Food to try when you’re in Spain
Spanish cuisine is so rich and diverse, but sometimes it can be overwhelming trying to decide what to order, so here are a few dishes I recommend
Here is a small handful of different dishes you should definitely try when you’re travelling in and around Spain.
This is probably one of the most famous food-related words you’ll hear in Spain, but do you know what “tapas” actually means?
Tapas is really just a very small amount of something. You can basically order anything in “tapas” form, and it will just be a small amount of it on a little plate. The word “tapas” actually comes from the word “tapar”, which means “to cover up”.
There are lots of stories that give possible explanations as to where the idea of serving tapas came from, but one of my favourites is this:
The King of Spain was visiting a restaurant and there were flies everywhere. The restaurant owner wanted to show off his dishes but didn’t want the flies to ruin everything. So, to stop the flies, he placed covers on top of everything and put a small plate on top of the cover with a small sample of the dish underneath. The King liked eating small amounts of every dish the restaurant had to offer, and so the idea of tapas was born. Nowadays, the Spaniards tend to always eat a small plate of something with their drinks when they go out.
Dinner in Spain is served very late, and most people go out beforehand and they like to go to different bars trying the different tapas dishes available. If somebody asks you if you would like to “ir de tapas”, it means going out for a drink and some tapas in different bars.
So, tapas is basically any dish just served in tiny portions. Here are a few of my favourite tapas dishes:
Croquetas are little breaded and fried fritters that can contain any number of ingredients. My favourites are “croquetas de jamón” (ham croquettes). You usually get three of four on an average tapas plate, and they sometimes come with a little bowl of “alioli” (garlic mayonnaise) to dip them into.
You might see “tortilla” and be thinking of the Mexican wraps, but in Spain, the word “tortilla” actually means “omelette”.
A Spanish “tortilla”, however, is very different to a normal omelette. For starters, it contains potato! It is very delicious, though. Normally, if you order this as a tapas, you get one thick slice with a piece of bread.
These are cubes of potato in a spicy tomato sauce:
You normally get a little cocktail stick (un palillo) to eat them with, and sometimes they have bits of chorizo in there, too.
This isn’t the most exciting of tapas dishes, but I love it. It’s a few slices of manchego cheese with a bit of olive oil on top:
Finally, a tapas that I’m not particularly fond of, but I know a lot of people are. The Spanish word for “olives” is “aceitunas” and if you order it as a tapas, you’ll get a bowl of olives:
Tapas vs raciones vs pinchos
Sometimes, you will see signs that offer “tapas” and also signs that offer “raciones”. Well, all “raciones” are, are larger versions of “tapas”. If you order a tapas that you particularly liked, then you could ask the waiter for the same dish as a “ración”. You will get a larger plate with more of the delicious dish you enjoyed.
You might also see the word “pincho” in tapas bars (sometimes, it’s spelled “pintxo”). All a pincho is, is a tapas dish with a toothpick. Sometimes, you will see one bar call it “pincho” and another bar call the same thing “tapas”. It just means they shove a cocktail stick in it to make it easier to eat. Very often, a pincho is also served on a slice of bread.
These are scrumptious! When I was at university in Spain, I used to stop off at a little bakery every morning and order an empanada. It sort of looks like a cornish pasty, but it can be filled with all sorts of things.
I think I tried every variety they offered in my local bakery, including ham, cheese, tuna, pork and chicken. I think you can eat them hot or cold, although mine never lasted long enough for me to try them cold; they were too tasty!
Now, this is another common Spanish delicacy. Chorizo is a spicy cured sausage, and it’s usually put into other dishes. However, I like ordering chorizo as a tapas dish with some bread. It can sometimes be a little spicy, but it’s really tasty, especially if it has been fried a little bit.
This word fills me with dread. I’m including it, so you can try it, but I don’t think I’ve met anybody who isn’t Spanish who actually likes it.
When I was living in Spain, I was offered some morcilla to try. It had been specially prepared for me, so after I swallowed the first mouthful, I smiled and nodded and politely said, “Mmmm me gusta mucho” (Mmmm, I like it a lot). Despite my outer expression showing delight, inside I was throwing up and I wanted to eat a huge bowl of chocolate ice-cream to get rid of the disgusting taste lingering around my teeth.
This is morcilla:
It looks a lot like black pudding, but it is much, much, much worse. It has an incredibly powerful taste and it is made from pig’s blood.
Now, the morcilla that I tried has scarred me for life, although I have heard that there are many different varieties and the taste can vary from place to place. So, maybe it’s worth giving it a try, but before you do, just make sure you have some mints in your pocket in case you need to get rid of the taste. Or maybe a large bottle of mouthwash.
You could play it safe and order it as a tapas dish. That way, you’ll only get a small amount on some bread:
Finally, “paella”. This is a rice dish that contains saffron, and you often find it in many different varieties. Whilst you might consider “paella” to be Spain’s national dish, the Spanish actually consider it more of a Valencian dish.
You can order the following paellas in most places:
paella de verduras — vegetable paella
paella de mariscos — seafood paella
paella de pollo — chicken paella
paella mixta — mixed paella (seafood, chorizo and chicken)
paella valenciana — Valencian paella (similar to the “mixta” but with some extras)
This article is just scratching the surface of Spanish cuisine, but it’ll get you going.