From tip to toe, Spain boasts a wealth of gastronomic delights that are famed throughout the world. It is impossible to speak of just one type of Spanish cuisine; of a single style of cooking or just one basic ingredient. Indeed, when describing gastronomy in Spain, a countless variety of dishes and styles inevitably springs to mind.
Yet perhaps olive oil – the king of all dishes – is the one common denominator. This ‘liquid gold’ can be poured on raw or used for frying features in the cuisine of all the country’s regions. It forms an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, although each region has gradually created its own culinary specialities, producing unique dishes of superb quality that are becoming increasingly admired by visitors and tourists. The tradition of eating tapas such as potato omelette and savouring a platter of cold meats – especially the mouth-watering cured Iberian ham, is also popular throughout Spain.
If we start our tour in the north of the country, in Galicia, then we must talk of the delicious shellfish from the Cantabrian Sea, and the way the locals prepare the freshly-caught octopus, spider crabs, velvet crabs, scallops, Norway lobsters and goose barnacles. Even after a delicious seafood platter, you should always leave room for dessert, which in this case simply has to be the famous Santiago Almond Tart.
Their neighbours in Asturias are famed for their fabas or butter beans, an ingredient to be found in many dishes in this region, although the Asturian fabada always comes out on top when it comes to their delicious stews and casseroles.
In Cantabria and the Basque Country the fishermen prove their know-how bringing to shore the finest fish that skilled chefs transform into delicacies such as Marmitako (a delicious way of preparing tuna) or the famous salted anchovies that the people of Cantabria are so proud of. Don’t leave this region without tasting the delicious anchovies in vinegar or some of the countless recipes for hake known to the people in the north of the country.
The cuisine favoured by the communities that live on the shores of the Mediterranean is renowned around the world. When in Catalonia, make sure you don’t miss out on dishes such as Escalivada (roasted vegetables), Escudella (a hearty meat stew) or Catalonian butifarra sausage. In Valencia rice rules supreme, and the numerous types of paella are known and admired all over the world. The East of Spain is famed for its numerous rice dishes, although one of the most popular is undoubtedly Arroz Abanda (rice cooked in fish stock).
In Castilla y León, game and hearty stews and casseroles are just two of the gastronomic delights of this region where roast suckling pig and leg of lamb most definitely taste better than anywhere else. In La Mancha, make sure you have the opportunity to taste their tomato and vegetable mix known as Pisto, and Gazpacho Manchego, which is completely different from the Andalusian chilled soup.
In Andalusia, the hot dry climate has made chilled soups such as Gazpacho andaluz and Salmorejo firm favourites on any menu. These refreshing healthy dishes are typical of southern Spain. Also not to be missed is the fried fish, known as ‘pescaíto’ and Andalusian-style calamari, plus a host of delicious vegetable and fish dishes prepared in a simple and appetising way.
The most popular dish in the Canary Islands is undoubtedly papas arrugadas – literally ‘wrinkly potatoes’ -, served with spicy mojo picón sauce. Make sure you try some Gofio (a traditional flour made from toasted grains and that is not used anywhere else in Spain), or Rancho Canario, a substantial recipe made from chick peas, potatoes, thick noodles and meat.
Visitors to Menorca in the Balearic Islands will enjoy the typical Mahonés cheese and lobster stew. When in Mallorca, make sure you try the traditional ‘frit mallorquí’ – fried meat and vegetables –, tumbet – a mixed vegetable dish – , stuffed aubergines, sobrasada sausage and, of course, the famous ensaimada pastry. In Ibiza, give in to temptation and treat yourself to the delicious Flaó and Formentera’s fish salad.
Naturally, it would be unforgivable not to accompany any of these dishes with a glass of fine wine; there are numerous varieties and designations of origin well worth discovering throughout Spain. But that’s another story.