Most of us have a favourite dish from Spain’s rich platter. Ben Gibson delves into the wonderfully-varied world of Spanish food and drink.
Eating in Spain is an institution. It reflects the lifestyle and goes hand-in-hand with their family values – it’s long been the Spanish way to enjoy communal dining with large groups of family and friends. The climate has also influenced their eating habits, not only the food they eat and produce, but also the nature of those long days, with meals often lingering into the early hours.
A variety of ingredients
Spain is a big country – more than twice the size of the UK – and the foods are every bit as varied as the contrasting landscapes. But there are typical ingredients. Cured ham, olives and olive oil, fresh fish and seafood, pulses, game, sausages, garlic and seasonal vegetables combine to make up the country’s diverse and colourful cuisine.
Northern Spain has an abundance of seafood and fish freshly-caught from the Atlantic. You’ll find scallops, lobsters and edible barnacles called ‘percebes’ along with the anchovies and tuna for which this region is famed. They also champion the hearty bean; an ingredient used in many dishes. And to wash it all down there is the local wine Rioja, lovely and full bodied.
A signature dish - Paella
Eastern Spain’s cuisine is colourful, zesty and typically Mediterranean. You can tuck in to succulent fruit and vegetables with everything – the food often combines savoury with sweet. Rice dishes are common – and the most well known has to be Paella. This famous one-pot meal originated in Valencia and can consist of chicken, rabbit, seafood, herbs and tomatoes, saffron, beans and rice. But no two recipes are the same and vary from family to family, region to region. East Spain also produces the popular fizz Cava, which many of us have enjoyed as a fruity – not to mention cheaper! – replacement for champagne.
Southern Spain’s food gets a little spicier, thanks to the flavours brought in centuries ago by the Arabs. Grilled fish, barbecued meat and deep-fried calamari are often flavoured with saffron and cumin, and you’ll find tomatoes, peppers, oranges and Sherry used in many dishes too.
Of all Spain’s cuisines, tapas is perhaps best loved by the British – made up of small portions of stuffed olives, cured ham, chorizo, grilled prawns, garlic mussels and spicy meatballs. Traditionally eaten standing up, tapas was designed for sharing and socialising with friends and family, making it perfect for what the Spaniards do so well.
Why not try a Spanish cruise to get a taste for Spain?