Spanish food has GOT to be one of the best cuisines in Europe, if not globally. Head to any major city worldwide and you’ll probably find a busy little tapas bar tucked away somewhere, serving up some of the country’s finest dishes! We’ve got some of the most famous Spanish foods coming your way, so don’t go anywhere.
Of course, there’s no denying that the most delicious and authentic Spanish foods can be found in Spain. The country is divided into several regions, each with distinct histories, cultures, and flavors! Some areas are more famous for certain dishes than others, and some even put their own local flair on some all time favorites.
We’re about to jump right in with some Spanish dishes you simply have to try next time you’re on holiday in Spain. So, if you have an empty stomach, we apologize, because you’re about to get seriously hungry!
Patatas Bravas is definitely up there as one of the most famous Spanish foods, and we’re not surprised (it’s delicious!). The iconic dish is said to have originated in Madrid in two establishments that sadly no longer exist. Nowadays, you’ll find Patatas Bravas in practically every single tapas bar in the country, since it’s easily made and affordable.
The original recipe has bite-sized pieces of fried potatoes sitting in a ridiculously tasty spicy tomato sauce! The name of the dish is quite simple, “Patatas” referring to the potatoes and “Bravas” referring to that fiery and vibrant sauce! It’s meant to be served piping hot, and in Spain, it’s usually eaten alongside a glass of beer or wine.
Traditionally, Patatas Bravas sauce is made from a tomato sauce blended with a dash of vinegar and a touch of cayenne pepper (for that sizzling heat!), however, different regions have put their own spin on it. In Catelonia and Valencia, their sauce contains olive oil, paprika, chilli, and vinegar. Garlic aioli is also a common addition! This dish is so integrated with Spanish culture, that every home-cook has their own version and recipe for the sauce.
We cannot get ENOUGH of Paella. It is arguably the most famous Spanish dish in existence, and with good reason… Valencia is the undisputed home of Paella and the dish was originally a lunchtime meal for farmers and laborers. The original recipe was made with rice and whatever was found in the surrounding countryside. This could be tomatoes, onions, beans, rabbit or duck, even snails (those farmers couldn’t afford to be picky…). On special occasions they even added chicken and just a sprinkle of saffron. Oh la la.
Despite its humble origins, Paella has risen to fame and is a hugely popular family meal. There are even Paella competitions all over Spain to see who has the best dish! However, if you want to taste the most authentic Paella of them all, then a trip to Albufera Natural Park, just outside of Valencia city, is the place to go.
Funnily enough, the origins of its name come from the pan itself – or “la paella”. Since it was historically eaten straight out of the pan in the fields, this comes as no surprise! Although it has been disputed that the name Paella comes from the Arabic word “Baqiyah” which means leftovers!
Gazpacho… is it a soup or is it a salad??? We just don’t know! If you consult the Spanish cookbooks, then it’s classed as a salad, but the jury’s still out for us. This cold soup may not sound appetizing, but it’s actually hands down one of the most famous Spanish dishes around (and is surprisingly tasty).
The soup is a typical dish of the Andalusia region of Spain, and the Gazpacho you’re most-likely to encounter is an uncooked blend of tomatoes, onions, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and water, thickened with breadcrumbs. However, if you’re in Malaga, you may find your soup is based on almonds and contains grapes! There are lots of different versions of Gazpacho, the most popular being the tomato-based variety. In some parts of Spain, it may even shock you to find that your soup has even been heated!
The origins of the name “Gazpacho” comes from the Arabic word for soaked bread!
Walk into any tapas bar, restaurant, or market in Spain, and you’ll probably legs of cured meat hanging from the ceiling. This is Jamon Iberico. It has got to be one of the bougiest meats around (up there with Japan’s Wagyu Beef) and has a truly amazing flavor AND texture.
Okay, so it’s basically ham, what makes it so darn special? Well, first of all, Jamon Iberico comes from a special breed of black-hoofed Iberian pig from the Iberican Peninsula. For truly top grade Jamon Iberico, known as Jamon Iberico de Bellota, these pigs are fed the last winter of their lives with only acorns (or bellotas). The result? A unique combination of sweetness, nuttiness, and earthiness in flavor, and a melt in your mouth texture thanks to the oleic acid in the acorns.
Now, don’t get us wrong, the regular Jamon Iberico is still amazing, but if you can get your hands on some Jamon Iberico de Bellota when you’re in Spain, you won’t regret it!
We’ve got another cured meat for you, this time one that’s probably way more well-known and more easily accessible! You can find versions of chorizo in former Spanish colonies like Mexico and The Philippines, but Spanish Chorizo tend to be harder and has been smoked. It’s made up of coarsely ground pork that has been seasoned with spices like salt, pepper, and garlic, and vinegar.
Traditionally, Chorizo was prepared by peasant farmers, but was actually a luxury to be enjoyed only by the wealthy. Luckily for us, in the 19th century, industrialization increased food production, and nowadays, Chorizo can be easily found, even outside of Spain in your local supermarket!
Of course, there are a load of different and delicious varieties to choose from! You’ll find sweet (dulce) and spicy (picante) varieties, and pretty much every region in Spain has its own methods and specific ingredients.
Gambas al Ajillo
Gambas al Ajillo, A.K.A garlic shrimp is exactly what it sounds like! Delicious, garlicky, shrimp. It is an extremely popular tapas dish, and no matter where you are in Spain, you’ll struggle to find a tapas bar that doesn’t serve this tasty meal.
In its purest form, Gambas al Ajillo is shrimp that’s just swimming in a rich and spicy olive oil sauce… with a tonne of garlic! However, different regions in Spain have their own specific way of cooking it. For example, in Seville, they often use their favorite sherry, manzanilla, as an ingredient. Other regions use brandy, sweet paprika, lemon juice, and hot peppers!
Different variations may have a slight name change, like Gambas al Pil-pil, which has tomato in the sauce, but they all originate from the simple Gambas al Ajillo.
Tortilla Espanola, or the Spanish Omelette, is definitely one of the most famous and iconic Spanish foods. “Tortilla” means little cake, which is probably referring to the layers of sliced or cubed potato, looking like the layers of a cake!
There is a hot debate concerning the origins the Tortilla Espanola, some say that it was invented by a Basque general who invented the dish as a quick and easy way to feed his troops during the siege of Bilbao. Others argue that a housewife from Navarre put the dish together with what was in her kitchen when she received a surprise visit from a general! One thing is for certain though, cultures all over the world have similar dishes, such as the Frittata in Italy, the KooKoo Sabrina in Persia, and the Omelette in France.
Another hot debate (who knew the Spanish Omelette would be so controversial?) is whether to include onions, or cebollas. Purists say no, other argue the sweetness adds to the depth of flavor. Whatever the right answer is, Tortilla Espanola always contains eggs and potatoes and can be found country-wide in restaurants, tapas bars, and homes!
You may already be very familiar with Empanadas, especially if you’ve visited Latin America or The Philippines. They are a ridiculously tasty stuffed bread or pastry that can contain different meats, vegetables, or even fruits (if you’ve never had a mango Empanada, you gotta try one!).
Empanadas come from Spain (formerly Galicia) and Portugal, with evidence of them as far back as 1520 in a Catalan cookbook that mentions Empanadas filled with seafood (YUM). However, it is believed that Empanadas, as well as Calzones, were derived from Samosas, Arabic meat-filled pies (also yum!).
They are made by folding or wrapping dough or a bread patty around their filling, and their name comes from the word “empanar” which means to wrap or coat in bread!
We’ve got another hotly debated origin story coming your way! This time, concerning our absolutely favorite (and one of the most famous) Spanish foods around, Churros! These are summer-time favorites worldwide and are typically served with cinnamon and sugar or dipped in chocolate. The fried dough can be straight or curled, but one thing’s for sure – they’re delicious.
Some people say that Portuguese sailors discovered a similar food in China, “YouTiao”, a salty, fried flour stick. They brought the technique back home and then changed it into a sweet dessert. The Spanish learned of this tasty new treat and made it their own by piping the dough using a star-shaped tip, giving us that signature Churro shape we know and love today!
Another (much more endearing) story, is that the Churro was invented by nomadic Spanish shepards. Staying in the mountains, with no access to sweet treats, the shepards indulged their sweet tooth by inventing the churro, which was easy to cook on their open fires. There is even a breed of sheep called the Navajo-Churro descended from the Churra sheep. These animals have horns that look strikingly similar to Churros. Coincidence?? We think not…
Wherever they came from, there’s no denying they’ve been around for a looong time, and Spanish explorers brought them all over the world! Another important moment in the history of the Churro was when Hernando Cortez came back to Spain with the secrets of Aztec chocolate, and thus Churros served with chocolate sauce was born!
Okay, Sangria is technically a drink, BUT it has got to be one of the most famous Spanish foods(?) around. Are we right, or are we right? Sangria has been around for eons and can be traced back to a whopping 200BC!
It was invented following the Roman invasion of Spain, when people began actively planting grapes to make wine to trade with those thirsty, thirsty, Romans. Before long everyone was drinking wine (this was a time when water wasn’t the cleanest or safest thing to drink), and some households thought they’d spice things up a little by adding fruits and spices to the wine. And so, Sangria was invented!
Over time, renditions were made, the most notable being during the 17 and 1800s when the British and French gave their two cents, and the new base became Claret (also known as French Bordeux) mixed with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
Nowadays, Sangria is popular worldwide and is a refreshing summer drink! People put their own spin on it, adding different wines, spirits, and various fruits! l probably find a busy little tapas bar tucked away somewhere, serving up some of the country’s finest dishes! We’ve got some of the most famous Spanish foods coming your way, so don’t go anywhere.