive and tricky one. With such a simple recipe, alioli should be very easy to prepare. Well, it isn’t, at least not for me, that’s why I prefer to eat it in Spain…with just about anything – tortilla, fish, baked potatoes, anything but sweet. Oh, Spain, I miss you so much!

Jamon Iberico in Madrid

Jamon Iberico

I would say that one of the things that impressed me the most in Spain were those crowded long bars above which were hanging, instead of chandeliers, some huge chunks of jamon. So surprising at first sight, and yet so familiar after a week or two of bar hopping through Madrid!

Enjoying a drink in a delightfully old-school establishment while the bartender cuts you impossibly thin slices of the delicious ham is a great, authentic experience that everyone should try while in Spain!

Grilled Fish on the Beach in Marbella

Grilled sardines on the beach

If you happen to spend your vacation in Marbella, or anywhere in Andalusia or Costa del Sol, you should try the grilled fresh fish on the beach.

Do not bother to find a restaurant, the Andalusian beaches are equipped with some ingenious boats filled with sand, where the fishermen themselves cook some of the most delicious sardines on burning coals. A nice, healthy, and cheap meal, just perfect for a hot summer day on the beach!

In the end, I would like to mention that each meal I’ve served in Spain, in any area of the country and any of its beautiful islands, began with a traditional introduction – usually consisting of bread (toasted or not, black or white), a bowl of green marinated olives (sometimes accompanied by marinated little onions), and the ubiquitous alioli (sometimes replaced with butter).

These being said, I hope my article will help you add a bit of flavor to your Spanish experience!

If you have a nice memory related to food in Spain, or a favorite Spanish dish, do not hesitate to share it in the comments below!

  1. AvatarAnnette | Bucket List Journey says:

    I just took a cooking class in Barcelona and learned how to make Crema Catalana. It was easy and delicious!!!

  2. Sounds great! I might try this on my next trip to Barcelona because I never manage to cook a Crema Catalana a la carte. We also have something similar in Romania, called “Crema de zahar ars” , which is very delicious and easy to prepare.

  3. Great article – I’m living in Madrid and absolutely love tapas! Patatas Bravas, Croquettas & Tortilla España are some of my fave! 🙂

  4. AvatarCorey Knight says:

    Those Garlic prawns look so beautiful!

  5. You’re right, Corey and I bet they taste the same.

  6. Thanks, Laura.I wish I would live in Madrid, too. Every time I visit your city I fall in love with it again and again. :). I like your blog, by the way!

    1. AvatarJuju elkordy says:

      You’re right Miruna!

  7. Wow! Your recommendations are excellent and the photography outstanding. I am salivating at the prospect of enjoying these suggestions on my upcoming travel to Barcelona. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.

  8. Amazing photos Miruna! That shot of the prawns is making me hungry 🙂 I really think Spain has some of the best food – i had some great meals in Andalucia (fideua) and in the north (pulpo gallego). In Barcelona i had a delicious meal of bacalla with an Eatwith host (Judit). Amazing home cooked food and better than any restaurant I tried. Looking forward to following your travels!

    1. Thank you, Joel. Spanish food is indeed a feast for the senses, and certainly one of my favorite.

  9. I am Spaniard and I have to say that, paella Please try to eat only in the Valencian Community zone, in other zonas are usually frozen and bad!

  10. AvatarJuju elkordy says:

    Spanish food is very amazing!!!! I adore eating Spanish food, especially the Tortilla Espanola food!!!!!!!!!!! A kiss from me too the Spanish food…………..

  11. AvatarRebecca Cruickshank says:

    I spend a lot of time in Spain, I am American but live in the UK now, my husband’s parents have retired to the Costa Blanca, I’ve been very fortunate to have experienced, and still learn about Spain, the people, the culture, and the food!! It’s difficult to pick a favorite, tapas, tortilla, Jamon, and the alioli…all fabulous. I’ve learned to make a multitude of different things, tortilla proves difficult still!! Viva España!!

  12. Yum! Yum! I lived in the region of Extremadura, and can’t say enough about the Spanish foods! Some of my faves are sopa de lentejas, (lentel soup) and tortilla! Buen provecho! 🙂

  13. Are there any specialty dished in Sitge? We will be going in March. First time to Spain. Everything mentioned looks and sounds so great.

  14. The garlic shrimp, gazpacho and jamon iberico look incredible! With so much food, are you able to pick your favorite 2 or 3 for food in Spain?

    Cameron

    1. Hi Cameron,

      Probably not, but gazpacho and gambas ajillo would definitely be high on my list.

  15. Nice compilation and insights. I also have added several Spanish recipes in my list. There are several new in your list that I should include. Thanks for sharing

  16. Great article! I have been living in backwater Spain and am more than familiar with most (but not all!) of these things. Crema catalana, for example, is a bit out of my reach in Extremadura. But just about everything else, from my experience, super accurate and well written – good stuff!

    Let’s see if I can help with the tortilla de patatas. I haven’t perfected it yet but mmmm it does come out tasty for me. I never heard of boiling the potatoes, first of all. I have always just been taught to fry them up hash brown style, along with the onions, nice and slow so nothing burns (a little toasting is OK in my book), maybe like 20-25 minutes. Another note – I’ve never heard of black pepper in the tortilla either. Most Spanish don’t use it and consider it too spicy! But I suppose it could work depending on your taste.

    Now, the magic part. You have to fry the tortilla low and slow. Low heat, about 15-20 minutes on each side. It’s not fun for the impatient among us but it certainly turns out nice. Give it a try!

    Thanks for the article!

  17. I’m actually Spanish and I liked your post. Jamón Ibérico is not only from Madrid, it’s all over Spain. But I liked it

  18. AvatarDamn Spaniard says:

    Tortilla recipe is not completely right. Potatoes are not boiled before frying. Onion should be cooked before join the eggs!!

    Next recipe would be more accurate:

    Cut the potatoes into small dices (or thin slices) and chop the onion ( 1 medium sized potatoes for every 4 eggs and a quarter of onion for every six eggs) and fry both together in a medium fired pan till they’re soft. You don’t need to cover the potatoes and the onion like in a fryer, just make sure you stir them up oftenly and softly so the potatoes don’t get broken. Drain the blend properly so the omellete doesn’t become greasy and mix it with the raw beaten eggs with a pinch of salt for each egg. And then go on like the article says.

    Pd: You can add other ingredients, I recommend a quarter of green pepper (fry it with the potatoes and the onions). It gives a delicious taste.

  19. Paella is the bomb! ALways always always get Mariscos Paella!

  20. Hi! I am a Spaniard and I would like to thank you for all your nice comments about my country. I have read that your tortilla de patata didn’t turn out as good as expected. I am going to give you a couple of tips to make the best tortilla. Fist of all, the best potatoes to make it are kenebec ones. You have to slice them really small and thin. Throw them on very hot extra virgin olive oil. You need to boil them in oil. Once the potatoes stick to each other, you will know they are ready. Then get rid of all the oil in the potatoes. Beat about 8 or 10 eggs. The more eggs you add, the better. A tortilla de patata should always be golden and outside bit very soft inside. To achieve this, after beating the eggs, throw the potatoes and mix it and mash it all with a fork, making sure the potatoes are completely soaked in those eggs. Then add a lot of olive oil to the frying pan (reuse the one you fried the potatoes with). Once the oil is hot, get rid of that oil and throw the mix in the frying pan. The secret to achieve the perfect texture is turning the tortilla several times (aproximately every 10 seconds). When you have turned it about 6 times in total on both sides, it will be ready. Put it on a plate and then wait about 5 minutes before you cut the portions. Tortilla de patatas seems an easy dish to cook, as the ingredients are simple, but I can tell you it is one of the most difficult dishes to cook well. Some people like tortilla with onion, and some other people don’t. I prefer it without it, specially with farm eggs, so you can taste the eggs and the flavour of the potatoes properly.
    Some of the best tortillas in Spain are made by Sagartoki, in Vitoria, and La Encina, in Palencia. You can watch how they make tortillas on youtube.
    Hope my tips make a huge difference in your tortilla.
    I would also recommend you to try other Spanish tortillas: tortilla de chorizo, de bacalao, de pimientos, tortilla palentina…
    ¡Buen provecho!

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