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Spanish Cuisine - The Well Known and the More Unusual

Spanish meals have won fans the world over for their rich flavours and inventive uses of ingredients. And even here in the UK, the number of tapas bars and other specialised places shows we're all fond of a good paella.

Yet Spain's rich history and clever chefs have cooked up many more delicacies than we might initially give them credit for. Here are some to look out for, both famous and more elusive, from the finest kitchens and cantinas in Spain.

Regional specialities

Spain is vast and varied, and the same can be said for its menu choices.

While you've every chance to enjoy a paella or a bocadillo filled with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese anywhere from Costa Blanca to Fuengirola, take some time to see what regional treats are on offer.

For example, if you're enjoying your holiday in Marbella or Malaga, you're in the southern region of Andalucia. That's where fish tapas are considered a popular lunchtime treat, while tangy tomato dips like salmorejo are waiting to meet your big crusty rolls.

This popular and simple appetiser is tomato and breadcrumbs mixed with garlic into a rich puree, sometimes topped with eggs or ham.

Southern Andalucia is also where that famous cold soup called gazpacho is thought to have first emerged.

While that's a pretty well-known Spanish meal, there are actually plenty of other soups they serve cold to be had here. A thicker variant is zoque, where the tomatoes and bread also share the bowl with red peppers, carrots and other ingredients that give it a heartier finish.

Flavoured with tradition

Over in Spain's northwest, the Galicia region is where living off the land was taken to an all new artform when they invented the empanada. At its heart, it's a pie like those we enjoy at home, although a good empanada tends to be flatter than our pies.

The ingredients also vary, since many empanada recipes were refined within families. Sauteed vegetables could be found in one empanada, and minced pork spiced with shredded chorizo in the next.

Seafood and cheese variants also exist, so while you're in Spain, you're absolutely encouraged to be the one who ate all the pies.

You can also expand your culinary horizons on your Spanish holiday by thinking about how the locals eat outside those hot summers we all adore. A good example of a traditional Spanish winter meal is fabada asturiana, a bean and meat stew whose flavours zing with added paprika and saffron.

Stay for the seafood

Chances are you're going to Spain to enjoy beaches in resorts like Benidorm and the Costa del Sol. That's going to put you in a prime position to see how Spanish chefs add some flair to the flavours of their seafood.

Fans of tapas are well looked after here, especially since garlic prawns and shrimps are among the most popular of the light bites making up any tapas platter.

However, octopus is also a meat they serve up a storm or two with, most prominently in pulpo a la gallega, which is diced octopus meat dusted with paprika and doused in rich olive oil.

If you're really looking to show off, the stark black rice of arros negre is a tasty yet visually stunning dish. It takes white rice, olive oil, squid meat and seafood broth, all rounded off with squid ink to colour the whole meal black.

It's fast becoming the alternative to paella for holidaymakers in Spain looking for some truly authentic flavours along with photo-worthy meals.

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