Spain is essentially divided into four culinary divisions. There is no definition of typical Spanish food as the cuisine varies from region to region dictated by climate and geography.
The Northern regions have an abundance of fish and seafood fresh from the Atlantic. Some of the most delicious seafood in Europe comes from the Atlantic coast of Spain. Here you will find mussels,scallops, octopus,”percebes” (which are unusual tall, black barnacles), lobsters, spider crabs,anchovies and tuna, for which the region is famed. Spanish fishermen bring in cod from the shores of Norway and Iceland which is dried and salted, this is sold all over Spain and is known as “bacalao”. Year round rainfall provides ideal conditions for plentiful crops of fresh, seasonal vegetables, in particular potatoes, cabbages and sweetcorn. San Sebastian in the Basque country has the most varied and sophisticated food in Spain. There are many gastronomical societies in the Basque country and they take their food very seriously. Even the most simplest of foods are turned into sumptuous feasts with a variety of rich sauces. Beans are an essential part of northern cooking and appear in many of the stews and casseroles. They produce many speciality varieties with the best, and most expensive, being La Granja beans from Asturias, these are probably the best beans in the world. Asturias is also famous for it’s dry cider, produced from apples grown in the region. While Navarra is noted for it’s wonderful white asparagus as well as it’s succulent, tender lamb, suckling pig and tasty pimiento peppers. The Northern region of Spain is also renowned for it’s dairy produce, providing Spain with some of it’s best cheeses, such as the pungent blue Cabrales and Picon from the Asturian mountains. From Galicia, which has Spain’s highest cow’s milk yield, Tetilla, a Creamy and smooth yellow cheese, ideal for eating and also suitable for cooking, as it melts easily. Rich buttermilk is mixed with mashed potatoes to provide a tasty accompaniment to many of the regions rich stews and casseroles. From the western foothills of the Cordillera Cantabrica the smoked San Simon. Some of the dishes to look out for in this gastronomic region are “Fabada” A savoury pork and bean stew, also containg chorizo and morcilla sausage, “Revuelto” a traditional Basque dish of scrambled eggs withvarious other ingredients, either ham, sausage, chorizo or the best being wild asparagus and prawns. A great fish dish is “Merluza en salsa verde” (hake in a green parsley sauce). “Lacon con Grelos” pork with turnip tops. Pimento peppers are delicious when stuufed with any number of ingredients either seafood, fish or meat. There are so many excellent dishes to sample in this region, it would be impossible to name them all, but we hope you enjoy sampling them when visiting the region. Some sweets of this region include sobas, hazelnut carajitos, and walnut stuffed casadielles, marzipans, turrones plus desserts made from sugar and almonds. La Rioja apart from being known for it’s fine Spanish cuisine is also noted for it’s excellent wines. When looking out for Rioja wine it is worth noting that a bottle marked “Rioja” or “sin Crianza” is a young wine, made of 100% rioja grapes, but has not been aged,next “Crianza” is a wine in it’s third year and has been matured in an oak cask for at least one year and at least one year in a bottle. Thirdly there is “Reserva” these are carefully selected wines that are aged for at least three years, one of which is in oak casks and the remainder in the bottle. Finnaly there is the “Gran Reserva” these are aged for at least two years in oak and at least three years in the bottle.
Eastern Spain – Catalonia and Valencia is where you find the Mediterranean Diet considered to be the healthiest in the world and is based on local foods fish, saefood, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables. The cuisine of this region has been enriched over the centuries by the influence of the Romans and the Moors. The most famous of all Spains dishes comes from Valencia – “Paella” a dish of saffron rice, chicken, rabbit, shellfish, herbs and tomatoes. Paella is cooked in a large, shallow pan some of which are so big they can feed an entire village. It is hardly any wonder that Paella comes from this region as it is the principal rice growing region of Spain. Catalonia and Valencia are also the world’s largest exporters of oranges, they also supply Spain with Lemons, satsumas, clementines and almonds. This Area of Spain also produces wonderful sausages and air dried hams. Catalonia is famous for it’s sausages, especially from the town of Vic. The white “Butifarra” sausage contains pork, tripe and pine nuts whilst the black variety has blood, belly pork and spices, others include the firm, finely textured “Llangonisseta” and the dry “Fuet”. There is also the famous Chorizo sausage witch contains paprika and is delicious eaten with bread or used in cooking, giving dishes not just a wonderful flavour but also a brilliant colour. Catalonian cooking can yield many surprises such as goose with pears or the “mar i muntanya”(sea and Mountain) dishes which mix fish or seafood with meat, many of the dishes embrace the sweet and savoury combinations. Game from the region is also very good. Murcia’s fertile plains provide an abundance of tomatoes, broad beans, vegetables, pulses and garlic. Some of the traditional dishes from the region include “Butifarra amb mongetes” black sausage with harricot beans, “Suquet” fish and seafood stew, “Amanida Catalana” a salad that combines vegetables with cured meats, cheese or seafood or “Llagosta i Pollastre” lobster with chicken in a tomato and hazelnut sauce. One of the best known sweet dishes from Catalonia is “Crema Catalana” a deliciously rich egg custard, others include candied fruits “Frutas Escarchadas”(some are chocolate coated), “almendras garrapinadas” almonds coated a crunchy sugar coating and “Turron”.All in all the region makes very good work of turning the local produce into some amazing, mouthwatering dishes. The Raimat wine region produces some of Spains best (still)white wines and “Cava” the sparkling white is made from the methode champenoise and comes from the Penedes.
The Southern region of Spain – Andalucia. In this region you will find the sparkling blue of the sea at the coast whilst inland there are the mountainous areas of the region, with this variety there are wonderful selections of foods on offer. From the mountains there are some of the very best cured hams “Jamon Serrano”, the paprika flavoured chorizo, black morcilla blood sausage and salchihones often sliced and served in tapas. also cheese such as wonderful artisan cheeses such as Grazalema made from unpasturised ewe’s milk or a mixture of ewes’ and goats milk. There has been a strong Arab influence in the cuisine of the region, foods introduced into the area include rice, lemons,oranges,olives, vines,as well as many variety of vegetables and spices, all these can be seen in the dishes of the region. Andalucia is the third largest exporter of olive oil to the rest of Europe. On the coast you will find lots of grilled fish, in particular sardines and calamares whereas in the mountains stews of tripe and chickpeas are popular. One of the regions favourite soups is “Gazpacho” a cold tomato based soup using bread, garlic, cucumber, peppers and olive oil it is usually served garnished with croutons and diced vegetables. Andalucia is, most probably, best known as the home of the Tapas as this is was where they were invented. There are over 300 tempting tapas recipes found here. The wonderful sunny climate of this region is also idael for the growing of fruits such as strawberries, melons, figs, pomegranites, persimmons and oranges.Some of the local traditional dishes include “Habas a la rondena” broad beans with cured ham, “Huevos a la flamenca” eggs baked with vegetables,”fritura mixta” variety of fried fish or “fideos a la malaguena” a variation of paella made with spaghetti. Wonderful sherry vinegars are used to dress salads, fruity olive oils are an important ingredient in many dishes and many types of olive are served all over the region. The Arab influence is also seen in the sweets and desserts of the region “Yemas de San Leandro” marzipan sweets, “Tocino de Cielo” (meaning heavenly bacon) a delicious custard and caramel dessert, biscuits “Roscones” almond flavoured “Mantecados” and soft fried “Empanadillas”. Sherry is the main drink of the region in particular the “Fino” variety.
Central Spain has a plentiful supply of game, such as wild boar, pheasant and partridge which are a base to many rich, traditional dishes especially in Extremadura. As well as roast game you will find many homely, hearty stews. Castilla y Leon and Castilla La Mancha maintain a tradition of robust cooking with one-pot pulse casseroles. From Extremadura we also get a wonderful array of cold meats, cured hams, sausages and chorizo. Castilla la Mancha is famous for it’s saffron, which was introduced by the Moors, and used in dishes such as paella it give it a delicate flavour and wonderful vivid colour. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice because it must be picked by hand. In Castilla y Leon, milk-fed lamb and suckling pigs are roasted whole in enormous ovens to produce a wonderful crisp outside and a soft tender meat. Madrid dose not produce much in the way of foods but offers food from every corner of Spain in it’s restaurants and shops. The best known of Madrid’s traditional fare is “Cocido madrileno” which is up to three dishes in one pot, a broth with chickpeas, ham and chicken, the stock is drunk first then the food is divided and served as two seperate courses. There are an enormous variety of pulses grown on the plains of Castilla y Leon, the best are very expensive and their names are legally protected. The best known of the white beans are “Alubias Blancas” ,”Garbanzos” chick peas from Fuentesauco and the finest lentils coming from La Armuna.Manchego made from sheep’s milk on the plains of La Mancha, it is considered to be Spain’s finest cheese. Some of the regions traditional dishes include “Sopa de Ajo” a warming garlic soup, “Pollo al padre Pero” chicken in a pepper and tomato sauce, “cochinillo asado a la segoviana” roast suckling pig and “Truchas en arcilla” clay baked trout. The area’s crusty white bread is very popular and is eaten with every meal. “Yemas”(meaning yolk) are small yellow sugery cakes, the best of which come from Avila andthere is a rich variety of sweets and cakes such as rosquillas listas de sa Isidro- a type of doughnut and Toledo’s famous marzipans, many of which are still made in convents. La Rioja in the northwest produces Spain’s best known red wines.
Breakfast in Spain is a simple affair which will, normally include fresh bread rolls,butter and jam served with strong coffee, hot chocolate or tea. Cafe con leche, coffee with milk, will be taken throughout the day. The evening meal is taken very late in comparison with othe European countries and booking a table for 11 O’clock at night is not unusual. While coffee gets millions of Spaniards going each morning, Sangria is the perfect drink for a lazy sunny afternoon, a red wine and fruit punch. Rioja and Valdepenas are among the leading varieties of Spanish wine, there are also fine Cavas and sparkling wines and, of course the mainstay of Spanish bars, restaurants and households is Spanish Sherry (Jerez).
Spanish Islands.There are the two groups of islands away from the mainland of Spain, the Balearics and the Canary Islands. The Balearic islands tend to reflect the cuisine of Catalonia with it’s love of sweet and savoury mixtures. Traditional dishes vary from island to island and they all have their own specialities. The clean seas around the islands provide excellent fish and seafood such as “caldereta de Llagosta” a delicious lobster stew from the island of Menorca. Menorca has a large agricultural expanse and produces a large variety of fresh vegetables and other main produce needed in their cuisine. Cheese has been produced in Menorca since early times and every town in Menorca proudly boasts a cheese making industry. Throughout the whole island you will find excellent seafood and fish dishes most are easily recognisable but be daring and try something new, you will be pleasantly surprised. Other Menorcan specialities include aubergines which are oven baked and stuffed. Menorca has a wide range of sausages and an abundance of delicious cakes and pastries. Mao, the capital of Menorca claims to be the place that invented Mayonnaise. Drinks popular in the island include a highly perfumed gin and liquers such as palo(flavoured with almond shells). Mallorca is is home to the spicy “sobrassada” sausage along with excellent dishes such as “huevos a la sollerinca”-eggs sausage and pea sauce, “tumbet”-vegetable casserole and “coca de trampo”-a pizza-style dish. The majority of Majorcan population originate from farmers and peasants and the traditional foods reflect this in the wholesome, hearty dishes. Pork and pork products are widely produced on the island. Their clever use of herbs brings out the beauty of many of their dishes such as rabbit cooked with garlic and wild rosemary. Although many of the picturesque fishing villages are now tourist resorts there are still many fishermen bringing in the fantastic, fresh seafood that is simply cooked and served all over spain and it’s islands Sea Bream and Dorada being some of the mst popular. Majorca still produces large numbers of almonds which feature in many of the island’s dishes. Gathering the almonds is still done in the age old way of shaking the crop from the trees and catching it in the nets spread below. In Ibiza, the same as on the other islands, the fresh seafood dishes reigns supreme, make sure to sample the ‘calamares’ fried squid, and the ‘gambas al ajillo’ garlic prawns, most of the fish dishes are serves quite simply with a salad or a few potatoes. A local fish stew known as ‘Zarzuela’ is well worth looking out for. Ibiza also has the sausages common to the Balearic island such as ‘Sobresada’-blood sausage and ‘Butifarra’ and the Balearic island stew madefrom spiced lamb, ork, chicken, sausage and potatoes. Ibiza has some mouthwatering sweets and desserts to offer, ‘Ensaimadas’ made from light pastry, eaten dusted with sugar or filled with cream or chocolate or Ibizan Flao a wonderful type of cheesecake. Almonds also feature quite highly in Ibiza’s cuisine don’t miss out on ‘Gato d’Ametila (almond cake) or the sumptious almond ice cream.
The Canary islands are well know for their bananas, their temperate climate is perfect for growing other fruits such as mangos, papaya,avocados, guava and a large selection of vegetables. Again fish and seafood abound from the surrounding waters. Regional specialities include ‘Mojos’ olive oil based sauces- ‘picon’spicy red and ‘verde’ parsley, ‘papas arrugadas’ wrinkly potatoes boiled in sea salt, ‘potaje’ vegetable stew ‘puchero’ and ‘rancho canario’meat stews and ‘sacocho’ salted fish’ stew. ‘Bienmesabe’ is a sweet cream almond dessert with egg yolk and cinnamon. ‘Queso de Flor/Guia’ is the local cheese. A selection of local drinks include the rich, amber-coloured Malvasia wine, coffee, orange and banana flavoured liquers and rum is a popular spirit.
Bar snacks are a vital part of Spanish eating. A little morsel alongside a drink is called a ‘pincho’, tapas are a little bit more substantial and form most of the bar snacks, a large variety is known as ‘raciones’, these are the size of a full meal. Tapas come in a huge range of different varieties, over 300, from a variety of salads, seafoods and meat dishes, they are the perfect accompaniement to a cooling drink. The name tapas comes from the spanish verb ‘tapar’ to cover or lid, from the old custom of placing a slice of bread over the drink to keep out the flies. Tapas are designed to eat at the bar and in the small village bars they are often served free of charge with a drink at the bar. If you do not know the name of the tapas you wish to try just point and enjoy!….Read more on the Canary Islands…..