Spanish Food Culture: The 9 Most Delicious Spanish Dishes

spanish food culture

Discover the amazing world of Spanish food culture. While the French and Italians get all the credit for developing European cuisine, those inventive Spaniards deserve some respect. They’ve created a fantastically unique range of dishes that combine a mix of cultures to create something special and distinctly Spanish.

Food plays a crucial role in Spanish society, as well. Eating is seen as a communal activity, something to be taken slowly and truly enjoyed. Spain has a more laid-back pace of life than America, where fast-food rules supreme. Social time is highly rated in Spanish culture and what better way of socializing do we have than sharing food?

If you ever choose to visit Spain, then you’ll find that food forms a massive part of your trip. With that in mind, why not learn about Spanish food culture? Below, discover nine of Spain’s most incredible cuisine.

1) Gazpacho

Portion of Gazpacho
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Soup is a popular dish in almost all food cultures. It’s the perfect way to use up a lot of delicious ingredients all at once. However, while many cultures like a warm bowl of soup to pick them up in the winter, the Spanish eat a cold soup called gazpacho. Naturally, Spain can get incredibly hot in the summer so cold soup might be exactly what you need.

Gazpacho originates from Andalusia and couldn’t be simpler to make. It’s simply a case of blending raw vegetables and tweaking the seasoning until you get the exact flavor you’re looking for. The most common vegetables to use are tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, and plenty of garlic. It’s traditionally served with some stale bread that’s coated in olive oil.

2) Tapas

Tapas in Spain
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Tapas is less a single dish and more a style of eating. The Spanish love to eat and would rather have lots of small dishes than one big one. This gives you the opportunity to sample plenty of different foods all in one sitting. Anywhere you go in Spain, you’ll find a tapas restaurant where you can be sure to eat well. Rather than ordering one main course, you’ll order a bunch of appetizers.

These appetizers can be hot or cold, ranging from cheese and olives to deep-fried vegetables. Your servers will be constantly bringing food to your table, giving you something new to try and talk about with your fellow diners. Eating tapas really is a unique way of dining but, arguably, the best way of doing so. Why have one thing when you can sample the entire menu?

3) Paella

Paella seafood
Photo by Envato Elements

Originating in Valencia, paella is one of the most quintessentially Spanish dishes. You can get it around the world but the stuff you find in Spain is the real deal. This is a rice-based dish, which is unusual in European food culture. The rice is cooked in a wide and shallow pan and then loaded up with whichever toppings you most desire. Commonly, it will be served with peas and chicken but you’ll often find a variety with seafood called paella de marisco.

Like much of Spanish food culture, paella is inspired by other cultures. In particular, this rice-heavy dish was brought to Spain by Muslims in the 10th Century. That’s what makes this dish less European and more North African. It may also come with a fair amount of spice, which is popular in warmer climates.

4) Calcots

Roasted Calcots
Photo by Envato Elements

Most cultures share vegetables but Spain has its unique variety that you may not have tried before. More specifically, the calcot is a kind of green onion that originates in the Spanish region of Catalan. This region is known for being fiercely independent and having its own identity, which is why these veggies should be known as part of Catalan culture, rather than Spanish food culture.

They may not seem like much but they’re an incredibly popular treat, especially during Lent. Spain is a religious country and these festival traditions mean a lot. If you happen to be in the country around the Easter period, then give calcots a try. Find a local Spaniard who can show you the correct way to prepare, cook, and eat these versatile greens.

5) Queso de Cabrales

Queso de Cabrales
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When traveling Europe, you’ll be amazed at the variety of cheese. From the cheddar of southwestern England to the oozing Swiss cheese found in fondue, this delicious dairy product is absolutely everywhere. In Spain, the most traditional form of cheese is called Queso de Cabrales.

This is a kind of blue cheese that might not be to everyone’s taste. Dairy producers from the Asturias region (it can’t come from elsewhere) mix together cow and goat milk to create a unique flavor. Through the aging process, the flavor intensifies, becoming stronger and more acidic. This smelly cheese might not be your cup of tea but it’s a tradition of Spanish food culture that’s protected under European law.

6) Tortilla Española

Spanish Tortilla
Photo by Envato Elements

The Tortilla Española is among the most commonly eaten Spanish dishes. Also known as a Spanish omelet, this is a filling and delicious egg dish. By combining the eggs with potatoes and onions, you get a filling and satisfying meal. For that reason, Spaniards don’t eat this for breakfast like Americans might. Instead, it makes for a substantial late afternoon or evening meal.

The Spanish tend to divide their cuisines by region but this is the one dish they unite over. Among Spanish citizens, the Tortilla Española is undoubtedly considered a national dish. If you’re in the country, then you have to try it.

7) Churros

Churros with chocolate sauce
Photo by Envato Elements

Looking for a naughty but delicious treat? You can’t go wrong with churros. It’s simply fried dough sprinkled with sugar but the result is a sweet and satisfying snack. If you wake up hungry, then have a churro for breakfast for a quick burst of energy. Churros are now popular around the world but Spain is where they were first invented.

There are many ways to serve churros, ranging from sweet to savory. Pick a version that satisfies your cravings. These are quick treats that are usually purchased from food stalls to be eaten quickly when they’re hot and fresh. You shouldn’t eat them every day but when in Spain, eat like the Spanish, eh?

8) Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas
Photo by Envato Elements

Spain may take influence from Africa and the Middle East but Spanish food culture is still distinctly European. No food is more European than the humble potato. From feeding the entire nation of Ireland to helping the Polish invent vodka, the potato really is doing more than its fair share of heavy lifting. It accompanies currywurst in the form of French fries and makes up the ‘mash’ component in British bangers and mash.

The Spanish have somehow managed to create yet another version of potatoes: patatas bravas. The potatoes are cut into wedges and then fried in oil until crispy. They’re then doused in a spicy sauce to give it that international edge. Is there anything more satisfying than spicy potatoes? Patatas bravas is most commonly eaten in Madrid but forms part of tapas meals across the country.

9) Jamón

Healthy salad with Jamón
Photo by Envato Elements

If you’re an avid carnivore, then you’ll probably love jamón. This is ham that has been cured and dry-aged, giving it an incredible depth of flavor. This is a common component of your tapas meal. If you see it on the menu, then don’t be afraid to order a few slices of the jamón. It’s often smoked for an even more meaty flavor.

Ham is common across the world but jamón just has a unique flavor. It won’t be like those packets of single ham slices that you find in a typical American grocery store. The residents of Spain love their meat and this is just one example of taking the time to create something truly delicious for diners to enjoy.

What is traditional food in Spain?

Spanish food comes from a mix of European and African culture, combining Islamic staples like rice with European favorites such as potatoes. On the Spanish coast, seafood is also commonly consumed.

What is Spain’s most popular food?

Spain’s most commonly consumed food is the Tortilla Española, also known as the Spanish omelet. However, the country is better known for being the home of tapas and paella.

What is a traditional breakfast in Spain?

The Spanish are fans of a small and light breakfast, preferring to eat heavier meals towards the end of the day. This could be as little as crackers with a glass of milk or more substantial in the form of sweet bread rolls with jam.

What makes the food in Spain unique?

Spain’s geographical location makes it the meeting point for the Christian world of Europe and the Islamic world of North Africa. Spanish food culture is, therefore, a combination of cultures, creating a unique mix. Its long coastline adds another dimension, bringing delicious seafood into the mix.

Reece Toth

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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