We think one of the best ways to experience a country and connect with the locals is by eating! From Padron peppers to patatas bravas, and turrón to tapas, Spain knows how to pull out the stops when it comes to delicious food. Spanish food is simple, using fresh, local ingredients (and generous amounts of olive oil!), and dishes like paella and tapas have rightfully put the country on the world foodie map. Here's our guide to some traditional foods to try on your trip to Spain – your taste buds are in for a treat!
What is tapas?
Tapas is woven into the fabric of Spanish culture, and it's also one of the main reasons why Spanish cuisine is so famous around the world. But what is it exactly? Tapas are small share plates of food eaten as a snack or appetiser. It could be anything from a board of olives, cured meats and bread to garlic prawns and fried octopus. Socialising starts and ends late in Spain, so locals often order a few tapas dishes to keep going until the main meal. Sharing tapas and a few drinks with friends is also a popular way to socialise. We encourage you to order lots of tapas in Spain, as it's a fantastic way to sample as many Spanish dishes as possible thanks to the small portion size.
Paella is probably Spain's most well-known food. This delectable, saffron-flavoured rice dish originated in Valencia hundreds of years ago when hungry servants would combine rice with leftovers from Moorish kings' lavish banquets. There are different takes on the dish throughout Spain, but the mixed version with chorizo, mussels and prawns is the most popular internationally. But, if we had to recommend just one type, it’s got to be the original Valencian version with rabbit, chicken and butter beans.
Tortilla, or Spanish omelette, is one of the simplest and most authentic Spanish foods. It's similar to a regular omelette made with eggs, except it also has potato and extra virgin olive oil. A plain tortilla is delicious, but you may also like to add chorizo, cherry tomatoes, peppers or other vegetables. Tortilla is often served as part of a tapas spread and is a great option for vegetarians wanting something hearty.
3. Patatas bravas
Every country seems to have a signature potato dish of some kind, and Spain's is patatas bravas. This crowd-pleasing tapas dish consists of crispy, shallow fried potatoes topped with a spicy sauce made from olive oil, garlic, tomato and smoked paprika. You may also like to top it with chorizo, fried fish or aioli, because why not.
Spain is famous for its cured ham, the legendary jamón. Similar to how prosciutto is ubiquitous when you travel to Italy, you’ll see legs of salty jamón hanging at market stalls and on restaurant and bar menus all across Spain. There are two types of jamón –serrano from white mountain pigs and Ibérico (the finest and most expensive ham) from black Iberian pigs. You can eat slices of plain jamón as a snack, on fresh bread or as part of a cheese board washed down with a glass of sherry.
Croquettes are another tapas favourite, and this time vegetarians can easily get involved. These delightful fried balls of bechamel sauce enclosed in breadcrumbs come with several fillings from beef, salted cod and ham to broccoli and goat’s cheese. They’re best enjoyed as finger food with a cold cerveza (beer).
This comforting dish of meatballs swimming in a spicy tomato sauce always goes down a treat. Typically made from veal and pork mince, albondigas is simple to make and even easier to eat, particularly when accompanied by a glass of Rioja.
7. Calamares a la Romana
There's nothing better than picking at a bowl of calamari at a beach-side bar. Made by frying tender squid rings in batter which are then seasoned with salt, pepper and a splash of lemon juice, it's a great dish to eat on its own or in a tapas mix.
If you can't get on board with the idea of chilled soup, just wait until you've tried gazpacho. A bowl of gazpacho is a cool solution to Spain’s intense summer heat, made by blending raw tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onions, garlic, and olive oil. Mop it up with some crusty bread drizzled in more olive oil.
Churros are Spain’s answer to doughnuts. If you need a sugar hit, you can’t go wrong with these deep-fried dough sticks dipped in chocolate for good measure! They're usually eaten for breakfast or as a sweet afternoon snack. Find them at open-air food stalls, bars and cafes – don’t worry about using Google Maps, the sweet aroma of fried dough will guide you in the right direction.
This delightful treat is famous throughout Spain, especially during the festive season. Each region has their spin, but the basic turrón recipe includes toasted nuts (usually almonds, but pistachios are also common), sugar (lots of it!), honey and eggs. It can either be squishy and chewy, or firm and brittle.
Does Spain have good vegetarian and plant-based options?
Vegetarians certainly won’t go hungry in Spain. And while vegans might need to do a little detective work in small towns and villages, there’s still a lot on offer if you know where to look – if you’re travelling with us, your local leader will be able to help you navigate the menu and find the best plant-based dining options.
You'll find vegetarian food in most bars, restaurants, cafes and markets, and major cities like Madrid and Barcelona are packed with vegan-friendly (and just straight-up vegan) restaurants. It can be a bit trickier to find vegan options outside of the big cities, so the safest option is to make the local market your first port of call in each place you visit to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and bread.
When looking at local menus, keep an eye out for gazpacho (tomato soup), crema de verduras (vegetable soup) and basic ensaladas (salads) which are likely to be vegan. To be sure they won’t come served with meat on top (which can happen even when it isn’t listed as an ingredient), tell the waiter you want to order your dish with ‘sin jamon y sin huevo’ – no ham or eggs.
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