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Spanish food is not just about taste: it’s a way of life. Many iconic Spanish foods, from paella to natillas, have been bringing friends and families together for centuries.
From the mountains in the north to the salt-aired coastal towns in the south, amazing food can be found throughout Spain.
On your next trip to Spain, we highly recommend adding these 15 heavenly foods to your must-try list.
15 Heavenly Spanish Foods
Spanish Appetizers and Mains
1 – Paella
Our first stop takes us to a dish that is not only famous in Spain but also worldwide.
Paella comes from the beautiful city of Valencia. It’s a Spanish rice dish that uses a distinct type of rounded rice.
Paella de marisco, or seafood paella, is the most common variation.
Paella can be traced back to the 10th century. The Muslim populations of Spain first introduced the country to rice.
But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the traditional paella recipe grew in popularity. Paella Valenciana was first enjoyed by Spaniards living just outside of Valencia.
The paella is cooked in a shallow, large, and circular pan that cooks perfectly on open fires. This makes paella the perfect food for feeding large gatherings.
Paella’s olive oil base gives the rounded rice that iconic golden color. Rosemary and saffron are then traditionally used to season it.
As for the other ingredients, many have been used throughout the ages. The original paella recipe used chicken, rabbit, duck, and even snails.
But with fresh seafood from the Mediterranean plentiful, seafood paella in recent times has become very popular.
Shrimp, muscles, fish, and other meats such as smokey chorizo, are wildly popular in the dish.
The hearty warmth of the rice with the tender meat of the seafood is a taste so sublime. It is a Spanish food you simply must try.
2 – Tapas
Spanish tapas are world-famous, and visiting a tapas bar is highly recommended in the country.
Tapas are a variety of small snacks and appetizers common in Spanish cuisine.
But the experience of tapas is where this food really ignites Spanish culture.
While their origins date back to Roman times, tapas, as we know them today, were first coined by Spanish innkeepers in 18th century Spain.
With travelers passing through and staying at their inns, the innkeepers wanted to offer them food.
However, few of them could write or communicate in different languages.
So innkeepers would put out sample dishes of popular Spanish foods, and let the traveler decide what they want.
Today, tapas can open your palette to a world of alluring flavors and delicate textures.
In most tapas bars, the menus will give you a wide range of choices. It’s up to you to decide what you choose and how many dishes.
The smokey crunch of Spanish chorizo. The silky texture of Iberian ham. The crispy bite of battered squid.
All of these little delicacies are wonderful experiences in their own right.
3 – Jamón Ibérico
Famous for its deep pink color and delicately smooth texture, Jamon Iberico, or Iberian ham, is some of the most delicious in the world.
This cured ham comes from a specific type of pig bred in the Iberian region, the Black Iberian pig.
The process of curing the ham is a lengthy and delicate one. Once butchers have the ham, they salt it generously and then dry it for several weeks.
Once the ham is rinsed, they then go on to dry it for a few more weeks. Then, finally, the curing process can begin.
Some Jamon Iberico is cured for up to two years! While the process is a long one, it is a key reason for the ham’s intense flavor and smooth texture.
Jamon Iberico is enjoyed all over the world. From simple sandwiches to elaborate tapas spreads, this is a Spanish food many fall in love with.
4 – Patatas Bravas
Some of the best foods in the world are very simple. That’s certainly the case with a dish of crispy, wholesome patatas bravas.
These delightful dishes of white potato are commonly served as a tapa in tapas bars.
Amazingly, it’s only since the 1500s that potatoes have been eaten in Spain. Prior to the Spanish conquering the Inca Empire, Europeans did not believe potatoes were fit for humans and instead used them to feed animals.
But both the Thirty Year War and years of famine put Europeans on the brink. Facing starvation, they began to eat potatoes.
And through the years, recipes involving potatoes became more daring and creative.
The key to patatas bravas’ moreish flavor is in the cooking method. The white potatoes are cubed, then fried in oil.
Once in the dish, Spanish chefs squeeze or drizzle a hot or spicy sauce over the golden cubes of potato.
The comforting, crispy texture and the explosion of heat from the sauce make patatas bravas incredibly tasty.
5 – Pimientos de Padrón
A true Spanish delicacy and one of Spain’s more fascinating foods, Pimientos de Padron is another dish commonly served as a tapa.
Padrón peppers hail from the Spanish municipality of Padrón. Padrón lies in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, right above Portugal.
A couple of characteristics make these peppers very unique. The first is their shape.
Padrón peppers are small, about two inches long. Yet their bodies twist and bloat or narrow at certain points.
Their second unique characteristic is their taste. Commonly, they are mild peppers. But up to a quarter of the peppers have an intense, hot taste.
Whether the pepper is mild or hot depends on how it’s grown. Many factors decide its taste, including whether just the soil or the whole plant receives water.
This has created a fascinating situation where you don’t know how spicy each Padrón pepper is until you eat it.
Pimientos de Padrón traditionally are fried in hot olive oil until they crumple, with the stalk left on.
The bright green wrinkled peppers are then drizzled in olive oil and seasoned with salt.
You pick it up by the stalk, take a bite, and await the incredible intense flavor.
6 – Spanish Tortilla
A true staple of Spanish cuisine. Spanish tortillas are beloved by millions across the country.
The recipe is a simple one. Cubed or sliced potatoes are sautéed in olive oil, along with sliced onions, until they are soft.
Once the potato and onion mixture is drained, it is whisked in a bowl with eggs. The mixture is then finally placed in a pan to be slowly grilled on both sides.
Legend has it that Spanish tortillas were invented by Tomás de Zumalacárregui, general of the Carlist army.
During the siege of Bilbao, the general came up with the recipe as a way to feed his troops quickly and easily.
The beauty of Spanish tortillas is in how versatile they are. They can be served hot or cold, both as an appetizer or main course.
Commonly ordered as a tapa, that delicate, fluffy taste make this one truly delicious Spanish food to try.
7 – Gazpacho
Many of us think of piping hot steam and warm bellies when we think of soup. The Spanish, however, have a different take on it.
Gazpacho is a cold soup, made from an array of delicious, raw vegetables native to Spain.
A staple of Spanish cuisine, gazpacho is incredibly popular during the summer. Its cold, vibrant taste is so refreshing in the baking Spanish heat.
It’s believed the Romans first brought gazpacho to Spain, centuries ago. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that gazpacho gained its iconic blood-red color.
This was simply because the Spanish started using tomatoes in the recipe.
Gazpacho is simple to make. It involves cutting and dicing a selection of raw vegetables, blending them in a food processor, and straining the liquid.
The blending time decides the consistency of the soup.
While tomato is wildly popular, many other ingredients are used in gazpacho recipes. These include cucumbers, watermelon, avocados, and other native fruits.
For a finishing touch, some Spaniards like to garnish the top of the soup. Diced tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber are commonly used.
A delicious Spanish food, and the perfect way to cool your body after a day in the sun.
8 – Salmorejo
Tomatoes are a popular ingredient in Spanish cuisine. And one look at that gorgeous orange color lets you know juicy tomatoes are in the recipe.
But Salmorejo has a very different texture to gazpacho. Essentially, Salmorejo is a tomato and bread puree.
It comes from the vibrant city of Cordoba in southern Spain. The puree consists of skinned tomatoes, bread, garlic, and olive oil.
How much bread is used determines the thickness of the puree. This helps give Salmorejo a smooth, creamy texture.
Spaniards love to add garnishes to a delicious bowl of Salmorejo. Different versions of the recipe use ham, cut-up hard-boiled egg, and chopped tuna.
Like gazpacho, it is served cold. It’s a perfect and flavorful dish to keep you cool and refreshed on a hot summer’s day.
9 – Croquetas
Another hugely popular choice on tapas menus across Spain, croquetas have a crunchy texture and delicious fillings.
Croquetas start out life as a dough full of flavors. There are so many different variations and fusions to try.
Serrano ham or cheese are very popular croqueta fillings. Some people will add various vegetables to the mixture.
Others will add onions, garlic, and spices for a sharper flavor.
Once the dough has cooled a little, it is rolled into little cylinders. Those delightful bitesize treats are then covered in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs.
Finally, they are fried in hot olive oil. This gives them a delightfully crispy first bite, before the softer flavors of the dough roll along your taste buds.
Croquetas are a great appetizer and go well with any tapas order. Wholesome and hearty, they keep you coming back for more!
10 – Bocadillo
You can’t travel far through Spain without seeing a delicious bocadillo in the window of a bakery or restaurant.
Bocadillos have been eaten for centuries in Spain. Initially, it was simple, cheap food that the poorest in the country could eat with relative ease.
But through the years, the bocadillo slowly became an important part of Spanish cuisine.
The key to a classic bocadillo is in the bread. Spanish bread, similar to a French baguette, is cut lengthways, not from top to bottom.
When it comes to filling, as you can imagine, the choices are endless. Millions across Spain enjoy bocadillos in so many ways.
Cold meats are very popular. A bocadillo filled to the brim with delicious dry-cured jam or salami, with cheese, is divine.
Cheese bocadillos, including Tasmanian feta or cheese spread, also go down a treat with locals.
Bocadillas taste delicious cold. But you can also have them baked. That crispy bread and delicate meat combination is truly special.
11 – Chorizo
Spanish chorizo is some of the most flavorful in the world. This pork sausage delicacy has been enjoyed as far back as the Roman era.
The Spanish version uses both chopped pork and pork fat in the sausage. It is seasoned with garlic, salt, smoked paprika, and peppers.
In Spain, the type of pepper, or pimentón, used, will determine whether the chorizo is spicier or sweeter.
Spanish chorizo also gets its iconic deep red color from the peppers used in the recipe.
The chorizo curing process is a delicate one, and it is a major reason behind Spanish chorizo’s mature, delicious flavor.
Whether you prefer smoked or unsmoked, chorizo is a Spanish food you’ll find in so many different recipes and cuisine.
Many Spaniards enjoy cold-cut chorizo in a bocadillo or in a tapa. Others love to grill or fry it.
Chorizo is a food that’s vitally important to Spanish cuisine. Loved across the country, its flavor is rich and truly unique.
12 – Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-Style Octopus)
A true Spanish delicacy, octopus has been eaten in Spain for centuries, and many ways to cook it have been developed through the years.
Pulpo a la gallega is the Spanish for Polbo á feira, which is the Galician name for this traditional dish.
Galicians are closely related to the Portuguese and hail from Galicia in the northwest of Spain. This unique dish originates from that region.
The key to pulpo a la gallega and its delicate texture is in the way the octopus is cooked.
Traditionally, the octopus is boiled in a large copper cauldron. Chefs will dip the tentacles in the boiling water three times, first, to curl them.
Timing is critical. Don’t boil enough, and the octopus will be rubbery. Boil for too long, and the octopus will be overcooked.
Once the octopus is ready, it is cut and trimmed. Finally, it is seasoned generously with salt, paprika, and drizzled with some olive oil.
Traditionally, pulpo a la gallega is served on a wooden board with crusty bread and some delicious red wine.
Travel into the Galician region, and you’ll find octopus restaurants specializing in this dish, called polbeiras. Definitely worth a visit!
13 – Leche Frita
With all those hearty mains to taste, you’re going to need some cold, delicious desserts waiting in the wings. First up, we have Spanish leche frita.
Leche frita is so simple but beautifully sweet and delightful. Its name literally means ‘fried milk’ in English.
But leche frita is more of a milk-based pudding, coated in a crunchy casing made from flour and egg.
Traditionally, cinnamon is also added to the mixture. Throughout the years, many chefs have experimented with other ingredients, such as lemon zest.
Add a sugar glaze and a dusting of cinnamon, and you have a deliciously sweet Spanish dessert loved by millions across the country.
You’ll find them in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants throughout Spain. Utterly delicious!
14 – Natillas de Leche (Custard)
For so many Spaniards, just the sight of natillas bring back plenty of childhood memories.
This famous Spanish dessert is adored by generations of Spaniards. Along with desserts like flans and crema catalana, natillas are true comfort food.
The origins of the dessert can be traced back centuries to nunneries across Europe. It is believed nuns originally came up with the recipe.
Natillas essentially is a Spanish egg custard. It’s deliciously sweet with a creamy texture.
The common recipe uses vanilla, which helps give natillas their beautiful yellow color.
Spaniards commonly infuse the mixture with cinnamon and lemon to intensify the sweetness.
As Spanish foods go, this one captures the heart of so many throughout Spain. You’ll find them in many shapes and sizes. So, so yummy!
15 – Churros
Last, but by no means least, we have churros. These delicious twists and strips of fried dough pastry are popular at breakfast and dipped in many sweet treats.
These include hot chocolate, champurrado, and delicious dulce de leche or caramel.
It’s believed churros found their way into Spain from neighboring Portugal. The Portuguese brought these sweet treats back from China.
Churros come in many shapes and sizes. Some love them short and straight. Others love spiraled and twisted churros.
Watching churros take shape is a fascinating process. Many street vendors will make churros for you at all hours of the day.
Moreish and sweet, with a satisfying crunch, dipped in hot chocolate or caramel churros truly are a wonderful Spanish food.
Read more: Popular Spanish Desserts to Try
Spanish Food Summary
We’ve been on quite the Spanish culinary adventure. From home comforts like gazpacho, to pulpo a la gallega and other delicacies, Spanish food has so much to offer.
And it’s no surprise, with food being such a huge part of Spanish culture.
Walk down any city road or cobbled street in a rural village, and you’ll always find cafes, bakeries, tapas bars, and restaurants.
With fresh seafood from the Pacific and a climate perfect for growing vegetables, Spanish food has a truly fresh and organic taste to it.
Where you can, try to avoid the areas that serve English-speaking tourists. Instead, go for local bakeries and restaurants.
And if you can, explore the rural areas in the north of Spain. The food there is truly divine.
But whatever your taste, one thing is for sure: Spanish cuisine boasts some of the richest and most delicious foods in the world.
So, one final time, here’s the full list of all Spanish foods covered in this article for reference.
Be sure to have this list of popular Spanish food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
- Jamón Ibérico
- Patatas Bravas
- Pimientos de Padrón
- Spanish Tortilla
- Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-Style Octopus)
- Leche Frita
- Natillas de Leche (Custard)
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Tuesday 26th of May 2020
Why was Callos not mentioned?
Friday 12th of June 2020
A great point. As wonderful a food as Callos is, there were so many wonderful Spanish foods to choose from, we just couldn't fit them all in the article. Thanks for posting about Callos.