Food in Spain You Have to Try!
Updated: May 26, 2020
Food and drinks you have to try in Spain.
When we traveled thru Madrid and Spain, we enjoyed finding great food and trying the tapas Spain is famous for. We were very pleased that we could find delicious food at very reasonable prices, other than a few splurges at higher-end restaurants. We were able to eat for around 60 euros at most meals, which included drinks. The wine, beer, and vermouth in Spain are usually priced very reasonably at 2-3 euros per glass for quality products. Cocktails were more expensive but did not feel as local and we were happy without them. We have compiled a small list of some of our favorites. There are many other items not on our list. I encourage you to think about your favorites when you travel to Spain. There are plenty of options. The selections of tapas and pintxons alone that you can find in restaurants and food markets alone is unlimited in variety. Here are some of our favorites.
Vermut- All over Spain travelers can find restaurants with vermouth available from bottles or even on tap. Vermouth, “vermut” in Spanish, is a fortified white wine infused with spices and botanicals which leave it darker in color. Many Spaniards enjoy this aperitif before a large meal to aid digestion. I particularly enjoyed starting my meals with a cold glass of vermouth, which is served on ice with a slice of lemon or orange. When in Spain, look for vermouth on tap and try different ones. You may find some to be sweeter or drier than others. Make sure you try a couple of glasses at different establishments before you pass judgment. Avoid vermouth in well-known branded bottles which are meant for mixing in martinis and not sipping.
Una Cana- if you order una cana in a restaurant, you will get a small glass of smooth cold creamy lager. The cana is great because it stays cold longer naturally because of its size. This is especially nice in the summer when it can get very hot in Spain. Una canas are priced very low at 2-3 euros each. This is convenient if you want to try different varieties at one establishment.
Patatas Bravas- I instantly fell in love with these potatoes and ordered them at nearly every meal. Some restaurants did an amazing job preparing them and others seemed to be pouring frozen potatoes out of a bag. If you do not like them the first time you try them, try again. Patatas Bravas are made by frying potatoes cut in cubes and then covering them with paprika or a paprika based spicy and smokey sauce and garlic aioli (garlic mayonnaise). This is a very simple dish, but delicious. It is also possible to get the potatoes served with sauce on the side, which is sometimes necessary for kids. The sauces range in spiciness so be aware of that when offering them to your children. Our WIthlocals.com food tour guide, Ines, gave me her simple recipe and I made some successfully at home. She also took us to Mendizabal where we had the best patatas bravas of the entire trip! Here is Ines’s recipe.
Jamon- is simply the rear leg of the pig which has been cured. Jamon is sold in several varieties ranging in quality and price. The highest quality of Jamon is Jamon Iberico. These pigs are fed acorns exclusively or primarily depending on the variety of Iberico Jamon. For a very detailed account of the varieties, check out this article from the Guardian.
When in Be sure to try some Jamon Iberico while you are in Spain. It was very high quality and full of flavor. The Jamon we tried was smooth, flavorful and seemed to melt in your mouth as you ate it. If you look around in restaurants and bars, you will notice legs of Jamon hanging from ceilings and on countertops ready to be thinly sliced. Jamon can be found in simple sandwiches on baguettes with manchego cheese, wrapped around cantaloupe or honeydew, or with sliced bread and sliced manchego cheese. Our kids also liked the Jamon; its a fairly kid-friendly food.
Pan con Tomate- This is a flavorful take on bread to start a meal. Sliced bread is toasted and then rubbed with olive oil, garlic and what could only be described to us as “hanging tomatoes”. The tomatoes are perfect for the dish and not found anywhere else, according to Ines our food guide in Barcelona. I asked her if she knew of anything comparable and she said she did not. She explained that during her trips away from Spain, she misses the Pan con Tomate the most, and was sorry to find that the hanging tomatoes were not available anywhere else. I imagine other tomatoes will substitute, but will not be quite as delicious as the hanging tomatoes in Spain.
To try making it at home, slice a baguette, drizzle with olive oil, and toast. Once the bread is toasted, smash a garlic clove and rub it on the bread. Finally, take a small tomato sliced in half and rub it on bread. Try with different varieties of tomato. We have also tried an alternate version. Place a tomato and garlic clove in a blender or food processor and quickly pulse. Drizzle sliced bread with olive oil and then spread the tomato garlic mixture over top. Toast slices in the oven or on grill top for an added smokiness (our favorite).
Gazpacho- We enjoyed several bowls of gazpacho while we were in Spain. It was especially refreshing during the hot summer. Gazpacho is a tomato-based soup which is blended and served cold with fresh cut cucumbers, bell peppers and or croutons to add some texture. It often includes tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, celery, onion, and garlic. I never imagined that I would like this cold soup, but was pleased to find that even my picky 4 year old enjoyed the soup.
Paella- Paella is a rice dish filled with seafood, peppers, onions, and spices including saffron. It is cooked in a round shallow dish find a paella pan here. Valencia is undisputed birthplace of paella. Valencia was a large and natural port on the Mediterranean sea. The Moors traveled thru the area over 1200 years ago and introduced rice to Spain. Since that time, Valencia has been a large rice-producing area in Spain.
Paella's humble beginnings started when field laborers began cooking rice with whatever they could find over an open fire for lunch. This could have included onions, snails, rabbits, beans or any other variety of vegetables and proteins at hand. Today you can find different varieties of paella all over Spain. Some versions incorporate chicken and sausage in place of or in addition to seafood. We enjoyed making this ourselves with Anna from Foodiesinthecity.com. We spent an afternoon in her lovely apartment, with her. She instructed us on the process and all 4 of us worked together to make a seafood paella. Our boys, Maddox and Henry especially enjoyed being included in the process and learning about making the dish. Anna was an excellent host and we enjoyed learning about the Spanish culture from her. Check out her website to enjoy this experience while you are in Madrid. I highly recommend it!
Seafood in Barcelona- Barcelona is a coastal town where you can find lots of high-quality fresh seafood. We tried a variety of octopus, oysters, clams, some of the largest prawns I have ever seen and more. We particularly enjoyed strolling thru the Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona. While there, we sat at a small stall and tried a variety of fresh delicious seafood. The stall workers were in awe of our son, Maddox who was happily eating raw oysters, and more.
Markets- I highly recommend seeing the markets in any city you visit in Spain and throughout Europe. There is always a large variety of fresh produce and proteins in addition to a variety of prepared foods and food products such as cheese and spices. We visited Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona and Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid.
Both markets were full of freshly squeezed juice stalls, which our boys enjoyed in addition to stalls serving vermouth from the barrel, beer, wine, Aperol spritzes, pastries and more culinary delights. Be sure to anticipate large crowds in the markets, especially during meal times.
Churros and hot chocolate- You are probably familiar with churros, which is a crunchy fried dough covered with cinnamon and sugar. Churros can be found all over Spain served with hot chocolate for dipping and sipping. We tried two of the most popular spots for Churros in Madrid. Our boys especially enjoyed the churros and chocolate!
1. Chocolateria San Gines- This delicious chocolate shop has been serving this much sought after desert in Madrid since 1894. It is located close to the Puerta del Sol which is in the heart of Madrid. Many visitors and Spainards enjoy this treat for breakfast on weekends or for special occasions. We visited at night and though it was busy, we were quickly served and did not have to deal with any long lines. Be aware of touristy spots selling churros around the city to make sure you are getting a quality product. We heard a few warnings that the chocolate at some spots is powered and not melted chocolate bars.
2. El Riojano- We loved El Riojano as well, which was established even earlier in 1855. It is also located close to the Puerta del Sol. We thought the chocolate here was better than at San Gines. Instead of a churro, El Riojano serves its chocolate with a ladyfinger biscuit-like cookie. We liked the cookie but would have preferred a churro for the crunch.
If you are in Madrid, I encourage you to try both shops and see which you prefer. I for one cannot pick a favorite, in the perfect world, I would have the chocolate from El Riojano with a churro from San Gines.
The cuisine in Spain varies all over the country. Spanish people are proud of their food and enjoy its simplicity. Their food is made with quality ingredients, is not fussy or fancy, it's simply delicious. Each region has its specialties. When we travel around Europe, we always start with a food tour by a local. Withlocals.com been an excellent resource for us to begin to understand the food in each region. It has also provided a jumping point for the rest of our trip and helped us decide what to look for during the rest of our time in each location, we did this in Spain as well and I highly recommend starting your trip the same way if food is a big part of why you travel.
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