SHARE
COPY LINK
THE LOCAL LIST

FEATURE

Ten delicious Spanish dishes you must try before you die

If you thought Spanish food was all paella and pinchos then think again. Get ready as The Local Spain takes you on a mouth-watering tour of some of the country's lesser known but equally fabulous culinary highlights.

Ten delicious Spanish dishes you must try before you die
Photo: Edu1971/Depositphotos
 
Percebes 
 

Photo: Fotero/Flickr 
 
Barnacle collectors in Galicia brave the crashing waves of the Atlantic in winter months and risk their lives to pick these alien-looking crustaceans from the rocks. They’re hard to harvest, outrageously expensive (sometimes almost €300 ($374) per kilo), incredibly ugly… and unbelievably delicious.
 
Calçots
 

Photo: Joan Grifols/Flickr
 
Eating onions may not sound exotic but the Catalan calçotada feast is a unique food experience. The sweet onions are first grilled over flames, stripped of their charred outer layers and dipped into salbitxada, a rich variety of romesco sauce with nuts, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. You’ll need a plastic bib and a big appetite to get through this messy, unmissable meal.
 
 
 
Coques de llardons (Pork and sugar flatbreads) 
 

Photo: Slastic/Wikimedia  
Meat and sugar? This unlikely combination is a traditional favourite in Catalonia and once you try it you’ll be a believer too. Crispy flatbreads are topped with pine nuts and fried cubes of pork fat or crackling then sprinkled with sugar to make a high-calorie but mouth-watering combination.
 
Cochinillo
 

Photo: LWYang/Flickr   
The sight of dead baby pigs (from two – to six -weeks old) in market stalls or rotating on spits in Castille-Leon has turned more than one person to vegetarianism but the taste of the finished dish is a meaty treat of tender flesh and perfect, crispy skin flavoured with smoke from traditional wood-fired ovens.
 
Bacalao (Salt cod) 
 

Photo: Mover el Bigote/Flickr   
Salt cod is not, despite its name, salty. Preserving the fish in salt gives it a meat-like texture but the taste is (or should be) washed out in the preparation process. Basques are masters of salt-cod cooking: try the classic bacalao al pil pil, served with a garlic and olive oil emulsion.
 
 
Cocido (Stewed meat and vegetables) 
 

Photo: Salvatore G2/Flickr   
Different regions of Spain put their own stamp on this staple by varying the included meats. The Catalan escudella y carn d’olla adds chicken and a type of meatball to the standard pigs’ trotters, ears, belly pork, blood sausages and beef, often served over two courses. It sounds unappealing but there are few better belly-busting dishes to get you through a cold winter’s day.
 
Pimientos de Piquillo 
 

Photo: Juan Mejuto/Wikimedia   
The farmers of Navarre are perhaps the most green-fingered in Spain and the region is well-known for its excellent vegetable dishes. Sweet red piquillo peppers from Lodosa even have D.O (Denominación de Origen) status and are commonly served stuffed with a creamy salt-cod brandade.
 
Polbo á Feira 
 

Photo: Olonnais/Wikimedia  
Sometimes seen on menus in Spanish as polbo a feira, this Galician dish of sliced tentacles does not always appeal to the unwary. You’d be a sucker not to try it though: despite its rubbery reputation, well-cooked Galician octopus sprinkled with paprika and sea salt is tender and delicious.
 
Callos a la Madrileña (Madrid-style tripe) 

Photo: Javier Lastras/Flickr   
Many tourists retch at the thought of eating tripe but in-the-know locals happily tuck into this spicy delicacy, which combines the unctuous softness of the offal with paprika, tender beef cheek and chorizo.
 
Mojama
 

Photo: Santa Pola/Flickr   
Andalusians have continued the Arab tradition of curing fresh tuna in the hot, dry air of Spain’s southwest coast for generations. The result, mojama, may look like a dog chew from a pet shop but is actually wonderful when sliced very thinly and marinated in olive oil. Try some with almonds and a glass of manzanilla sherry.
 
By Steve Tallantyre 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

SHOW COMMENTS