Want to learn some traditional Spanish food recipes? Perhaps you want to know about similarities between Mexican and Spanish food? Our guide to traditional Spanish cuisine gives you the facts & information you want to know.
Present day traditional Spanish food is influenced by the Greek, Roman, Phoenician and Moorish settlements in Spain’s history. The Moors had a strong influence on Spain for many years and their type of food is still eaten by Spaniards till date. Spanish cuisine comprises a variety of dishes often heavily influenced by seafood available from the waters around the country. Spain’s history with many cultural influences has led to an exclusive cuisine with thousands of recipes and delicious flavors.
Pork is very popular in Spain and has been so for centuries. This has it’s origins in the Christian re-conquest of Spain after nearly two hundred years of Muslim rule. Eating pork was a statement of asserting one’s Christianity, because it is forbidden in the Jewish and Muslim faiths. Many recipes today include pork loin chops in garlic and red peppers, as well as brandy.
Old Food from the New World
Several native foods of the Americas were introduced to Europe through early Spanish explorers and any cook in Spain today could hardly do without potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and beans.
The essential ingredient for traditional Spanish cooking is olive oil and Spain produces 44% of the world’s olive supply. Meals eaten by Spaniards are made traditionally by hand, from fresh ingredients bought daily from the local market. This practice is however more common in the rural areas and less common in the large urban areas like Madrid, where supermarkets have replaced most of the open air markets. Garlic, olives and sweet and hot peppers are also important ingredients in most Spanish recipes. Meat, poultry, game and fish are all prominent in the Spanish diet.
Spanish breakfasts (desayuno) are a traditionally light affair with little fuss. A typical breakfast might consist of coffee and a croissant or roll. Omelette and tortillas are also popular for breakfast. The usual coffee consumed is espresso which is prepared and mixed with lots of hot milk in small cups.
Although not quintessentially Spanish, many international breakfast foods like toast and cereals are commonly consumed many Spanish households.
Lunch (la comida) and dinner (la cena) menus are more elaborate than breakfast. Spanish Tapas are extremely popular. A Tasca or Tapas bar is where most Spaniards entertain themselves after work. Spanish Tapas menus encompasses simple dishes made of cheese, fish, eggs, dips, vegetable dishes, canapés, and savory pastries. Tapas can be found even in small bars and tiny villages.
There are dozens of Spanish dishes, many of which have regional variants that could be mentioned and should be tried by any visitor to Spain with a culinary interest. Below are listed just five of the best that you are likely to encounter on a trip to Spain.
This has to be without doubt the most famous Spanish dish. It comes in several regional variations and can feature seafood, meat or just vegetables. Cooked in a big skillet, rice is mixed with spices, vegetables and meat of choice before being cooked until tender.
Another favourite, this is an omlette dish often cooked with potatos, tomatos and onions. Strictly speaking it’s an appetizer and is often served as such on bread, although one could easily make a main meal out of it.
This is a Spanish sausage, also popular in Portugal and several former Spanish colonies. Usually it is cured and smoked which means it can be eaten without cooking. It’s used in several dishes and makes for a quick and easy Sandwich. They usually have a spicy taste due to the meat being mixed with chilli peppers.
This is basically tomato soup that is served cold. Although that might not sound very nice, the inclusion of garlic, onions, vinegar, sugar and tarragon all combine to create an interesting blend spicy and sweet flavours that is not only healthy but quite refreshing on a hot summers day.
This boiled octopus dish is not for everybody but if you have an adventurous culinary spirit it’s definitely one to try. This dish hails from the north west region of Galicia. Preparation is key here as in order to avoid the characteristic rubbery texture of octopus, it needs to be beaten considerably before being boiled. Prepared with paprika, salt and olive oil, it presents a simple yet slightly spicy flavor that goes well with potatoes.
Spain has several interesting and popular dessert dishes which range from cookies, to cakes to fruit or cream based dishes. Some will be familiar to the foreign traveler while others are uniquely Spanish.
Being a major citrus grower, oranges and lemons feature prominently in several dessert dishes. Orange flan (flan de naranja) is a variation of a standard vanilla flan with the addition of orange zest lending a sharp kick to an otherwise sweet dish. Similarly, lemon juice and peels are utilized to make lemon sorbet.
Perhaps less known but no less delicious are Spanish figs. These are often poached in a sugary brandy syrup and served as Higo Al Brandy to adults. Depending on the time of year the figs can be either fresh or dried, and may be eaten with ice cream.
Although there are a multitude of Spanish cake and pastries, these are often eaten for breakfast rather than dessert, although there are a couple of recipes that can easily be served after a meal to everyone’s delight. Almond cake is often served for dessert, especially in the south where almonds grow plentifully. Often served with an almond sorbet this makes for a delicious dessert that is not too heavy.
Brazo de Gitano is another favourite. Basically a sponge cake similar to a Swiss roll, it is often filled with fruit jams such as peach or strawberry and cream before being rolled up creating a uniquely Spanish take on an international favourite.
Almonds also feature prominently in Spanish cookies with Polvorones being a perennial favourite. These almond cookies possess a consistency similar to shortbread and are named for their powdery texture . Lusciously heavy and creamy, yet crumbly this treat dissolves quickly in the mouth providing a feel good factor just right for the Christmas season, which is when these cookies were traditionally prepared, although they are eaten all year round now. The Spanish penchant for all things pork is present even in this recipe, which has traditionally used pig lard in addition to the more conventional ingredients of flour, milk, butter and sugar.
Traditional Spanish food customs
The cuisines of Spain differ widely from one region to another, even though there are some common characteristics. some basic characteristics of Spanish food would include:
- Olive oil as a cooking fat in items such as fritters
- Sofrito is used to start the preparation of many dishes
- Garlic and onions are major seasonings
- Custom of drinking during meals
- Serving bread with the vast majority of meals
- Consumption of salads, especially in the summer
- Consumption of a piece of fruit or a dairy product as dessert