One of Spain’s greatest attractions is,
without any doubt, its cuisine, which is one of the best in
the world for both quality and variety. Accurately speaking,
one cannot talk of a national cuisine but rather of a multiplicity
of regional cuisines influenced in each case
by the climate and local way of life.
Spanish cuisine is distinguished by the traditional
use of olive oil as the vegetable- and lard as the animal
fat in the preparation of dishes, as well as the inclusion
of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables introduced by Moorish
culture, plus other ingredients, such as the potato and tomato
imported from the New World.
Then again, the
considerable development in Spanish cooking in recent years
has also been due to the emergence of a clutch of first-class
chefs who have successfully managed to reinterpret traditional
dishes and recipes in tune with present times, endowing Spanish
cuisine with a new dimension in presentation and flavour.
The north is a wet and rainy region which
makes for a cuisine that is not only very tasty but varied
as to both meat and fish.
The Basque Country leans towards
seasonally-biased home-type cooking, with local specialities
like marmitako (potatoes with bonito) and txangurro (clams
and spider crab).
Asturias has a similar cuisine,
though with local touches worthy of mention, such as the fabada
(stew of haricot beans and pork), the regional cheeses and
famed apple cider.
Cantabria offers diversity
in a cuisine that blends sea and mountain, with top-quality
ingredients, including beef, anchovies and dairy products.
Among the choice dishes of Galicia
are the pote (potage made with ham bones, haricot beans and,
depending on the chef, turnip tops), the caldeiradas (akin
to bouillabaisse, but served in two parts: first the broth
and only then, the fish), pulpo (octopus), dairy products
Varied and delicious are the terms that define
a cuisine that is simple, hearty and natural, that relies
on the excellence of the local produce, and that is to be
found in Aragon, La
Rioja and Navarre. The fertile
valleys across this belt of Spain are a paradise for fruit
and vegetables, and the locally-grown asparagus, peppers,
borage, cardos (cardoon - a celery-like vegetable), peaches
and pears enjoy well-deserved fame for their superb quality.
Potatoes, cabbage hearts and platters of
mixed vegetables or tender legumes, such as pochas (haricot
beans allowed to ripen and swell in the pod) are starters
or form the garnishing for dishes featuring trout from the
nearby mountain streams and speciality meat marinades (chilindrones)
and conserves (confits), a taste acquired from the French.
Desserts, in which the stars are cheese, milk puddings (cuajada
- curd) or fruit, either fresh, chocolate-coated or preserved
in syrup, and a long tradition of fine breads, put the finishing
touches to a highly-regarded cuisine.
The Mediterranean cuisine, associated with
the famous Mediterranean diet that has been shown to be so
beneficial for the health, is based on the "Holy Trinity"
of wheat, the olive and the vine, with other important ingredients
being: rice and legumes; garlic, greens and vegetables; cheese
and yoghurt; fish, meat and eggs; and fruit. This is a school
of cuisine which is as varied as it is complete, and which,
in the Mediterranean areas of Spain, is interpreted with local
differences and twists.
Ever since the Middle Ages, Catalonia
has enjoyed a delicious and refined cuisine embracing plain,
sea and mountain, a cuisine which on the coast has recourse
to a wide array of fish, and inland, to typical dishes such
as escudella (a meaty broth with pasta, usually followed by
carne d'olla, a hearty stew) and roasts.
See also our Gastronomic
Great individuality and contrast likewise
mark the Valencian cuisine, which combines typically
Mediterranean dishes –fish, green vegetables and fruit– with
those of the upland plateau, such as potages and game stews,
and which assigns rice, served dry, moist or in paella, the
leading role in an endless list of specialities. Sweetmeats,
nougats (turrón) and ice creams keep the Arabic influence
very much alive.
Murcia too displays this same
character, namely, a cuisine of the sea and of the land, shaped
by the merging of cultures.
Besides the fluffy pastries known as ensaimadas
and the original and now world-famous mayonnaise (salsa mayonesa),
Balearic Isle specialities rely on greens, fish
(caldereta - sea-food stew) and pork (sobrasada - a spicy
red sausage spread).
The cuisine on the Central Plateau is the
product of a harsh climate that is unforgiving and demands
hard and continuous toil.
In Castile & Leon the cooking
is based on legumes: haricot beans (La Bañeza, El Barco),
chickpeas (Fuentesaúco) and lentils (La Armuña). Pork which,
in the case of the Iberian pig reared on acorns and chestnuts,
attains a peak of quality and flavour, and game are also basic
to the typical regional specialities (botillo, the mountain
sausage from Leon, savoury bloodsausage or morcilla from Burgos,
and the red Segovian sausage known as cantimpalo). Baby lamb,
kid and sucking pig –deliciously roasted– are the star dishes,
fish comes in the form of trout and cod, and there is a great
variety of local cheeses made from goat’s, ewe’s or cow’s
milk. Sweets and pastries, such as yemas (meltingly soft sweetmeats
made from egg-yolk) and hojaldres (puff pastry), are in the
most refined traditions of Arabic cuisine.
These same characteristics are also to be
found in Extremadura, in a range of dishes and
foodstuffs in which Iberian ham and pork reigns supreme. There
are calderetas (stews) and cochifritos (lamb seasoned, garnished
and casseroled in an earthenware dish), cold escabeches (marinades),
wild vegetables (mushrooms, cardoons, leeks) and a wide choice
of handmade cheeses to be had at the hearthsides of famous
monasteries and convents (Guadalupe, Yuste, Alcántara) or
in typical local eating houses.
The cuisine recreated in the story of Don
Quixote of stockpot, salpicón (salmagundi) and duelos y quebrantos
(a cattle-drover’s and shepherds’ dish, traditionally associated
with St. Peter’s Day rivalry, consisting of a fry of eggs,
bacon and brains, thought to be good by Sancho Panza and eaten
by Don Quixote on Saturdays) serves to bring us to Castile-La
Mancha, with its saffron, La Alcarria honey and Manchego
(ewe’s milk) cheese. A country cuisine which in its gazpachos
(not the better-known Andalusian gazpacho but a shepherd’s
torta, a rough-and-ready dough made from flour, salt and water,
eaten with game meat) and morteruelos (chopped pig’s liver
braised with seasoning and breadcrumbs) retains the flavour
of the old sheep-herding ways, and in its roasts (lamb, kid),
the mouthwatering aroma of the hill country, rewarding the
sweet-toothed with the ultimate delight of the exquisite Moorish-inspired
marzipan of Toledo.
Like an island, Madrid contributes
with the singularity of some of its typical dishes, such as
cocido madrileño (a hearty stew for those with big appetites,
where the broth is served first, followed by the soup-meat,
chick-peas, potatoes and greens), cod and callos (tripe).
The sticky torrijas (sweet fritters), desserts and sweetmeats
are yet further local specialities.
Southern or Andalusian cooking
takes its inspiration from the crucible of cultures that together
forged its culinary heritage.
In tune with the local surroundings, one
finds a cuisine of market-garden and field, a cuisine of country-style
winter stews, and a Mediterranean cuisine along the coast.
In addition, there is the region’s fine line in confectionery
and pastry, again an Arabic legacy, and a variety of dishes
based on pork and ham, epitomised in the ritual, colourful
climax of the matanza (an annual event, often in late autumn,
when families gather to help in the slaughter and butchering
of a pig or two). The various gazpachos (cold Andalusian soup
of diced tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers in olive oil,
vinegar and garlic, usually served with a sprinkling of croutons)
and soups, frituras (servings of small fried fish) and stews
are just some of the individual items in a school of cooking
that boasts a long and well-established cultural tradition.
The Canary Islands enjoy a
very personal cuisine, with gofio (a local ball-shaped bread
with flour made from toasted cereals), legumes, tropical fruits
and the famous mojos (hot sauces spiced with paprika and coriander)
being just a few of the local attractions.
(WINES & MORE)
As an element, wine is a fundamental
to each and every one of Spain’s regional cuisines.
The Romans introduced the art of viticulture,
thereby making Spain into one of the world’s leading producers
of wine. Spanish wine has earned itself a well-deserved reputation
for quality, an aspect that, nowadays, is subject to stringent
controls and official demarcations (up to sixty different
Among these, mention must be made of the
Rioja wines, which, on the merit of their bouquet, taste and
body, have won international acclaim. Other highly-prized
seals of origin are Ribera del Duero, Penedes and La Mancha,
all of which have recently witnessed great advances in the
quality of their wines.
Sherry (vino de Jerez) is a fortified Andalusian
wine which enjoys great international prestige, particularly
in Anglo-Saxon countries, and comes in a range of varieties
to suit different tastes, e.g., fino (dry and light, usually
drunk chilled), manzanilla (a pale, dry fina from Sanlúcar
de Barrameda), amontillado (amber-coloured full dry or semi-dry),
dulce (sweet) and oloroso (dark, full-bodied).
Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine
made by the champagne method, is mainly bottled in the Penedes
region of Catalonia, though in recent years production has
spread to other areas, such as Castile.
Nowadays beer is an increasingly
popular drink in Spain, especially as an aperitif to accompany
the popular tapa-style snacks in bars. Spanish beer is of
the light-coloured lager type, pleasant on the palate and
usually served ice-cold.
In Spain spirits and liqueurs
also have their local counterparts worthy of mention. Brandy
is fundamentally produced in Andalusia, whilst aguardientes
(natural alcohols, 80%-strength maximum) and orujos
(fiery spirit distilled from grape skins and pips) hail from
all parts of the country, inspiring the celebrated Galician
queimadas (speciality made by setting aguardiente alight in
a china- or earthenware bowl, in some cases with the prior
addition of roasted coffee beans) as well as other different
varieties of all kinds (dry, herb-, cherry- and honey-laced).
Anisette (anís), pacharán de endrinas (bilberry
liqueur) from Navarre and schnappes-like fruit liqueurs
are the most popular drinks with the public.
EATING OUT IN SPAIN
Eating out in Spain
is one of life’s most enjoyable daily rites.
The sheer variety and range of the cuisine
and Spaniards’ weakness for good food, make it a simple task,
whether in the big city or in some small country village,
to find a place where one can have a good meal. Ranging from
traditional home cooking all the way up to famous five-star
restaurants (maximum rating on a scale of one to five), travellers
will have no difficulty in finding best value for money in
terms of personal tastes and preferences.
Meal times tend to be approximately one and
a half hours behind the European average, though the range
of restaurant opening times is so generous that individuals
will find it possible to more or less keep to their customary
A menu listing the prices is usually displayed
at the entrance to restaurants, which also usually offer a
daily set menu at a somewhat reduced and/or fixed price. Service
is included in the price shown, yet it is usual (though not
obligatory) to leave 5%-10% of the bill by way of a tip.
Many restaurants tend to close one day in
the week (Sunday or Monday), but there is any number of establishments
open 7 days a week where one can have a bite at any time.
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