Spanish food comprises of various dishes from different cultures and geographical regions of Spain. Known as the people’s cuisine, food of Spain is fresh, abundant, uncomplicated and tasteful. Due to various communication barriers till 20th century, the cooking style is very different from region to region.
Most of the dishes in Spanish cuisine are influenced by the seafood, reflecting the marine culture of the country. Moreover, the cuisine is also influenced by American and European tastes. Spanish cuisine is widely known for its usage of fresh ingredients and various health benefits.
Apart from the Cocido, the national dish, some other famous dishes are tortilla de patata or tortilla Espanola (potato omelet), Arroz con leche (a dessert pudding made of rice), paella (Spanish rice dish), Iberian ham and sangria( Spanish wine).
Historical and Cultural Influences on Spanish Food
Spanish food included wheat from ancient Liberia. Brought to the country from south peninsula, wheat was one of the main commodities of the region. Apart from Spain, wheat was also made popular in countries like Greece and Egypt by the Romans.
In South Peninsula, there were mainly two kinds of food that were found in the northwest and southeast part of the region. The food found in northwest part of the Peninsula was mostly made up of animal fats. On the other hand, the southeast food was mainly a type of Mediterranean diet.
Ingredients Commonly Used in Spanish Food
Spanish food uses a vast array of ingredients that is mostly grown in Spain itself. Despite having distinct geographical regions, climates and cultures, the two basic ingredients used in almost all Spanish food are garlic and olive oil. Apart from these, some other commonly used ingredients and food are ham, fish, cheeses, sausages, beef, lamb, pork, eggs, chicken, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices.
Cooking Methods Adopted by Spanish Food.
Spanish food, mainly known for the stews, also adopts various other cooking techniques and methods. Some of the famous stews are Cocido, olla, pote, guiso, estofado and escudella. Besides stewing, the Spanish also roast, fry and sauté their food. Although baking or broiling is not that common in Spain, they use metal plates or charcoal grills to grill the meat.
Globally Popular Spanish Foods
Spanish food is widely popular in almost all parts of the world. The growing popularity of Spanish food can be seen with its constantly growing number of restaurants internationally. Some of the famous Spanish foods are mentioned below:
• Paella (Spanish Rice Dish): The traditional, authentic paella probably the most well known Spanish rice recipe.
• Pescado Frito (Fried Fish)
• Tortilla Española (Spanish omelet): The Spanish Omelet is also called "Tortilla de Patata" or Potato Omelet. It is the best-loved and most popular dish in Spain.
• Canarian wrinkly potatoes:
• Arroz a la cubana: It is Cuban-style rice, is a Spanish dish consisting of rice, a fried egg and tomato sauce.
• Chicharrón (Pork Scratchings): Pork chicharron is normally served only on Sundays and is eaten with llajua, a tomato salsa.
• Merienda: It is a light meal or snack especially consumed in the afternoon.
• Cocido madrilène: These are very traditional and typical main dishes of Spain.
• Alfajor: It is a traditional confection that is found in some regions of Spain
• Marie biscuit: It is a sweet snack made with wheat flour, sugar, and vegetable oil.
Classification of Spanish Cuisine
Spain has almost 17 different local communities or regions. All these regions have their own distinct culture, climate and cuisine. Some of the traditional Spanish foods are classified below according to their region:
Spanish foods – North
Spain food from North region is known for lots of sauces and seafood, such as the regions of Galicia and Asturias.
• Bacalao Al Pil-Pil: It is a traditional dish from the Basque Country.
• La Tripotcha: It is one of the most popular regional meat dishes from the area.
• Perdices Ederra: It is a type of meat dish.
• Chuletas De Cordero A La Guipuzcoana: This popular meat dish is known for juicy, tender and flavorsome meat.
Spanish Foods – East
The primary dishes in eastern Spanish food are mostly rice-based such as the popular Paella Valenciana.
• Amanida: It is a type of salad made up of carrot, cucumber, onion, Sonchus oleraceus leaves and tomato slices.
• Suquet: It is a flavored dish that is popularly known as juicy fish stew.
• Butifarra amb mongetes: It is a classic Catalan dish of sausage.
• Crema catalane: It is the Catalan version of the creamy French dessert known as "crème brulée."
Spanish Foods - South
The south region of Spain is popular for stapled fried fish and bars. They don’t serve a drink without a tapa to munch on.
• Gazpacho: It is a cold Spanish tomato-based raw vegetable soup
• Cachorreñas: This is a simple and easy to make recipe.
• Rabo de toro a la jerezana: It is a cold vegetable soup made up of tomato base.
• Fritura de pescado: This is basically a type of fried fish recipe that is extremely popular in Spain.
• Huevos a la flamenco: These are one of the very old and traditional Spanish dishes.
• Pescado a la sal: It is basically a fish recipe baked in salt.
Spanish foods – Central
Central Spain is more about roast meats and cocidos or stews in the daily diet. Some of the other popular Spanish foods from the central region are mentioned below:
• Pisto manchego: This is a simple dish better known as a pureed ratatouille.
• Liebre a la mancha
• Mantecados manchegos: This is simple recipe popularly known as manchegos. These are made with sheep's milk.
• Miel sobre hojuelas: This is a popular cake recipe of Spain.
Spanish Cuisine – A Typical Meal
Spanish food is typically eaten in three major courses with a couple of small courses in-between the meals and the last one after dinner. As in all other cultures, there are the three essential courses, namely- breakfast , lunch and dinner. However, the Tapas , the La Merienda and the after dinner snack called a churro are small meal courses eaten in-between meals.
Breakfast – known as El Desayuno, it includes a menu called the café con leche which comprises of sweet rolls(bollos) or toast accompanied by jam, with dark coffee and hot and bubbly milk. It is conventionally the smallest of all the major meals consumed during the day.
Tapas – This is a small meal that is taken in between breakfast and lunch to appease the hunger which probably develops because of the light breakfast. This involves a small course of Tortilla Espanola( Spanish -styled Omelet), Patatas Bravas( a potato dish accompanied with the spicy Bravas Sauce), and Gambas Al Ajillo( a seafood and garlic dish).
Lunch – La Comida or lunch is a major meal for the Spaniards. It consists of a variety of Spanish foods including a soup , a meat dish, a salad, dessert and lastly brandy and/or coffee with cigar. The soup made from vegetables or seafood. The meat dish that comes next may be roasted chicken or lamb, fish, seafood, or rabbit stew. Fried potatoes and fish also served as a part of this course. The dessert usually consists of flan fresh fruits, ice cream, pastry or flan mostly made of dairy products or milk. Bread is, of course , a staple of the Spanish lunch.
Snack – known as La Merienda, it is the small meal between lunch and dinner usually consisting of a French –type bread topped with chorizo, salami and ham or chocolate.
Dinner – known as Lacena, this consists of a smaller menu than lunch consisting of about 2 or 3 main course dishes. Seafood or fish, roasted chicken and lamb, rice and fried potatoes are common menu items. Arroz Cubano, a dish made by topping white cooked rice with tomato sauce and a fried egg, is also consumed as a brief one-time dinner. Dessert usually consists of a lighter version of the flan ( a vanilla flavored custard dish) served for lunch.
Churreria – It is a commercial food joint selling Spanish sweet fried pastries called churross. The churros resemble sweet fritters or donuts and are consumed along with hot chocolate after dinner, when socializing outside home.
Spanish Cuisine- Eating Habits
Spanish food, as seen above is eaten in small portions throughout the day within frequent intervals. Dinner is consumed late as compared to other cultures and the habit of having an after-dinner snack is not commonly seen in many other cultures where people ideally end their meals with dessert which is often called the last course owing to this reason. However, the meal is designed to meet the lifestyle requirements of the Spaniards of the olden days , who toiled hard under the hot sun for growing crops. The lunch break of the Spaniards is also known to be of a long duration (about 2-3 hours) to accommodate the elaborate meal followed by siesta. But this habit is fast changing to accommodate the style of comparable practices followed in other nations. Dinner is taken late in the night and sometimes even during midnight. On the whole, the Spanish eating habits are found to be distinctive when it comes to the general pattern followed by the other European countries and America.
Places Famous For Spanish Foods
The recommended places for five of the most famous Spanish foods are mentioned below:
• Paella – Valencia and El Palamar are recommended for this very famous Spanish food
• Pescado Frito( a dish made with fried fish ) - Cadiz and Andalusia are the best places to try this dish
• Gambas Ajillo ( prawn seasoned with garlic and chili flakes) – This dish is very popular in Madrid
• Jamon Iberico ( Iberian Ham)- This dish is commonly enjoyed with Chorizo( a Spanish sausage) . Though savored throughout Spain, Salmanaca, Alpujarras, and Huelva are the places that are specially recommended for enjoying the best recipes of this Spanish food.
• Cochinillo Asado(roasted young pig) – Segovia is the most preferred location to try this dish
Spanish Cuisine – Famous Chefs
Ferran Adria is widely known as the father of Spanish cuisine. El bulli is one of his popular restaurants operating in Spain and Roses. Adria is known for skewing the ingredients to unexpected textures and serving the dishes at unconventional temperatures.
Health Benefits of Spanish Recipes
Spanish food is considered healthy owing to its usage of many ingredients with high nutritive value. Olives and olive oil which have a high percentage of Vitamin E are found to be beneficial in protecting the body cells from free radicals which damage them leading to coronary diseases and cancer. Olives are also found to maintain the gastrointestinal health of the human body. The anti-inflammatory properties of olives are found to be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, osteoarthritis and hot flashes in menopausal women.
The Spanish Iberian Ham is known to benefit the human health as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrate. The vitamin B found in this meat is especially known to facilitate the proper functioning of vital organs and physiological systems of the human body like the heart and the nervous system. It is also found to facilitate efficient metabolism so that any food consumed releases the optimum amount of energy. It is also found to strengthen the immune system. The oleic acid found in the fat of the meat is known to facilitate the production of benign cholesterol for the body. On the whole, the Iberian ham is found to be better in nutritive worth and more beneficial for the human body than other varieties of meat.
Spanish Cuisine Trivia
Tolosna Beans is a well-liked Spanish food of chefs of the country as revealed by a taste test in 1998.
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