What To Eat In Spain: A Guide To Spanish Food

Food, food, glorious food!

One thing is for sure when visiting Spain, there is no reason for you to go hungry! There are restaurants of every variety, food vendors and food markets are almost everywhere in the inner cities. Even those road tripping around Spain will notice that, at regular intervals along the regional highways of Spain, one can find roadside restaurants, too.

If you’re heading to Spain and want to know what to eat, then this post will give you some pointers on making you belly happy while in Spain (not that it’s overly difficult to do so).

what-to-eat-in-spain

What Kinds Of Food Do They Eat In Spain

Spain is widely known for its delicious food, but what kinds of foods are the Spanish known to eat? Well, there are so many regions – each with their own traditional dishes, cooking techniques and styles. One thing is for sure though – they all share a hearty and Spanish taste.

Whether enjoyed in one of the best tapas bars in Malaga or a Catalan restaurant awarded 3 Michelin stars, the Spanish cuisine is an explosion of colour, aromas, and Mediterranean flavours.

You’ll find that in their meals, they emphasize a plant-based eating approach, loaded with vegetables and healthy fats, including olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish.

Fun-Spanish-food-fact: in Mexico, a tortilla is a cornmeal flatbread but in Spain, it’s a potato omelet!

potato-pancake

What makes Spanish cuisine special?

In our view, the number one factor that makes Spanish cuisine so special is its freshness, all the regional dishes, and the plentiful availability of quality seafood. Step into any major food market in Spain and you will see a huge variety of fresh produce to choose from.

fresh-produce-in-spain

The second thing would be olive oil. Spanish cooking uses a lot of olive oil. Seriously. It is used in dressings, to drizzle on grilled meats and seafood, it’s brushed on bread for various tapas. It is even used to cover and preserve anchovies, olives, and peppers.

Another thing that makes Spanish cuisine special is their use of tomatoes. A bit of tomato here and a squeeze of tomato paste there. Tomatoes show up in many forms in Spanish cooking, and when they’re in-season, fresh tomatoes get turned into gazpacho and sliced to make salads.

tomatoes-and-olive-oil-in-spain

The Best Places To Eat In Spain

In our experience, you are more likely to find the best eating experiences in areas frequented by the locals, rather than in the ones strictly targeting English-speaking tourists. Interestingly, some of the best meals we’ve ever had (for the price) have been from those roadside restaurants.

Reservations are usually a prerequisite for the finer restaurants. So don’t drop by during lunch and expect to be seated without giving them a call first. The restaurant norms in Spain are very similar to those in the U.K and the  U.S. On entering a restaurant you generally will wait for the waiter to seat you. When menus are brought to the table, you will likely be asked what you would like to drink or if you would like white (blanco) or red (tinto) wine (vino).

tapas-in-spain

Your waiter is also likely to bring you Spanish bread, sometimes placed right on the tabletop. A dish of olive oil, possibly containing slivers of butter, will also come with the bread in some regions of Spain. Usually, your waiter will ask for your order when bringing your drinks or if an attendant brings you drinks, your waiter will take your order when he is available. At the end of the meal, you will need to ask for your bill (la cuenta, por favor).

In cafes, the norms are slightly different. One will usually seat oneself and when it comes time to pay, it is better to ask for the meal’s cost (cuanto cuesta?). You don’t need to tip in Spain, but it’s never unappreciated.

Our Meal Choices When In Spain

Wondering what food to try in Spain? Well, one of the typically Spanish dishes you encounter in Spain is paella. Paella is a rice dish, usually cooked with either seafood, pork, rabbit or chicken and seasoned with saffron.

Traditionally a dish of eastern Spain, with variable quality you can find it in almost all tourist areas. This dish is best when fresh. Sometimes cooked over an open fire, the finished paella is brought to the table (most of the time) in the very hot metal pan it was cooked in.

If you adore paellas on your trip and want to take the experience home with you, join a cooking class! It’s such a fun experience, and you’ll leave the country with some great new skills.

spanish-paella

When it comes to a morning cuppa, our choice would be to order a ‘café con leche’. This hot espresso coffee is half coffee and half milk. If you want a standard-sized cup, you will need to add the word “doble” when you order.

We love seafood, so when in Spain we take advantage of the abundant availability of squid, fish, and shellfish dishes. Try the calamari, particularly the offerings in southern Spain. The calamari there is served as large rings. Far better than the little calamari rings I have been served at seafood chains anywhere else in the world, where you need to chew forever before you can eventually swallow.

In eastern Spain, you might consider ordering suquet, a tomato stew of fish, shellfish, potatoes, and wine, spiced with saffron.

Around Madrid and central Spain, variations on regional Spanish dishes are plenty. It is also a region known for its meals based on wild game, pheasant, partridge, and wild boar.

Southern Spain cooking was strongly influenced by its time under the Moorish Kingdoms. The Arabs introduced a number of food types to the Iberian Peninsula, among them olives, lemons, and oranges.

Along the Costa del Sol you might want to consider trying fritura de pescado, a squid and fish dish with lemon wedges.

And of course, when in Spain it is definitely encouraged that you partake in some tapas-hoping. Spain is known for having the best tapas in the world – however, we strongly feel that Spanish tapas are very much out of this world instead!

the-best-tapas-bars-in-malaga

Do I Need To Speak Spanish To Eat Out In Spain?

It is very possible to travel in Spain using only English. However, that being said, one of the places you will most likely encounter a lack of English during your trip, will be on food missions – especially in areas off the beaten track.

Outside of Barcelona and the tourist areas, selecting restaurants of local character can often mean little or no communication with your waiter in English. Therefore it is best to be able to recognize a few food-related Spanish words.

It is also good to be an adventurous type of person. Then, when the unexpected meal shows up, you will at least have the nerve to give it a taste – and probably be pleasantly surprised too!

To give yourself a slight tourist-advantage, start by learning the Spanish words for the food categories, for example:

  • salad (ensaladas)
  • soups (sopas)
  • fish (pescados)
  • seafood (mariscos)
  • meat (carne)

If you can recognize the food category, you will at least know you are getting some type of fish dish when pointing to one of the offerings listed under PESCADOS.

A technique used by some people is to look around at what others are eating. If something looks good, they will point to it when the waiter comes to take their order. This plan is usually flawless, as you get a chance to see (and probably smell) your food before you order it.

Final Thoughts

Spain is full of delicious foods to try. Each city and region have their own specialties and favourites. So if you’re on your way to Spain, get ready to step out of your comfort zone and be introduced to foods that will have your stomach booking a return trip in no time at all!

Last words: Andalusia, in Southern Spain, is the largest producer of olive oil in the world. Perfect souvenir maybe? We’ll let you decide!

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