They do things a little differently in Spain, but you’ll soon get into the rhythm of eating out.
Breakfast is usually a continental affair with coffee and bread rolls, then lunch is served around 1.30pm to 3.30pm and is the biggest meal of the day, often accompanied by wine. After which many Spaniards have a siesta nap before heading back to work.
Then dinner is eaten late, often around 9pm, which is why bars and restaurants tend to be one and the same thing, dishing up tapas beside beers.
Spanish cooking uses a wide variety of ingredients, but one thing you can be sure of is the focus on fresh and local produce.
As well as running through some common Spanish dishes, we explain how Spain’s diverse history, the landscape and where you are in the country shapes the ingredients and methods used.
Historical food influences
Spain’s location between Europe and Africa means that its culture and food has been influenced by a number of settlers over the centuries. We have the Greeks, Celts and Romans to thank for olives, olive oil, wine, meat and fish pies, which have remained key ingredients in modern Spanish cooking.
And the Moors from North Africa brought with them a taste for honey, almonds, citrus fruit and spices such as cumin and saffron. You’ll find these ingredients scattered throughout Spanish cuisine today, with lots of desserts retaining a Moorish influence.
Traditional Spanish dishes
Spanish food varies from area to area but there are some specialities that are renowned throughout the country and can be found in most restaurants.
When you think Spanish food the first thing that probably comes to mind is tapas. These snack-sized servings are used either as a starter before a meal or as the entire meal itself, when you order a few dishes. They’re a great way to sample the local flavours by trying lots of different things and a sociable sharing style of eating.
One such tapas option is a plate of croquettas – these little battered potato nuggets are packed with different flavours including cheese, bechamel and meats.
And for vegetarians there’s calamari deep fried squid, pisto – a thick tomato and vegetable sauce, often served with a fried egg on top – or pulpo a la gallega, which is boiled octopus seasoned with paprika, sea salt and olive oil.
You might have heard of the popular Spanish dish, gazpacho. This simple cold soup with bread is great during the summer months when you need something to cool down. There are vegetable, tomato and herb flavoured options.
Paella is another favourite of both tourists and locals. This rice stew originated in Valencia and includes runner beans, butter beans, saffron and either seafood, chicken, or rabbit.
For something familiar to the Western palate try the tortilla espanola, a Spanish omelette where potatoes and onions are slow cooked in olive oil and then mixed with beaten eggs. Liven up your dish a bit by asking for the addition of chorizo or jamon serrano – cured ham from the Andalusia region.
One of the most popular desserts in Spain is the flan. It’s a lightly baked custard made with eggs, cream, gelatine and vanilla, and sometimes coated in a hardened liqueur coat.
And when you’re leaving a bar in the evening, the smell of freshly baked churros doughnuts will likely tempt you to a stall.
Different regions have their own take on authentic Spanish dishes, using local ingredients, so branch out of your comfort zone and discover some of the mouth-watering dishes being prepared around the country.
In Andalusia, freidurias is a well-known dish made of sole or anchovies fried in batter. Whereas in Catalonia they often combine ‘may y montagna’, or sea and mountain, with both fish and meat on the same plate – lamb being a popular meat in this northern region.
And if you’re travelling to Costa Blanca it’d be rude not to try the most prized prawn in Spain, the Denia prawn. This striped red prawn has an intense flavour that has gained international recognition.
What are your favourite Spanish dishes? Or which restaurant are you looking forward to going back to for its local specialities?