I love Spain and I enjoy eating here. Tapas or pintxos, plus countless fragrant bakeries where I can have a small meal, two small meals or five small meals, almost anytime, anywhere, exactly how great my hunger suits me. And of course, I love Spanish ham. All in all, I have spent more than half a year in Spain and have eaten what fits in me, so I dare say that my expertise is no longer a beginner.
History of Spanish cuisine
First a little to history, because it hit the kitchen quite a lot. Spanish cuisine to Mediterranean cuisine is therefore relatively healthy, rich in fruits, vegetables, salads, seafood, and quality olive oil. But it is strongly influenced by historical invasions of Arab cuisine, Jews who lived on the Iberian Peninsula, as well as colonization and new ingredients from the “New World” after the discovery of America.
The Arabs brought to Spain rice cultivation on which the most famous Spanish dish – paella – is based. Their influence is also evident in the use of spices, especially saffron and cumin, sweetening with honey or adding almonds and fruits to foods.
After the discovery of America, Spanish cuisine was enriched with potatoes and once again penetrated two familiar dishes – patatas bravas and tortilla de patata.
Spain is the world’s largest producer and also a consumer of olive oil. Fish and seafood are abundantly available in the Balearic and Canary Islands and in the coastal regions (which Spain is practically surrounded by). But they are also easily accessible inland, in Madrid, there is the second largest fish market in the world. Meat, ham, and cheese are mainly produced inland.
Spanish ham jamón ibérico and jamón serrano
I could eat Spanish ham all the time. In some towns you will find shops (jamonéria, bodegas) where hams of dried ham hang from the ceiling and on the bar there are two cut in almost every corner. Most restaurants and bars also offer a plate of ham as an appetizer or a toast.
Jamón ibérico is a dried Iberian hog ham, which is mainly bred in central and southwestern Spain. For the finest hams, the feeding of piglets before slaughter is limited to olives, chestnuts or acorns. Drying of the ham takes at least 12 months, the best drying is 48 months. To master the art of slicing Spanish ham to make it the most delicious in Spain and schools. Maestros cortadores are recognized artists in Spain.
Jamón serrano ham is made of white pigs and is cheaper. Both hams (although they are dried) are quite oily and therefore tasteful, for me certainly better than Italian prosciutto.
Cheese – Queso manchego
The oldest cheese in Spain is the milk of sheep of the Manchego breed. It is produced in 4 variants of hardness according to the maturation period (from 30 days to 24 months).
Traditional Spanish dried pork salami can be slightly spicy.
Rioja – red wine
In northern Spain, in the La Rioja region, high-quality, well-valued Rioja red wine is grown worldwide. Due to its location, Spain is one of the producers of red wines. The exception is the Canary Islands, which are famous for white wines.
Fresh orange juice
It is worth mentioning one more thing I literally go to in Spain – oranges. There are clouds here and you can usually get juice from freshly squeezed oranges (zumo de naranja naturale) everywhere in a café or breakfast. What I enjoy even more is that in most stores they have an orange press, where you just squeeze the lever and get the juice into a bottle of the selected size yourself. A liter of juice in a shop usually costs no more than 3 euros.
Now, finally, the Spanish food
Spain is large in size, so the cuisine varies from region to island and from island to island, but some dishes are typical of the whole of Spain.
To eat in Spain you often get a baguette, sometimes with white alioli garlic sauce or mashed tomato with olive oil.
Perhaps the most famous Spanish dish is paella, named after the pan, which is prepared by long cooking over low heat. The base is rice (the whole dish may resemble risotto, but does not mix in the preparation) and depending on the type of other ingredients – vegetables, chicken or seafood (or all together – paella mixta). The spice is especially important saffron, which gives paella a typical yellow color. Paella comes from the Valencia region and the original Paella Valenciana is with chicken and rabbit.
Paella is served directly in the pan in which it is prepared and prepared in a pan size appropriate to the number of people for which it is made. So if you order it in three, you also get it in one pan, just as if you ordered it in two, it will only be bigger.
In menus there is usually a note “para dos personas” (ie you can at least order it in two). Because I like to be on the paella all the time and I often travel alone, I managed to find out experimentally that the question of whether it could be done for one in more than half of the businesses will satisfy. And there are businesses where they serve plato de paella (paella plate), where they serve it from the pan in saucers, ie portions for one. But that doesn’t bother me that much anymore.
Much similar food is arroz al horno (rice in the oven), which does not differ from paella so much in the ingredients as in the method of preparation – as the name suggests, it is baked in the oven.
Tortilla de patata
Or simply tortilla. The national dish, omelet prepared in a pan of potatoes, eggs, onions, and olive oil. Half of Spain does not like onions, so two varieties are commonly seen, with and without onions. An exception is not tortilla with chorizo, I like it again. It is usually served cold, it can also be on a baguette like pintxos.
You can buy Tortilla commonly in stores, in different sizes, and eventually, heat it up later.
Tapas and pintxos
Tapas are small meals, pintxos baguettes with small meals (remotely reminiscent of our sandwiches, but there is no walnut). They are meals for many occasions, such as a small snack, an appetizer to share or an appetizer for a glass of wine. And it can be almost anything. Olives, ham, cheese, chorizo, deep-fried calamari, small steaks, minced meatballs, etc.
Or papas bravas or simply bravas. Sliced potatoes, deep-fried and served with red spicy tomato sauce and white garlic alioli. Such crap, but I like it.
Small croquettes, which can be with ice cream, cheese (croquetas de queso), chicken (croquetas de pollo), fish (croquetas de pescado) or ham (croquetas de jamón). I like ham and are also the most common. Normally you can buy only one croquet for tasting, sometimes they have in the ticket but also a whole plate of croquettes (you can tell by the price, croquet itself will not cost much more than 1 euro).
Deep-fried pastries filled with meat, cheese or vegetables are commonly available in almost all bakeries (rarely in restaurants). They are widespread throughout Central and South America.
Gambas al Ajillo
It’s more like an appetizer, but I normally eat it for lunch or dinner when I’m not very hungry. These are prawns roasted in oil (a lot of oil) along with sliced garlic. He brings it to the table in a small bowl, the oil usually hisses. Baguette bites this goodness.
Gazpacho and Salmorejo
Gazpacho is a world-famous cold creamy vegetable soup made of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and olive oil. It is prepared cold by mixing fresh vegetables and is especially popular because it is light and refreshing in the hot months.
Salmorejo is not so famous, but often more popular among the Spaniards. It is prepared similarly, but unlike Gazpacho, it adds a mixed baguette so that the soup is thicker. It is decorated with small diced egg and serrano ham.
I like Salmorejo. Both soups are again commonly available in bottle shops, by eating cold, no additional preparation is needed. It is with salmorejo that I often deal with a little hunger that I am not able to prepare something or am outside the kitchen. I just buy a bottle of soup and drink it straight from it.
And best of all, dessert! Churros is a deep fried pastry from fried dough. It is sold primarily in churreria, where it prepares in large spirals from which elongate churros are cut. They are served with hot chocolate in which they are dipped or coated in sugar.
Spaniards like strong coffee, the most common for them is café con leche (coffee with milk), cortado (espresso with a little milk, like macchiato), or café bombón (espresso on condensed milk). In Spain, on the other hand, there are not as usual “hipster cafes” as in the Czech Republic, offering well prepared flat white, filtered coffee, etc.
Red wine drink, fruit juice, sweetened and with pieces of fruit.
Tinto de verano
Sangría may be more widespread worldwide, but more often the Spanish drink Tinto de verano, which is similar to sangria in appearance and taste, but fresher. Red wine is watered by lemonade La Casera.
Regional Spanish cuisine
As I mentioned, Spain has more regions and each has its own specialties:
- Aragon – migas,
- Galicia – caldo Gallego, Vieira, tarta de Santiago,
- Catalonia – chanfaina, sofritom, crema Catalana,
- Balearic Islands – salsa Mahones (mayonnaise), sobrasada, tumbet,
- Canary Islands – Pucher Canaria, mojo sauce, gofio, polvito uruguayo,
- Asturias – fabada,
- Castilla – La Mancha – la Galiano,
- La Rioja – la menestra, stuffed peppers, Rioja,
- Valencia – paella de valenciana, fideua, agua de valenciana, horchata, farton,
- Murcia – vegetable pancakes,
- Navarra – menestre,
- Basque Country, Extremadura, Kantaber, Castile – Leon – I do not know, visit, find out.
Spanish eating habits
Spanish eating habits are quite different from those in the Czech Republic, except for “what we eat” at the time we “eat” and the significance of each meal. It is basically a bit of hell because when I am hungry for lunch or dinner, Spain has no time for lunch or dinner and the restaurants are still closed.
Breakfast – desayuno
Unlike our cuisine, the Spaniards have only a small breakfast, the most typical breakfast meal being pan con tomate – a slice of bread (roasted) with fresh crushed tomato, drizzled with olive oil, possibly supplemented with cheese or ham. Or sweet, with nutella, eventually. and fruit.
Snacks – almuerzo y merienda
Almuerzo (morning snack) and merienda (afternoon snack) are common, mostly mean cheeses, sandwich baguettes, toasts, salads. Usually, you can find them in the tables such as bocadillos, tostas, montaditos.
Lunch and Dinner – comida y price
The main meal of the day is lunch, which is later (about 14 – 16h) and lasts longer than with us. Dinner is already smaller, starting later (around 20 – 21h). Most restaurants in Spain open only for lunch and dinner, before about 13 and from 16 to 19.30 is closed. At that time, there is still the possibility to dine in cafes, bakeries or tapas bars.
You will also find tapas restaurants throughout Spain. They’re not top restaurants, and the food is rather average, but sometimes I go when I want to go “for sure” – which means to me a combo I choose, it won’t cost a fortune, it won’t be bad, and it will be fast.
Such enterprises are 100 Montaditos and Lizarrán. For example, in Lizarran, it works in such a way that every small meal (pintxos) has a short or long stick, which determines its price (all with short stands the same, all with long stands the same). Something is displayed right at the bar and you can put it straight on the saucer, with others going straight out of the kitchen with a full plate of one kind of food and you either want it or not. Simple and efficient. In addition, by choosing with your eyes, you also know that you really know what you are ordering.
Behavior in the restaurant and payment
In restaurants it works just like us, sometimes you can sit alone, elsewhere you wait for settling. In renowned restaurants or tapas bars, especially in big cities like Barcelona or Madrid, where they don’t even take reservations, it is common for you to come to check-in and tell you that the place will be needed in half an hour. You buy a glass of red at the bar, or even some small ready-made tapas and wait with the others. It has its own atmosphere.
As we are accustomed to the fact that the waiter comes to ask us several times during the evening, if you like it, if you want another beer or bring it, so it doesn’t work much in Spain. They’ll let you sit unnoticed for quite a while. So if you have the opportunity to catch the waiter with your eyes and ask for something else or for payment, do not hesitate!
Spaniards apparently prefer cash and of course, there are businesses where the card can not pay, but I try to pay the card everywhere and I can live with cash 100 euros per month, so there are no big problem cards. Likewise, paying small amounts in supermarkets – no problem with one water card.
The tip does not sniff too much in Spain, so nothing or a penny rounding is perfectly fine.
Finally, English is a matter of course in tourist areas, but not so much outside the tourist zones, and even the menu is not in Spanish. So it is good to learn a few basic words, at least for those foods you do not eat.