Famous Spanish Foods That Will Make You Love Spanish Cuisine

Travelling for me means discovering new foods and eating whatever is local to the country I am in. I love discovering new flavours and tastes and consider it integral to any travel experience.  As a housesitter, the first place I like to hit when going to a new country is the local markets and grocery stores. The food in Spain far exceeded my expectations and I wanted more.

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Traditional Spanish food has been influenced by a multitude of flavours, from North African to Moorish, Christian, Jewish, and Roman. And Spain is famous for its food and wine and the food culture that has now travelled around the world. Spanish traditional cuisine can be found in far-flung destinations such as New York, the Caribbean and Australia. Tapa which is authentic Spanish food is served all over the world.

Travelling in Spain meant becoming familiar with the food culture of Spain: eating traditional Spanish food, sampling traditional dishes from Spain, and drinking my favourite Spanish drinks.  

food in Spain eating at an outdoor terrace with white umbrellas and the sun shining in Mojacer, Andalucia
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  1. Famous Spanish Foods That Will Make You Love Spanish Cuisine

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43 of Spain’s most famous foods   

Spanish Tapa

If you are a foodie then you will know that Spanish cuisine is famous and best known for various Spanish tapas which now grace the tables of many a fine restaurant worldwide. Iconic Spanish foods include jamon iberico, paella, and of course gazpacho. Not forgetting the superior Spanish Olive Oil and the oh so wonderful wines of Spain.

The History of Tapa

One fine day King Alfonso XIII was visiting various parts of his kingdom and he stopped in Cadiz at the Ventorrillo del Chato. A very strong wind meant that the sand and dust was blowing into his drink of sherry. An enterprising waiter covered the Kings sherry with a slice of Jamon.

A plate of tapa and some Spanish wine eating food in Spain

The King asked why and the waiter explained his actions and the King then ordered his next drink with this cover of topping or ‘tapear’ which is where the name tapa comes from. To this day the art of tapa or little toppings of food has become an art, particularly in the Andalucia region.

What is the difference between a Pincho, Tapa and Raciones?

In the Basque country, they serve pinchos or pinxtos which comes from the Spanish verb ‘pinchar’, which means ‘to pierce’. The main difference between pinchos and tapas is that pinchos uses toothpicks to keep the food on top of the bread. If you are eating pinchos you must save your toothpick as this is how the waiter calculates your tab.

Similar to ordering Chinese food raciones are simply larger portions of the single tapas. It could be a plate of grilled sardines or anchovies, a platter of honey drizzled eggplant or some deep-fried squid rings.

various assorted tapa on small white plates from anchovies to paella the food in Spain is fabulous

There is quite a bit of variation within the cuisine but some dishes remain classics. Usually, every restaurant will serve a Menu del Dia which simply means Menu of the Day and will include 3 courses. The majority of restaurants will also serve tapas when you order an alcoholic based drink, for every drink you may get one free tapas or in some cases you can order different tapas for around €1-2 per tapa.

What is the national dish of Spain?

Paella is widely accepted as the national dish of Spain by those outside Spain. But paella is originally from Valencia and Spaniards almost unanimously consider it to be a dish from the Valencian region.

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Spaniards tend to consider  gazpacho (Spanish cold tomato soup) and patatas brava, tortilla de patatas or Tortilla Espanola (Spanish omelet) their national dishes of Spain.

What food is Spain known for?

Spain is best known for jamon iberico, paella, gazpacho, tortilla espanola, pan contomate, bocadillos, bocadillos, chorizo, salmorejo, and of course chocolate with churros.

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Famous Spanish Dishes – authentic Spanish cuisine

Paella

Paella is, of course, one of the most popular and well-known dishes of Spain and there are as many versions of paella in Spain as there are doughnuts in America. Outside of Spain paella is considered the National dish but within Spain, it is specifically a Valencian dish. Paella gets its name from the traditional flat round pan that allows a crust to be formed on the bottom of the pan by the rice. Paella actually means frying pan in Valencian.

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Paella Valenciana is the traditional paella of Valencia and is considered the most authentic. Traditionally the recipe is round grain rice original recipe, bajoqueta and tavella which are types of green beans, lima or butter beans, rabbit, chicken, sometimes duckWhen in season artichoke hearts are often added. The recipe always includes Olive Oil, Saffron and sometimes rosemary.

The favourite paella’s in Spain include a Paella de Marisco which is seafood and can include oysters, prawns, clams, and mussels. In Garrucha, they have a paella using sweet red prawns that can only be found in that particular region. Paella Mixta is a combination of meats and beans with seasonal vegetables.

Patas Bravas

Patatas bravas means spicy potatoes – although I have to say I never considered them spicy at all. They are simply cubed potatoes fried in oil and served with a spicy sauce. Very tasty but not particularly spicy as the Spanish don’t seem to like spicy dishes.  

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Churros & chocolate

Similar to the doughnut and coffee breakfast in N.A the Spanish like their churros crispy and served with a sweet hot chocolate drink that tastes like a melted milk chocolate bar. Delicious when you dip your churro into your chocolate or simply sprinkle sugar on the churro and dip into your Cafe con Leche. We indulged in this most mornings from Salobrena to Mojacer when in Spain.

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Toast with olive oil and tomato – Tostada con Aceite y Tomate

Andalucian cuisine calls for a very light breakfast. A tostada is simply a toasted bun or pitufo that has been drizzled with olive oil, the bun is then topped with pureed fresh tomato and if you want you can add queso (cheese) or Jamon (ham). You can order a media which is a half order or a full order. The pitufo is an oblong-shaped thin crusty roll that is around 7-8 inches in length.

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Spanish tortilla – Quiche

One of the Spanish lunch favourites is the Spanish tortilla, served warm or cold as tapa it is as far removed from a Mexican tortilla as you can get. Essentially it is like a quiche but the base is fried potatoes with an egg mixture on top. The mixture can have chorizo or manchego cheese added and it makes the perfect light lunch.

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Cold Soups – Gazpacho Andalucia

I have to say a word or more here about Andalusian cold soups – can I just say from a die-hard fan of hot soup I debated trying the Spanish soups but they are simply amazing. Fresh, light, filled with flavour a wonderful taste treat that you should try immediately.

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Gazpacho Andalucia, in one form or dates back as far as the country itself. It probably derives from a Roman dish, a sort of gruel of bread and oil. The name gazpacho may come from the Latin Caspa, meaning fragments or little pieces, referring to the breadcrumbs which are such an essential ingredient.

The Moorish influence is evident too, especially in some of the variations on the basic theme, such as Ajo Blanco, made with ground almonds.

Of course, none of those forerunners of gazpacho contained tomatoes, considered basic today. That’s because tomatoes were unknown in Spain, until after the discovery of the New World.

Gazpacho belongs especially to Andalusia, southern Spain. Here day labourers working in vineyards, olive plantations, citrus groves, wheat fields or cork forests were given rations of bread and oil for their meals. Bread soaked in water made a simple soup, to which was added oil, garlic and salt for flavour, plus whatever fresh vegetables were available–tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in the summer.

Gazpacho

Everything was pounded together in a mortar or dornillo, a large wooden bowl. Gazpacho provided nourishment quenched the thirst and sustained a body working in the hot sun.

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Salmorejo

Andalusian Salmorejo is a cold, creamy tomato soup, originating in Córdoba, Spain and is Gazpacho’s “cousin.” Made with tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic and vinegar, it is a beautiful deep pink-orange, summer soup that is sure to refresh. Garnish with diced Serrano or Iberico ham and hard-boiled eggs.

Sopa de Ajo Blanco

Cold white garlic soup or “Sopa de Ajo Blanco” is zesty, but very refreshing. It is easy, quick and healthy. Although very creamy, it contains no dairy! Almonds give this soup its creamy white texture and colour. It is served with diced apple and raisins on the side which adds a hint of sweet freshness to the soup.

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Fruit Salad

Another popular lunch dish is a fruit salad – but these salads are like nothing you have ever tasted before. Full of fresh fruit served on a platter no dressing, no salad nothing to interfere with the fabulous freshness and sweetness of Spanish grown seasonal fruits.

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Spanish Jamón Ibérico

The absolute pinnacle of Andalusian cuisine has to be the Jamón. There are four classifications of Jamón Ibérico, made from the Ibérico breed pig. The classifications reflect the breed of pig, the per cent of pure Ibérico genetics in the pig and the quantity of acorns they eat (the word “acorns” is translated as “bellota”).

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Ibérico de Bellota hams are from Ibérico pigs that are essentially free-range and live outdoors most of their lives. In the last three months before they are butchered, they spend their time feasting on the acorns in the region of Dehesa. The ham is then cured and left to age for up to 4 years.

The ham that is produced from these pigs is unique in the world: it is a nutty, rich melt in your mouth slice. The ham is deeply marbled with fat which contains healthy mono triglycerides (like olive oil) that melt at room temperature. Jamón Ibérico de Bellota as is known as the “Beluga caviar of hams.”

Spanish Jamón Serrano

Jamón Serrano comes from white pigs of the Duroc or Landrace breeds. These pigs are raised on farms, rather than open ranges, and fed a diet of cereals. They are cured in Spain for 8 months to two years.

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Spanish snails – Caracoles

Spanish caracoles (snails) okay I have to admit here that I haven’t tried snails here in France and I didn’t try them in Spain. However, this is another truly authentic Spanish food that you shouldn’t miss if you can face it they are usually available only in the spring.

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Tapa caracoles is a traditional Spanish snail dish that’s served in tapa bars. There are two types of snails served in Spain – caracoles and cabrillas. The caracoles are small snails, while the cabrillas are large snails. The caracoles are cooked in a broth of herbs and spices and served with cerveza (a beer).  

Russian Salad

Russian salad is one of the favourite tapas here and it is a simple potato salad with tuna, corn and hardboiled egg mixed with mayonnaise – not much Russian about that.

Croquettes

Another top favourite is croquette which is chopped ham and meat in a bechamel sauce which is then dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.

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Deep-fried eggplant with sugar cane honey

A simple dish of batter-dipped and fried eggplant served drizzled with Sugar Cane honey which is only found in Andalusia and Salobrena is the region that produces it.

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Originally introduced to Spain by the Moors Miel de Caña is honey or molasses derived from sugar cane which is only grown in the Andalucia region.

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Spanish breadsticks – Picos

I do love a breadstick or any kind of bread to be honest and in Spain, these lovely crunchy are served everywhere. Picos will arrive at your table with a soup or salad and sometimes just a simple tapa with a bowl of olives.

Olives

Spain is home to some of the best olives and olive oil in the world and you can’t go wrong with a plate of olives served with beer as your tapas. Some of the best olive oil in Spain comes from the Tabernas desert where the growing conditions are perfect for olives.

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Fried Cod – Bacalao al pil pil

Bacalao al pil-pil originated in Basque Country and it is a simple traditional Spanish dish. Prepared with only minimal ingredients including salt cod, olive oil, chilli pepper and garlic it does take a long time to make. The famous sauce that accompanies the dish is the emulsification of these ingredients into a creamy sauce.

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Spanish Prawns (shrimp) in garlic – Gambas Al Ajillo

Gambas are prawns or shrimp in Spanish and ajillo means garlic. These are cooked in a small clay pot with garlic (obviously), a touch of chilli and olive oil. Found in every tapas bar in Spain and best from the region of Andalucia.

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Anchovies – boquerones

Anchovies are usually served in a vinegar marinade which is olive oil, garlic and parsley. These are fresh anchovies, not sardines and are usually eaten on a piece of crusty bread. Anchovies are also served on many Spanish beaches fried over hot coals.

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Grilled Padron peppers – Piminetos De Padron

Another favourite tapa the Padron pepper comes from the region of Padrón in Galicia. These tiny peppers are grilled sprinkled with coarse salt and served hot. Some of the peppers with be spicy but for the most part are simply full of flavour.  

Grilled padron peppers with salt and and olive oil on plate. Pimientos de Padron.

Spanish sausage – Chorizo

The iconic chorizo found all over Europe now and literally in virtually every dish from pizza to pasta and beyond chorizo is Spain’s food gift to the world.

Chorizo is a Spanish sausage that is made from pork marinated in Spanish Paprika with herbs, spices and white wine The paprika gives it that rich red colour that flavours and colours whatever it is cooked with.  

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Spanish chorizo is one of those Spain culture foods that come in different variations: sweet, spicy, smoked, un-smoked, fresh and dry-cured.

Octopus – pulpo

Pulpo is another very common tapa it comes thinly sliced and sometimes battered served with sea salt and paprika on a bed of lettuce.

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Manchego Cheese

If you are a total cheesehead like me you will have experienced the Spanish delight called Manchego cheese, although it is made in the Western part of Spain, it is celebrated all over the country. Manchego is an unpasteurized sheep’s cheese that comes in several forms from soft cheese to a hard cured wheel.

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Quince jam with cheese – Membrillo Con Queso

Spanish Manchego cheese is traditionally served with a quince jam and this is a typical tapa. The quince jam is tart and sweet and complements the Manchego perfectly.  

Spanish baguette sandwiches – Bocadillos

A Bocadillo is a traditional Spanish sandwich made with bread similar to a baguette. You will find bocadillo’s everywhere in Spain the most common types are the omelette which I ate as a snack at the Al Hambra. But they also come in meat, egg, fish, cheese, jamon and vegetarian versions  

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Spanish Finger Sandwiches – Montaditos

These are small and sort of delicate finger sandwiches that are really considered Spanish street food. A Montadito is a staple of the culinary arts from Spain.  It is a unique tapa-sized roll of bread similar to a baguette but wider and with a twist. Each montadito is filled with the best locally sourced ingredients from vegetables to meats and cheeses. This is a traditional Spanish food that predates even the sandwich all the way back to the fifteenth century.

Chickpeas with Spinach – Garbanzos Con Espinacas 

A simple vegetarian/vegan dish found all over Spain but originated in Andalucia. A basic but well-flavoured stew of chickpeas, spinach, garlic Spanish style spinach with chickpeas, spinach, onion, garlic, cumin and sweet paprika the perfect dish for colder weather.

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Spanish oxtail stew – Rabo De Toro

Rabo de toro’ holds a special place in traditional Spanish cuisine and a Spaniard’s heart. This oxtail stew is made by cooking the oxtail in a broth of red wine, garlic, and thyme for a long period of time making the oxtail tender and rich with flavour.

 Scallops from Galicia – Zamburiñas and Vieiras

The seas in the northwest of Spain in Galicia produce the best scallops and in Spanish are called vieiras that are sea scallops and zamburiñas which variegated scallops.

The shell of the scallop is also the symbol of the famous Christian pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago.

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Spanish black risotto – El Arroz Negro

Risotto is a dish found in many Mediterranean countries here in Spain it is a dish of white short-grain rice that is coloured by black squid ink along with a seafood broth. Sometimes it is called a black paella but it is a risotto-style of rice that is found mainly in Barcelona or Valencia

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Spanish desserts and sweets

Nougat – Turron  

In Spain you will find two types of nougat candy – the Turron de Alicante which is hard and crunchy and the Turron de Jijona which is my favourite is soft and chewy. Turron can be flavoured with any number of ingredients from roasted nuts, pistachios, dried fruit and other sweet additions like cinnamon and vanilla.

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Spanish Almond Cake – Tarta de Santiago 

Tarta de Santiago is the most popular Spanish almond cake, made with almond flour and decorated with toasted and raw almonds which decorate the cake in the St. James Cross.

The cake was created in medieval times and is related to the famous pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago.

Spanish Olive Oil cookies – Tortas De Aceite  

Spanish olive oil tortas are a sort of crispy wafer style cookie or biscuit make from flour, sugar and egg whites flavoured with sesame seed, almonds and anise.

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Spanish caramel custard – Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana is Spain’s version of the French Crème Brulle and custard with a lovely caramel topping. The crèma is made with milk and eggs and flavoured with lemon peel and cinnamon.

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Rice Pudding – Arroz Con Leche 

A creamy Rice pudding flavoured with lemon and cinnamon will return you to your food memories of childhood.!

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Famous Spanish drinks

Sangria

You can’t be in Spain and not drink one of the most popular Spanish drinks – Sangria. This is a red wine sweetened with chopped fruit and orange juice and sometimes brandy is added.

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Tinto De Verano 

Tinto de Verano is a classic Spanish drink that is perfectly light for a hot summer day. Red wine is mixed with a lemon soda that fizzes, sparkles and refreshes.  

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Cava  

Similar to French Champagne (but can’t be called champagne) this sparkling wine comes in a white or rose version.

Sherry  

Spanish Sherry is authentic Spanish wine originating from the town of Jerez in Andalucia. This is a sweet dessert wine that many an old British lady enjoyed after dinner. It is a wine made from white grapes and varies from very dry Sherry Fino to extremely sweet.

Cerveza 

Spanish beer is called a Cerveza and the Spaniards are one of the biggest beer-drinking countries in the world. Well, they’d have to be it’s a hot country – right?

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The most popular Spanish beers are Estrella Galicia (from Coruna), Alhambra (from Granada), Mahou (from Madrid), San Miguel (from Madrid), Cruz Campo (from Madrid) and Ambar (from Zaragoza).

Spanish food terms you should know

Food in Spanish is la comida.

Snack in Spanish is el tentempie, or la merineda.

Breakfast in Spanish is called Desayuno.

Lunch in Spanish is called comida. Spanish comida comes between 2 pm and 4 pm.

Dinner in Spanish is called Cena. In Spain dinner comes from 9 pm until 11 pm.

Appetizers in Spanish are called los aperitivos. The most popular appetizers in Spain are various kinds of tapas snacks.

There you have it – everything you need to know about authentic Spanish foods and what to eat in Spain. What have you tried?

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