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Around Spain in 15 Dishes

Person lifts a huge pan of paella
Hi, I'm Lori!

Lori Zaino is a bilingual, Madrid-based freelance writer and editor with bylines in CNN, NBC, Business Insider, and The Points Guy. An avid traveler, she’s visited more than 60 countries—and has written about most of them.

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Hi, I'm Lori!

Lori Zaino is a bilingual, Madrid-based freelance writer and editor with bylines in CNN, NBC, Business Insider, and The Points Guy. An avid traveler, she’s visited more than 60 countries—and has written about most of them.

see more

Cuisine is an influential part of Spanish culture—in fact, many dishes are deeply rooted in tradition, and the country’s tapas (small portions of different kinds of foods) have a culture of their very own. When it comes to Spain’s gastronomy, you won’t find extreme spiciness or complicated dishes either; the best food in Spain is all about simple, quality ingredients and hearty portions, typically prepared with a dash of olive oil and a handful of garlic.

So, from seafood paella to crunchy, sugared churros, don’t leave Spain without sampling these national and regional favorites.

Bocadillo de calamares

The humble squid sandwich is a must when in Madrid. | Photo Credit: garcia fotografia / Shutterstock


No visit to Madrid is complete without picking up a squid sandwich (bocadillo de calamares). Rumor has it that the breaded, fried squid dish was first prepared after train service made transporting fish from the coast to the country’s landlocked capital easier. The squid was originally breaded (and then sandwiched between two large pieces of bread) so it would be more filling. Today, you’ll find the sandwich—often served with mayonnaise—at bars, food markets, and restaurants in and around the famous Plaza Mayor in Madrid.


The art of the Asturian sidra pour is a big deal in Spain. | Photo Credit: DFH Photo / Shutterstock


Sidra is a cider that hails from the northern Spanish region of Asturias, and there are two main types: natural and sparkling. Asturian locals tend to prefer natural Sidra, fermented sans extra additives, although sparkling Sidra—which stays fresher for longer thanks to a few handy additives—is widely available in other parts of Spain. Pouring Sidra is also a true art form that most locals can do in their sleep; they hold the bottle high above their heads and the cup down by their hips, magically filling it to the top—and almost always without spilling a drop.


Paella is a Spanish classic, best enjoyed on the coast. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator


One of Spain’s most well-known gastronomic delights, there are actually three main types of paella: Valenciana, seafood, and mixta. Although all paella is made from rice, saffron, and paprika, the Valenciana variety usually contains chicken or rabbit with a mix of sauteed ingredients such as tomato, garlic, and pepper, while seafood paella has underwater delicacies including shrimp, cuttlefish, and mussels. Mixta, on the other hand, is made from meat, chicken, or rabbit, plus seafood. (Of course, you can also find squid ink paella, vegetarian paella, and more.)

Insider tip: The best way to eat paella? Along the Mediterranean coast overlooking the sea in a city like Valencia. Or, take a cooking class to learn how to perfectly prepare this Spanish classic.

Rioja wine

Rioja wine is one of Spain's many excellent reds. | Photo Credit: Silvia Longhi / Viator


Spanish Rioja wine is cultivated in the region of Rioja, the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain (1925). With over 600 Rioja wineries, it’s no surprise that Rioja wines are a consistent favorite among both locals and visitors. Rioja is separated into three subregions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental, each with their own diverse Rioja profile. And, given that the region has more than 160,000 acres (65,000 hectares) of vineyards, it’s one of the best spots in Spain to sip and learn about this variety, though you can also order it at bars and restaurants throughout the country.

Pulpo á feira

Don't miss the octopus if you find yourself in Galicia. | Photo Credit: Andres Garcia Martin / Shutterstock


A Galician specialty, pulpo á feira (also known as pulpo a la gallega) consists of octopus and potatoes boiled in a copper cauldron and topped with a pinch of sea salt and paprika. The trick to making the perfect (read: not rubbery) boiled octopus is similar to that of boiling pasta—you have to make sure the octopus is neither undercooked or overcooked. Sample this seafood delicacy at a polbeira, a no-frills Galician restaurant that specializes in octopus.

Pan tumaca

Pan tumaca is deceptively simple and absolutely delicious. | Photo Credit: nito / Shutterstock


One of Spain’s most delicious dishes is also one of its simplest: pan tumaca (or pa amb tomàquet in Catalan), a mixture of blended tomato, olive oil, and salt spread over bread. Its origins make sense—when that baguette was a bit past due and dried out, locals added a little oil and tomato to make it edible. Nowadays, bars and cafés all over Barcelona and Spain often serve this dish for breakfast, giving diners a plate with toast (not stale bread, thankfully) and a bowl of the tomato blend for a DIY experience.


Skewered sardines are a beachside favorite in Spain. | Photo Credit: Clara Murcia / Shutterstock


Best savored during sardine season (May through August), espetos (grilled and skewered sardines) remind both locals and tourists of summer, as they’re often enjoyed at beachfront restaurants known as chiringuitos. Roughly six sardines are skewered onto a stick, placed on a grill over the fire, and charred to perfection. And the type of skewer is very important—a special plant or metallic cane is a big part of the reason the fish cooks evenly. Munch on these sardines in Malaga during a food tour or enjoy as a post-walking tour snack.

Papas arrugadas con mojo picón

Don't skip the wrinkly potatoes on the Canary Islands. | Photo Credit: Joe McUbed / Shutterstock

Canary Islands

Papas arrugadas literally translates to “wrinkled potatoes,” named as such because you boil them until their skin wrinkles. The potatoes are then topped with a Canarian sauce called mojo picón (there are both green and red varieties), which is made from ingredients such as garlic, pepper, olive oil, and cilantro. Find this simple yet appetizing potato dish—the perfect post-hike or beach-break snack—at almost any local restaurant on the Canary Islands.

Gazpacho and salmorejo

Salmorejo is a ham-and-egg–topped soup. | Photo Credit: nito / Shutterstock


A cold soup made of stale bread, raw vegetables, garlic, and olive oil, gazpacho dates back centuries, allegedly originating from the Roman Empire. Nowadays, you’ll find it eaten in Andalucía, as well as wider Spain. Similar to gazpacho, salmorejo is thicker and uses more bread, sometimes coming served with bits of egg and ham. Enjoying gazpacho or salmorejo is a refreshing way to beat the heat on a hot summer day, so sip it (or eat it with a spoon) at practically any Spanish restaurant or food market, especially in southern cities such as Seville and Córdoba.


Churros are commonly enjoyed for breakfast in Madrid. | Photo Credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock


Many people think that churros are a dessert but they're actually most commonly enjoyed as a breakfast food in Spain—especially after a big night out on the town. These crunchy, deep-fried pastries are usually served in a pile, topped with cinnamon sugar, and best devoured after being dipped into a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate. Pick up churros in Madrid from a street vendor or a churrería, a café that specializes in this tasty treat.


You can't go to Spain and skip the tapas. | Photo Credit: Annapurna Mellor / Viator


Spain is famous for tapas, which are small plates of food typically eaten for dinner. They can range from things such as meatballs and cold cuts to cheese, chickpeas, and beyond, but the key to tapas is that they’re light bites. While you can find tapas in practically every region of Spain, it’s best to sample them in one of Granada’s famous tapas restaurants. Why? Because you’ll get a free tapa for every drink you order.

Related article: Top Tips for Finding Authentic Spanish Tapas in Barcelona

Tortilla de Patata

Whether served alone or with bread, the ooey-gooey Spanish omelet is a crowdpleaser. | Photo Credit: h3c7orC / Shutterstock


While the origin of Spain’s beloved tortilla de patata (a potato-stuffed omelet that’s usually served for lunch or dinner) isn’t crystal clear, it’s rumored to hail from Bilbao. And there are as many places to order it in this northern Spanish city, as there are configurations—order it with or without onion; sample it with fancier ingredients such as spinach, mushrooms, or chicken; try it served hot, warm, or cold; as a tapa, on bread, or on its own. Now matter how you order it, just remember you’d be remiss to leave Spain without sampling this national dish.


Pintxos can be as simple or as elaborate as you'd like. | Photo Credit: MisterStock / Shutterstock

San Sebastian

Comprising of different ingredients served atop bread with a stick (“pintxo”) pushed through them to hold everything in place—not to mention make them easier to hold and eat—pintxos are similar to tapas, although they’re found almost exclusively in Spain’s Basque Country. Eat some of the most elaborate pintxos in San Sebastian, a Basque city famous for its high-end, sophisticated gastronomy scene.


Don't sleep on the humble Spanish croqueta. | Photo Credit: Carlos Cabral de Menezes / Shutterstock


Another one of Spain’s most delectable foods, croquetas actually originated in France but later made their way to Spain. Made by creating doughy balls from bechamel and whatever ingredients are on hand (such as ham, mushrooms, or chicken), croquetas are then breaded and fried, making them perfect for a crispy treat on the go. They're also often eaten as tapas. Although croquetas are available all throughout Spain, the local restaurants and tapas bars of Alicante are the perfect place to sample some of the best.

Jamón ibérico and jamón serrano

There's an art to slicing the perfect Iberian ham. | Photo Credit: BONDART PHOTOGRAPHY / Shutterstock


Cured ham is one of Spain’s most prized delicacies, and both Iberian and Serrano hams come from special pigs raised in specific conditions with a particular diet—think: only eating acorns. The curing process can take more than a year, before the ham legs are sold to restaurants and food markets (although you’ll often find them on local families’ kitchen counters). Then, the ham is finely sliced off the leg fresh-to-order. Meat eaters should try this Iberian delicacy in the lesser-known Extremadura region, from where these famous pork products often hail.

Insider tip: Slicing Iberian ham is truly an art form, and there are even classes available.

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