Food in Spain is, in my opinion, some of the best in the world. Packed with flavor and highlighting regional ingredients, Spanish cuisine has been heavily influenced by the country’s rich history. Meals are about community and family, which is evident by the popularity of tapas and pintxos – two types of small plates generally served alongside a bevvie and meant for sharing. The food has become popular worldwide, with many restaurants outside of Spain trying to accurately replicate the dishes – mostly unsuccessfully, in large part because Spanish cuisine relies heavily on hyper-local ingredients that aren’t available in other climates. So whether you’re a visitor or have recently moved to this warm, beautiful country, be sure to at least try these 10 classic foods that come from Spain.
Speaking of Spanish food with a historical origin, La Bomba is a famous tapa that is essentially a fried, breaded mashed potato croquette stuffed with meat and vegetables and served with a spicy sauce. This staple was created in Catalonia during the early 1900s when the area was frequently under attack from anarchists and regional-nationalist groups. Their weapon of choice? A round iron ball filled with explosives which inspired a local bar owner to make light of the difficult situation by creating a tapas dish with deep connection to the culture at the time – La Bomba.
Jamón, or cured ham, is incredibly popular in the country and often served up shaved or sliced very thinly to melt in your mouth. Jamón Serrano comes from white pigs in the mountainous regions of Spain, and is the most commonly consumed. However, the country is well-known for its Jamón Ibérico, made from black pigs that are fed acorns for 18 months, giving the meat a sweet, nutty flavor. This type of jamon has a huge worldwide demand, but it is incredibly expensive due to the strict regulations that must be met for the pig to qualify as Iberico. Both are cured up to 18 months, resulting in a deeper color, drier texture, and richer flavor than Italian prosciutto.
Most people think of seafood when they hear paella, but the original paella is actually made with rabbit and chicken. Before you stick your nose up, try this delicious Spanish dish that was historically made out by farmers and labourers in the field on a lunchtime break with whatever was available. The rice is crispy and flavored with saffron while the coveted base of the dish, called the socarrat, is left to blacken and become crunchy.
Pimientos de Padrón
These small green peppers are cooked over an open flame until they blister, then sprinkled with salt and served up hot. They’re generally mild and sweet, though occasionally you may bite into a hot one, making this tapas dish a bit of a game of roulette!
These crispy fried potatoes are commonly served up with two drool-worthy sauces – spicy ketchup and garlic mayonnaise with a dusting of smoked paprika. The name translates to “Brave Potatoes” due to their spicy flavor in a country that generally shies away from heat in their dishes, though tourists who enjoy spicy food won’t find these tapas remotely spicy. They’re a culinary staple and can be found on every menu in Spain, from the dingiest bar to the most upscale restaurant, with recipes changing only slightly depending on where you dine.
This dish transcends logic – after all, it’s technically only bread, tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. But somehow, it’s mind-blowingly delicious! It’s eaten for breakfast or a snack all over Spain, but is particularly popular in the Catalonia region. The taste comes from pure, local ingredients, including fresh authentic Spanish olive oil, fresh bread with a good crust, and local tomatoes (which I have yet to find a replacement for in Canada!).
Olives close to their country of origin always seem to taste so much better than those bought at your local supermarket. In fact, if you generally don’t like olives, you may be surprised to find that you actually enjoy Spanish olives! The very first olive trees were brought to the country more than 3,000 years ago, so they’re a staple with locals chowing down on them at all times of day. Many wineries in Spain also have olive orchards on the property for a host of reasons, including tradition, similar processing procedures, and other companion planting benefits.
These tiny fried anchovies are so good that you won’t be able to stop yourself from popping them back, one after the other after the other. They’re crispy and make the perfect bar snack, which is often how they’re served. Restaurants use the freshest local fish, local flour, and give lots of love and attention to the frying process, but the recipe truly is simple even if it doesn’t taste that way.
Potentially the most widely-served dish in Spain, the Torta Espanola or Spanish Tortilla is an omelette with potatoes and optional caramelized onions, often served at room temperature as a tapa. Sliced or diced potatoes (and onions, if being added) are first fried with olive oil and then mixed into whisked eggs. The mixture is then slowly cooked in the frying pan on each side before being served. In many ways, it more closely resembles a quiche, but regardless, it’s a delicious Spanish food.
Perfect for a sweet “end of the night” snack, this star-shaped Spanish fried and sugared dough dish is traditionally served with melted chocolate or dulce de leche sauce for dipping. You’ve likely tried these before, as many non-Spanish restaurants around the world have them on their dessert menu. People mistakenly think churros originated in Mexico, however they were actually created in Iberia, be it Spain or Portugal (since the history isn’t totally clear). Churros are the ultimate sweet food to eat in Spain, so be sure to order them at least once while you’re in the country.