What to Eat in Spain, the Land of Churros, Tapas and Iberico Ham
Spanish cuisine isn’t something that I had eaten a lot of before visiting Spain. Like every other cuisine of the world, you can find Spanish food in Melbourne. But outside of churros, Spanish restaurants hadn’t been the typical restaurant I visited when I was living in Melbourne. Thus one of my key aims during my month in Spain was to work out exactly what to eat in Spain.
I entered Spain with no expectations, but excited to taste a whole new cuisine. I spent just under a month in the country and despite the addiction for sushi I had at the time (an addiction I solved by getting food poisoning from it in France later on), I did get to try a wide variety of Spanish dishes.
That said, I’ve only just begun to realise how much of a creature of habit I am. Whilst I love sampling new dishes, if I fall in love with a particular dish of a country I can’t help myself but keep ordering it in some form or another. Thus I’m sure there are some great Spanish dishes that I missed but here is everything I ate while in Spain.
What to Eat in Spain- Savoury
I guess tapas aren’t so much a specific dish but a type of meal. Tapas or ‘small plates’ are small morsels of food that are often served at tapas bars. Typically they were provided free when you order a drink and included everything from small sandwiches to dessert.
These days tapas are a fancier affair and you’ll find many high market tapas bars in Spain that provided amazing and experimental food, fresh ingredients and a pretty hefty price tag. You can expect everything from slices of ham and cannelloni to small pasta dishes and tacos.
The best place to eat tapas is San Sebastian. Although given San Sebastian is situated in Basque Country, these dishes are called pintxos there. In the bars in San Sebastian you’ll find large amounts of different tapas dishes lining the bar and you are able to pick your morsels yourself. I definitely ate the best food while I was in San Sebastian.
Croquettes are often served as a tapas at a bar or an entrée at a restaurant. They are essentially crumbed and fried food balls. They come with a variety of fillings but my the most common, and my personal favourite, is the ham and cheese variety. As expected of anything fried with cheese inside it, I absolutely loved them. They sure are delicious, even if they aren’t so good for your cholesterol.
You absolutely can’t leave the city of Madrid without eating a calamari sandwich. It’s as simple as it sounds, a sandwich filled with battered and fried calamari. You expect it to be dry because there isn’t any sauce. But the oil from the fried calamari seeps into the bread to keep it from drying out.
As a self-professed seafood addict, especially when it comes to calamari, I absolutely loved eating these in Madrid. You shouldn’t pay less than 3 Euros for one of these, so they make a really cheap lunch or dinner for those that are budget conscious. Hence forget cooking boring pasta in your hostel and head out to grab one of these. Most of the good ones are located just around Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
This is hands down the best part about Spanish cuisine. If a dish has Iberico Ham than I’m usually ordering it. Iberico Ham is a special Spanish ham and it comes in a few varieties and brands. By far the most superior is Iberico Ham Bellotta.
The pigs are specifically fed acorns which is what makes it taste so good. But the superior meat comes with a superior price tag. In fact it is probably the main reason I blew my food budget while in Spain!
Iberico Ham, Potatoes and Eggs
Continuing on the Iberico Ham theme is by far my favourite dish in Spain. It consists of Iberico ham, potatoes and eggs. It comes a view different ways, sometimes the potatoes are mashed potatoes, other times they are sliced potatoes and often they are just plain fries. Similarly the eggs can be fried or scrambled.
My favourite version was the one that I got from Jamon Jamon in Valencia . The ham was Iberico Bellotta Ham, the potatoes were cooked to perfection and caramelised and the eggs didn’t have a burn mark in sight. It was a huge dish though, I’d recommend sharing it if you aren’t travelling solo.
Potatoes and Eggs
If you are a vegetarian there is also a similar version to the dish above minus the ham and it’s also really delicious!
I love eating Squid and I had some amazing squid dishes while I was in Spain. Most of the time calamari is served the usual way, in battered rings. I had a particular good version in Seville .
But you’ll sometimes find squid served in hooded form like these ones I found in Valencia. Both were equally good!
Whilst Australian cafes love to slap an exorbitant price on squid, you’ll find it very affordable in Spain.
I consumed a lot of octopus while eating my way across Portugal. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to order it Spain. The way they cook octopus in this part of the world is seriously perfection. I never found an overcooked octopus and everything tasted so good. My favourite octopus dish had to be the octopus I had at the Borda Berri in San Sebastian.
I also loved this octopus salad from La Gilda in Barcelona . So much flavour for such a simple dish!
By the time I arrived in Spain I was beginning to feel slightly guilty about all the unhealthy food I was eating. In Spain it’s very easy to find a meal of the day for 10 or so euros. It usually includes an entrée, a main, dessert and some wine or another drink. Given I was trying to be slightly healthier than usual I found myself always ordering the fish when eating from these menus.
The main fish I found to be on the menu in Spain was Dorade. I’d never tried this particular fish before arriving in Europe but it’s actually pretty yummy. Although it’s definitely no flathead or barramundi!
Other than churros and sangria, this is the dish that Spain is most known for. The typical touristy version is usually seafood based. If you pick this dish up in major tourist areas in major tourist cities you’ll find it packed full of seafood, usually some form of fish, some mussels, some prawns and some calamari.
However Paella originated in Valencia and it actually wasn’t predominately seafood based. Valencian paella, that I tried while in Valencia is usually made up of different types of meat, most commonly rabbit, snails, chicken and sausage.
The best paella can usually only be made for a minimum of two people so unfortunately I wasn’t able to eat at any of the paella restaurants that were raved about in Valencia, because I was alone. But I still managed to pick up some good paella as a meal of the day.
This is probably the dish from Spain that I crave the most. For such a simple thing they are seriously delicious. Patatas Bravas are basically wedges of roasted potatoes (I think some versions might be fried) that are smothered in ‘brava’ sauce. It’s very hard to describe brava sauce but it does have a spicy mayonnaise sort of quality and taste to it.
Basically it’s heaven and you need to try it for yourself to see. It’s also always cheap and makes a great lunch or bar snack.
Espinacas con Garbonzos (Spinach with Chickpeas)
This was by far the best dish I ate during my time in Sevilla. It’s made up mostly of two key and simple ingredients; Spinach and Chickpeas. It’s full of flavour, well seasoned and absolutely delicious. The closest comparison I can draw is with Indian saag. The flavour is that rich! Definitely worth trying if you are in Seville.
This might sound like a bit of a strange thing to add to a food guide. But Spain, and the rest of the Mediterranean is home to some pretty delicious olive oil. It’s so popular and delicious that some restaurants, such as La Olivia in Granada, might even have it as a course on the menu. Personally I just love ordering toasty bread smothered in olive oil, which you’ll find on the menus of most Spanish restaurants.
What to Eat in Spain- Markets
La Boqueria Market
Whilst this recommendation isn’t necessarily for a dish, you absolutely can’t leave Barcelona without visiting the famous Boqueria markets. It’s full of delicious restaurants that serve dishes with only the best ingredients. You’ll also find stalls selling an assortment of fresh juices and fresh fruit dishes.
I ate at El Quim de la Boqueria. While it was one of the pricier meals I ate during my time in Spain, it was also one of the best. I had the tacos and the scallops. The scallops were clearly a highlight, which is no surprise given they are one of my favourite foods. I’d suggest saving up for this special meal. You might have to wait for a table but you won’t regret it.
After you have finished your lunch, you can do what I did and head to the local market part of the restaurant to collect some things for some nice home cooking. After travelling for almost three months at this stage, I was ready to cook some food for myself.
I picked up some fresh salmon, some fresh oysters and some fresh fruits and vegetables and made myself a seafood dish with avocado and tomato salsa. It was heaven. It reminded me of how much I missed cooking and how good my own food can taste.
What to Eat in Spain- Sweet
I’m sure you were wondering when I was going to mention this one. Churros are considered the star of Spanish cuisine. But churros in Spain are almost completely different from the versions you get overseas. In Australia, or even when I had them in Amsterdam , churros are sweet donuts that usually come covered in sugar and cinnamon and milk chocolate.
In contrast, in Spain they are a slightly more savoury flavour. You won’t find them covered in cinnamon and sugar, the donut itself is less sweet and they are served with a dark and often quite bitter cut of hot chocolate. I still really enjoyed the authentic kind but I met lots of people that just didn’t enjoy the Spanish version of this Spanish dish :-P.
Regardless, have you really been to Spain if you haven’t eaten churros?
Horchata and Fartons
This is a drink and pastry combination that is typical in Valencia. Horchata is a bizarre type of drink made from a combination of sugar, water and tiger nuts. It’s kind of like sweetened almond milk.
It’s a very different flavour and I’m still not quite sure I actually like it. You are far more likely to enjoy it if you have a sweet tooth because it is a very sweet drink.
The drink is even more sweet when you follow Valencian tradition and combine it with a farton. A farton (seriously- what a name) is a very sweet pastry that is made to be dipped into Horchata. In much the same way I found Horchata too sweet, I also found fartons to basically just taste of sugar.
Regardless you need to try it whilst you are in Valencia and the place to go is Horchateria Santa Catalina!
Other Spanish Dishes
Did I leave something absolutely critical off this list? Do you have a particular restaurant or dish recommendation? Comment below!