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Spanish Cuisine – Everything You Need to Know

Food & Recipes

Spain is known for a number of things including its art, culture, history and amazing beaches.  But what Spain is most well-known for around the globe is its unique cuisine.  Spanish cuisine has influenced just about every country in Latin America, with each putting its own unique stamp on the food.  But eating actual Spanish food from Spain is an amazing and singular experience in and of itself.

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The biggest thing you’ll notice about Spanish cuisine is that there is a huge emphasis on freshness, regional dishes and most of all, seafood and produce.  These elements combine to make up one of the tastiest cuisines out of any country in the world, let alone Europe.

Here’s everything you need to know about Spanish cuisine in order to enjoy it to the fullest extent on your next trip to Spain.

Where to Eat in Spain

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When traveling to Spain, try to stay away from the places are trying to attract tourists.  This means stay away from the places that boast about speaking English or look like places from home.  Go to the restaurants and spots that the locals frequent—you’ll get more authentic food that is tastier and cheaper.  Look for roadside restaurants and odd places that might not seem like the biggest draw in town—they usually are.

You can typically find some type of English translation menus, but if not, don’t worry. We’ll tell you how to order and what to order in the next sections.  But for now, just concentrate on getting to the places that people recommend.  Learn a few phrases in Spanish or ask around the hostel or hotel you’re staying at.  Keep in mind that you should always check through tourist guidebooks, but be warned that you’ll need to make reservations at some of these places.  Don’t just expect to walk into Casa Poco in Madrid and eat their delicious steak and Iberica ham!

How to Order Food in Spain

If you aren’t in tourist areas like Madrid or Barcelona, chances are you’re not going to find many waiters that speak English—at least not ones worth eating at for authentic Spanish fare!  It’s best to get to know some dishes that you want to try beforehand, or learn some of the basic words for ingredients in dishes so you can at least order something you’d like.

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Go through the basics such as “carne” meaning meat, “pescados” meaning fish, “ensaladas” meaning salads, “sopas” meaning soups, “pollo” meaning chicken and “mariscos” meaning seafood.  This will help you order the right type of food for your taste.  Simply point to some dishes.  Of course, you can just also look at what other people are eating and point to that, and remember, it’s always good to be adventurous!

What to Expect in Spanish Restaurants

Restaurants in Spain are similar to ones in the United States.  You’ll typically wait for the host or hostess to seat you, have a server bring over your menus, be served bread and drinks first and then come back for your order.  Most breads will be served with a plate of olive oil, but the bread will go right on your tabletop.  Don’t be alarmed, this is normal.

After you order and eat, you’ll ask for your bill (say, “La cuenta, por favor”), pay it and leave.  Tipping isn’t generally required, but is always appreciated.  In fact, you’ll generally only see tourists tip, especially since the only signs about tipping are in English! Natives don’t tip and aren’t expected to.  If they do, it’s because they are naturally generous.

What Foods to Order in Spain

Now that you know what to expect and where to look for food, here’s what you should try out!

  • Paella.  This is a rice dish that is cooked with some type of protein, generally chicken, seafood, rabbit or pork.  The paella is seasoned with saffron and is very popular in eastern Spain. Typically, you order paella for two and it comes in the piping hot pan it was just cooked in so be careful.  Also, paella should only be eaten fresh, never pre-made. 

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  • Seafood.  Go for squid, fish and shellfish dishes.  Spain is a huge maritime country so fishing is one of the main occupations for most regular people.  If you’re in southern Spain, be sure to try the calamari, but as a rule, you’d have to look hard to find bad seafood in Spain.
  • Eastern Spain.  Try the Suquet, a delicious tomato stew is made with potatoes, shellfish, fish, wine and saffron. 

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  • Madrid and Central Spain.  Get anything with wild game, partridge, wild boar or pheasant.
  • Southern Spain.  Try Fritura de Pescado, a dish made with squid and fish that is garneshed with lemon wedges.  Expect a lot of dishes made with lemons, olives and oranges here on the Costa del Sol.

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