The culture of Spanish food beats to its own rhythm, standing apart from all other cultural cuisines. Opposite of what many believe, Spanish food is not related to Mexican food in any way; truthfully, Spaniards don’t even like spicy food.
The meal times in Spain reflect the country’s different approach to eating. Breakfast is right away in the morning and is most likely something sweet. Spaniards work through the morning and part of the afternoon and then come home for lunch and a siesta at around 2:30. From there, dinner is not served until 9:30 when the workday is over.
This is how food culture is done every day in Spain. I kid you not: it’s incredibly rare to find an open restaurant at even 6 or 7.
Waiting to dine until the appropriate hours is worth it when the food is spectacular. All of my harrowing hunger and woe of waiting until 2:30 or 9:30 would disapparate when I would see particular items on the dinner table. In my opinion, there are 10 Spanish foods that are both delicious and good representations of Spain; I encourage trying them all when you are traveling to Spain.
Disclaimer: Spanish tortilla is one of the most popular foods of Spain, but I just couldn’t put it on the list because of my personal preference. Please check it out for yourself!
This food is conspicuously crowned the king. Although I am a fan, it has to be ranked 10 because there is too much hype surrounding it. Either that, or I had it too many times during my time abroad, and it just doesn’t possess that same allure that it once did. From the Valencia region, paella is a heavy rice dish that is served for the mid-day meal before siesta. The two most common types are meat paella and seafood paella. While both use saffron, rosemary, and olive oil, meat paella is chicken-based, and seafood paella has shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, and other types of shelled crustaceans. Because of its prominence, paella is a must to try, but don’t get lost in the hype of paella and forget about Spain’s other exquisite foods.
9. Jamón ibérico
I used to work at a deli, so jamón ibérico, or prosciutto, wasn’t new or interesting to me. What is peculiar is how common jamón ibérico is in Spain. It’s everywhere you look and decently priced. Basically, jamón ibérico is a greasy, salty cured ham that goes well with cracker and cheese or on sandwiches. It’s rich and different. You can probably find it in your local deli for $25 a pound, so wouldn’t you rather travel to Spain, get the experience, and try the jamón ibérico for cheaper?
This chilled soup is popular in Andalucía, the southern region of Spain where I lived. It consists of puréed bread and tomato usually with oil, garlic, and ham. Salmorejo has a more popular cousin called gazpacho. Although both are cold soups, I would vouch for salmorejo because it is richer, creamier, and less mainstream. Put this with some warm, fresh bread, and you’ll have yourself a classic Spanish meal.
Mazapán has its origin in Toledo, Spain, and it’s a signature sweet that I personally couldn’t get enough of. As the Spanish name translates, this is called “bread,” but it is actually a mixture of sugar, honey, and almond made in a bread-like shape. The appetizingly soft, moist texture and the sweet taste make it a sought-after treat. Mazapán used to be a traditional dessert for the holidays, but it’s available during all times of the year now. I would highly recommend you search the streets and try this one.
6. Gambas al ajillo
These are also often tapas, but it’s also common to eat them for a light dinner. Ajillo is the Spanish word for garlic sauce, and gambas is the word for shrimp. Simply put, these are shrimp in garlic sauce. They are usually seasoned with green chili, parsley, and, of course, Spain’s famous olive oil. This is a fresh and delicious way to eat plump prawns, and it is something you will try sooner or later when you are in Spain.
5. Pulpo a la gallega
This food originated in Galicia, the tip of Spain above Portugal. Pulpo a la gallega is octopus prepared with three ingredients: paprika, olive oil, and salt. It’s simple, straightforward, and irresistible. As in many Spanish foods, no preservatives or unnecessary chemicals are added; what you get is nature’s unspoiled gift. If you live in Spain for a number of months, you will no doubt come across this dish. Take advantage of it and indulge.
4. Patatas bravas
Typically served as tapas, patatas bravas are similar to fried potatoes wedges and either have a tasty aioli sauce or some sort of tomato sauce. Every region of Spain prepares the sauce a little differently and will, of course, claim their way is the best. The Spanish love potatoes and utilize them for many different meals. Their best creation of potatoes is undoubtedly these babies. The classic patatas bravas will far surpass any French fry you’ve ever had.
3. Churros con chocolate
Contrary to popular uninformed American belief, these are not the cinnamon sugar sticks that you get at Taco Bell. Authentic churros from Spain are one manifestation of heaven on earth. The best way I can explain true Spanish churros is relating them to funnel cakes. Like funnel cakes, churros are crispy fried dough that you dip in a thick chocolate that’s just the right amount of sweetness. During Christmas time, the Spanish take it a step further and will insert vanilla cream or chocolate into the churros and coat them in chocolate. Regardless of the time of year, if you see churros being sold, you need to stop and enjoy Spain’s sensational wonder.
The literal translation of chanquetes is whitebait. As the English translation denotes, these are tiny delicate fish that are deep fried and crunchy. This is an expensive luxury even in Spain and is best with over-easy eggs and red peppers. This dish is an eloquent exemplification of Sevillan cuisine. If you are traveling in Spain, you cannot miss the rich, crunchy, unique chanquetes. Take my word for it; this dish is amazing.
Croquetas win all the gold at number 1. Croquetas are the macaroni and cheese of Spain. For an Americanized explanation, they are fried mashed potatoes usually with cheese and some other meat. The crunchy outside and the rich creamy inside create a perfect snack or side to lunch or dinner. When I was in Spain, my heart jumped with joy whenever I would see croquetas on my host parents’ table. Croquetas are arguably the best of Spanish food, and it is clear that American culture is definitely missing out on this delectable blessing.
By: Hannah Veldkamp
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