Spanish cuisine is heavily influenced by regional cuisines and the particular historical processes that shaped culture and society in those territories. Geography and climate had great influence on cooking methods and available ingredients, and these particularities are still present in the gastronomy of the various regions that make up the country. Spanish cuisine derives from a complex history, where invasions of the country and conquests of new territories modified traditions and made new ingredients available.
Spain before the Roman Empire Spain used to be divided in three territories for three different “clans": the Celts (north of Spain), the Iberians (center east), and the Tartessos (South). The Celts were a warrior based community, and lived in small fortified round houses, they fished and farmed. Even today we can see their influence as the north of Spain is renowned for their “mariscos” (sea food).The Iberians were mainly hunters and cattle keepers. The center of Spain is still considered to have great quality of meat. e.g. Cochinillo in Segovia (piglet) The Tartessos were goldsmiths, and did a lot of trading with Africa and Greece.
Authors such as Strabo, however, write about aboriginal people using nuts and acorns as staple food.
The Romans introduced the custom of collecting and eating mushrooms, which is still preserved in many parts of Spain, especially in the north. The Romans along with the Greeks introduced viticulture; it also appears that the extension of the vine along the Mediterranean seems to be due to the colonization of the Greeks. Together with the Greeks, the Phoenicians introduced the cultivation of olive oil. Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world.
The Visigoths introduced brewing. The change came in 711 AD, when Muslim troops composed of Arabs and Berbers crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, invading the Iberian Peninsula. The Muslim conquest brought new ingredients to Spanish cuisine from different parts of the world, such as Persia and India
The cuisine of Al-Andalus included such ingredients as: rice, sorghum, sugar cane, spinach, eggplant, watermelon, lemon, peach, orange and almonds. However the Muslim religion does not allow alcoholic drinks such as wine, therefore many rulers of Al Ándalus used to uproot vineyards as a signal of piety.
The arrival of Europeans in America, in 1492, initiated the advent of new culinary elements, such as tomatoes, potatoes, corn, bell peppers, spicy peppers, paprika, vanilla and cocoa or chocolate. The latter caused a furor in the Spanish society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Spain was where it was first mixed with sugar to remove its natural bitterness. Other ingredients traveled to the Americas, such as rice, grapes, olives and many types of cereals.
Many traditional Spanish dishes such as tortilla de patata (a cake like dish), would not be possible without the discovery of America, and the potato. Gazpacho, salmorejo, and pan tumaca would not be possible without the tomato.
A continental-style breakfast (desayuno) may be taken just after waking up, or before entering the workplace. Due to the large time span between breakfast and lunch, it is not uncommon to halt the working schedule to take a mid-morning snack.
Lunch (el almuerzo or simply la comida, literally meaning "the food"), the large midday meal in Spain, contains several courses. It usually starts between 2:00 pm or 2:30 pm finishing around 3:00 pm to 3:30 pm, and is usually followed by Sobremesa, which refers to the tabletalk that Spanish people undertake. Menus are organized according to these courses and include five or six choices in each course. At home, Spanish meals wouldn't be too fancy, and would contain soup or a pasta dish, salad, a meat or a fish dish and a dessert such as fruit or cheese. Green salad with the meat or fish courses. In some regions of Spain, the word almuerzo refers to the mid-morning snack, instead of lunch.
La cena, meaning both dinner or supper, is taken between 8:30pm and 10pm. It is lighter than lunch, consisting of one course and dessert. Due to the large time span between lunch and dinner, an afternoon snack, la merienda, equivalent to afternoon tea, may take place at about 6pm.
In the last years, the Spanish government is starting to take action to shorten the lunch break, in order to end the working day earlier. Most businesses shut down for two or three hours for lunch, then resume the working day until dinner time in the evening.
The following is a list of traditional Spanish meals:
Andalusian cuisine is twofold: rural and coastal. Of all the Spanish regions, this region uses the most olive oil in its cuisine. The Andalusian dish that has achieved the most international fame is Gazpacho. It is a cold soup (or in an alternative view, a liquid salad) made with five vegetables, bread, vinegar, water, salt and olive oil. Other cold soups include: pulley, Zoque, salmorejo, etc.
Snacks made with olives are common. Meat dishes include: flamenquín, pringá, oxtail stew and Menudo Gitano (also called Andalusian tripe). The hot soups include cat soup (made with bread), dog stew (fish soup with orange juice) and Migas Canas. Fish dishes include: fried fish, cod pavías, and parpandúas. A culinary custom is the typical Andalusian breakfast, considered to be a traditional characteristic of laborers and today extending throughout Spain.
The Aragonese cuisine has a rural and mountainous origin. The central part of Aragon, the flattest, is the richest in culinary specialties. Being a land of lambs raised on the slopes of the Pyrenees, one of its most famous dishes is roast lamb (asado de ternasco) (with garlic, salt and bacon fat), having the lamb to the shepherd, the heads of lamb and Highlanders asparagus (lamb tails). Pork dishes are also very popular, among them: Magras con tomate, roasted pork leg and Almojábanas de Cerdo. Among the recipes made with bread are: migas de Pastor, migas con chocolate, Regañaos (cakes with sardines or herring) and goguera. The most notable condiment is garlic-oil.
Legumes are very important and the most popular vegetables are borage and thistle. In terms of cured meats, ham from Teruel and Huesca are famous. Among the cheeses Tronchon is notable. Fruit-based cuisine includes the very popular Fruits of Aragon (Spanish: Frutas de Aragón) and Maraschino cherries.
Asturian cuisine has a long and rich history, deeply rooted in Celtic traditions of northern Europe. One of its most famous dishes is the Asturian bean stew, which is the traditional stew of the region, made with white beans, sausages such as chorizo and morcilla and pork. Another well-known recipe is beans with clams, hare and partridge. Also of note are Asturian stew and vigil. Pork-based foods, for example chosco, tripe Asturias and bollos preñaos are popular.
Common meat dishes include: carne gobernada, cachopo and stew. Asturian cheeses are very popular in the rest of Spain. Among them, the most representative is Cabrales Cheese a strong-smelling cheese developed in the regions near the Picos de Europa. This can be enjoyed with the local cider. Notable desserts are frisuelos, rice pudding and carbayones.
The Balearic cuisine has purely Mediterranean characteristics due to its location. The islands have been conquered several times throughout their history by the French and the English, which has left some culinary influences. At present are well known: the sobrassada and arròs brut, mahón cheese, gin de Menorca ("pellofa") and mayonnaise. Among the dishes are tumbet, frit mallorquí and roasted suckling pig.
The cuisine of the Basque Country has a wide and varied range of ingredients and preparations. The culture of eating is very strong among the inhabitants of this region. Highlights include meat and fish dishes. Among fish, cod is produced in various preparations: bacalao al pil pil, cod Bilbao, etc.. Are also common anchovy, bream, bonito, etc.. Among the most famous dishes is the seafood changurro. Among the meats are: the beef steaks, pork loin with milk, fig leaf quail, marinated goose, etc.
The Canary Islands have a unique cuisine due to their geographical location in the Atlantic ocean. The Canary Islands were part of the trading routes to the American Continent, hence creating a melting pot of different culinary traditions. Fish (fresh or salted) and potatoes are among the most common staple foods in the islands. The consumption of cheese, fruits and pork meat also characterizes canarian cuisine. The closeness to Africa influences climate and creates a range of warm temperatures that in modern times have fostered the agriculture of tropical and semitropical crops: bananas, yams, mangoes, avocados and persimmons which are heavily used in canarian cuisine.
The aboriginal people Guanches based their diet on gofio (a type of flour made of different toasted grains), shellfish, and goat and pork products. Gofio is still consumed in the islands and has become part of the traditional cuisine of the islands.
A sauce called mojo (from Portuguese origins) is very common through the islands and has developed different varieties adapted to the main dish where it is being used. Fish dishes usually require a "green mojo" made from coriander or parsley, while roasted meats require a red variety made from chilli peppers that is commonly known as mojo picón.
Stew is a very common kind of fish stew, reminiscent of dishes in other culinary traditions. Some other classic dishes in the Canary Islands include papas arrugadas, almogrote, frangollo, rabbit in "salmorejo sauce" and stewed goat.
Some popular desserts are: truchas (pastries filled with sweet potato or pumpkin), roasted gofio (a gofio-based dough with nuts and honey), príncipe alberto (a mousse-like preparation with almonds, coffee, and chocolate) and quesillo (a variety of flan made with condensed milk)
Winery is common in the islands; however, only Malvasia wine from Lanzarote has gained international recognition.
A popular Cantabrian dish is cocido montañés (highlander stew), a rich stew made with beans, cabbage and pork. Seafood is widely used and bonito is present in the typical sorropotún or marmite. Recognized quality meats are Tudanca veal and game meat. Cantabrian pastries include sobaos and quesadas pasiegas. Dairy products include Cantabrian cream cheese, smoked cheeses, picón Bejes-Tresviso and quesucos de Liébana. Orujo is the Cantabrian pomace brandy. Cider (sidra) and chacoli wine are increasing in popularity.
In this region, the culinary habits reflect the origin of foods eaten by shepherds and peasants. Al-Manchara means, in Arabic, "Dry Land" indicating the arid lands and the quality of its dishes. It is said that the best La Mancha cuisine cookbook is the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Wheat and grains are dominant, used in bread, soups, gazpacho manchego, crumbs, porridge, etc.. One of the most abundant ingredients in Manchego cuisine is garlic, leading to dishes such as: ajoarriero, ajopuerco and garlic marinade.
Given the fact that its lands are dry, and thus unable to sustain large amounts of cattle living on grass, an abundance of small animals, such as rabbit, and especially birds (pheasant, quail, partridge, squab) can be found. This has led to game meat being incorporated into traditional dishes, such as Conejo al Ajillo (rabbit in garlic sauce), Perdiz Escabechada (marinated partridge) or Huevos de Codorniz (Quail's eggs).
In Castile and León characteristic dishes include morcilla, (a black pudding made with special spices), judión de la granja, sopa de ajo (garlic soup), Cochinillo asado (roast piglet), lechazo (roast lamb), botillo del Bierzo, hornazo from Salamanca, Jamón de Guijuelo (a cured ham from Guijuelo, Salamanca), Salchichas de Zaratán and other sausages, Serrada cheese, Burgos's soft cheese, and Ribera del Duero wines.
The cuisine of Catalonia is based in a rural culture; it is very extensive and a great culinary wealth. Notably, it was in Catalonia where the first cookbook was written in Spain. It has a triple cuisine: seafood, mountain and interior. Among the most popular dishes include: escudella and bread with tomato. Bean omelette, coca de recapte, samfaina, thyme soup and caragols a la llauna are famous dishes. Notable sauces are: romesco sauce, aioli, bouillabaisse of Catalan origin and picada.
Cured pork cuisine boasts botifarra (white and black) and the fuet of Vic. Among the fish dishes are: suquet de peix, cod stew and arròs negre. Among the vegetable dishes, the most famous are calçots and the escalivada (roasted vegetables). Among the desserts are: Catalan cream, carquinyolis, panellets, tortell, and neules.
La Rioja is recognized by the use of meats such as pork, and their cold cuts made after the traditional slaughter. The lamb is perhaps the second most popular meat product in this region (Sarmiento chops) and finally, veal is common in mountain areas. The most famous dish is Rioja potatoes and Fritada. Lesser known are: Holy lunch and Ajo huevo (garlic eggs).
Another well-known dish is Rioja stew. Pimientos asados (roasted peppers) is a notable vegetable dish. Rioja wine has designated origin status.
La Rioja is famously known in Spain for its red wine, that is why most of these dishes are served with wine.
The cuisine of Extremadura is austere, with dishes prepared by shepherds. It is very similar to the cuisine of Castilla. Extremaduran cuisine is abundant in pork; it is said that the region is one of the best for breeding pigs in Spain, thanks to the acorns that grow in their fields: Iberian pig herds raised in the fields of Montánchez are characterized by dark skin and black, thin legs. This breed of pig is found exclusively in Spain and Portugal. Iberian pork sausages are common, such as pork stews (cocido extremeño).
Another meat dishes is lamb stew. It is also known that lizard is often cooked in Extremadura. Highlights include game meats such as wild boar, partridge, pheasant or venison. Famous cheeses are Torta de la Serena and Torta de casar. Among the desserts are: Leche frita, perrunillas and fritters, as well as many sweets that have their origins in convents.
Galician cuisine is known in Spanish territory because of the emigration of its inhabitants. One of the most noted is Galician soup. Also notable is pork with turnip tops, a popular component of the Galician carnival meal laconadas. Another remarkable recipe is Caldo de castañas (a chestnut broth), which is commonly consumed during winter. Pork products are also popular.
The seafood dishes are very famous and rich in variety. Among these are: the Galician empanada, Galician octopus, scallops, crab and barnacles. Among the many dairy products is Queso de tetilla. Orujo is one of Galicia's alcoholic drinks. Sweets that are famous throughout the Iberian Peninsula are the Tarta de Santiago and Filloas (pancakes).
Cattle breeding is very common in Galicia, therefore, a lot of red meat is consumed; typically consumed with potatoes.
Madrid did not gain its own identity in the Court until 1561, when Philip II moved the capital to Madrid. Since then, due to immigration, many of Madrid's culinary dishes have been made from modifications to dishes from other Spanish regions. Madrid, due to the influx of visitors from the nineteenth century onwards, was one of the first cities to introduce the concept of the restaurant, hosting some of the earliest examples.
Notable dairy products are: rice pudding, meringue milk, cheese and curd. Some important fruits and vegetables are Aranjuez strawberries and melons. Madrid is rich in religious confectionery, with sweets such as chocolate con churros and buñuelos. The nutritional value of the madrilian cuisine was discovered by the American epidemiologist Ancel Keys in the 1950, the Spanish cuisine being later often mentioned by epidemiologists as one of the best examples of the Mediterranean diet.
The cuisine of the region of Murcia has two sides with the influence of Manchego cuisine. The region of Murcia is famous for its varied fruit production. Among the most outstanding dishes are: Murcia tortilla, zarangollo, mojete, eggplants cream, pipirrana, etc.. A typical sauce of this area is the cabañil garlic, used to accompany meat dishes.
Among the culinary preparations are: the michirones (dried beans cooked with bay leaves, hot peppers and garlic). Among the cooked include: the olla gitana, cocido murciano con pelotas, mondongo, etc.. Among meat products Murcia find black pudding, which is flavored with oregano, and pastel murciano that is made with ground beef. Among the fish and seafood are: the golden salt, the Mar Menor prawns and octopus baked. Rices are common and among them are: the Caldero, the Arroz empedrado, rice with rabbit and snails, rice scribe, and the widower rice.
Among confectionery products are the exploradores and the pastel de Cierva. They are typical cakes in Murcia gastronomy and are found in almost every pastry shop in Murcia. They are both sweet and savoury at the same time.
The desserts are very abundant, among them are paparajotes Orchard, stuffed pastries and various other pastries. This region also has wine appellation of origin, as the wine from Jumilla, Bullas wine and wine Yecla.
The gastronomy of Navarra has many similarities with the Basque cuisine. Two of its flag dishes are: Tout Navarre Style and Ajoarriero, although we must not forget the lamb chilindrón or relleno. There are very curious recipes such as the Carlists eggs.
Salted products are common and, between them, include: chorizo de Pamplona, stuffing and sausage. The lamb and beef have, at present, designations of origin. Among the dairy products are: Roncal cheese, the curd or Idiazabal cheese. Among the most typical alcoholic drinks are: the claret and pacharán.
The cuisine of Valencia has two components: the rural (products of the field) and the other coastal, which is seafood. One popular Valencia creation is Paella, a rice dish cooked in a circular pan and topped with vegetables and meats (commonly rabbit, chicken or fish). Dishes such as Arroz con costra, Arròs negre, fideuá and throw rice, Arroz al horno, and rice with beans and turnips are also common in the city.
Coastal towns supply the region with fish, leading to popular dishes like "all i pebre" typical of the Albufera, or fish stew. Among the desserts are: coffee liqueur, chocolate Alicante, arnadí and horchata. Notably, during Christmas, nougat is made in Alicante and Jijona; also well-known are peladillas (almonds wrapped in a thick layer of caramel).
Other Spanish dishes: (Salchichón)
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