Map of Spain’s regions. Image: Depositphotos
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr
Each region of Spain has some sort of version of hearty winter stew, whether it’s a cocido Madrileño, a caparrones in La Rioja or caldereta manchega.
But our favourite lunch after a brisk walk on a cold day has to be Asturian Fabada, a traditional and hearty white bean stew with chunks of fatty meat and sausage. Particularly popular during the colder months, it is traditionally eaten with crusty bread and a glass of Asturian cider.
Galicia: Pimientos de Padron
With so much to choose from in Galicia from the traditional boiled octupus to the frankly downright bizarre percebes to the powdery almond tarta de Santiago, it’s hard to narrow it down to one dish.
But we have.
The small peppers that are quite often the only green you find in a meal, are grown in the valley surrounding the town of Pádron in Spain’s rainy northwestern region. Deep fried in olive oil and coated in seasalt. these vibrant green peppers are generally sweet and mild, but beware because every now and again you’ll come across a hot one.
You can’t really talk about cuisine in the eastern region of Valencia without thinking about paella, which has become one of Spain’s most famous dishes. A saffron rice dish traditionally made with whatever proteins available (snails, rabbit, chicken, mussels) its name refers to the wide shallow pan that it is prepared in, usually outside, at lunchtime with a big group of family or friends.
The slightly burnt rice around the edges is called socarrat and is considered by aficionados to be the best part.
Don’t EVER add chorizo (unless, like Jamie Oliver, you want to risk a diplomatic incident).
Photo: Gerard Romans Camps / Flickr
Calçots are a seasonal vegetable similar to leeks or spring onions grown in the area surrounding Barcelona and Tarragona. They are normally available from January until April and by far the best way to try them is cooked on a barbecue accompanied by Romesco sauce, local wine and a group of friends. Eating them is a messy experience
Photo: Brent Miller/ Flickr
Another difficult choice here. Should it be those delicious light shrimp fritters that you find in bars in Cadiz? Or a strong flavoured Rabo de Toro from a bull just killed in the ring?
The Local has chosen instead the simple salmorejo, a thick version of gazpacho that is the prefect refreshing dish during Andalusia’s stifling summers. Originally made famous by Cordoba, you’ll find it served across Andalusia during the heat of the summer garnished with grated boiled egg and crumbs of iberian ham .
Basque Country: Marmitako
Nuria Farregut/ Flickr
We could just say pintxos and leave it at that but the Basque version of tapas encompasses so many wonderful dishes that it really would be cheating. Instead we have narrowed it down to the classic Basque dish of Marmitako.
A hearty tuna and potato stew is ubiquitous across the Basque Country from Bilbao to San Sebastian. As well as the obligatory ingredients of chunks of potatoes and pieces of tuna, it includes onions, green and red peppers, choicero (sun-dried peppers), tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
If your only experience of an anchovy was a a shriveled salty dried strip on top of a pizza then you are in for a treat in Spain.
Here, the best anchoas come from Santoña on the Atlantic coast in Cantabria and are often sold marinated in extra virgin olive oil and conserved in tins.
The best anchovies are firm and flexible to the touch, with a colour ranging from reddish brown to light caramel, and an aroma and flavour in which there is a perfect balance of oil, salt and fish.
The vast central northern region of Castile-Leon is famous for its slow roasted piglet (asado cochinillo) and roasted sucking lamb (cordero lechal) but as it is so hard to choose between the two, we have instead opted for morcilla as the must-try dish for the purpose of this list. (although seriously, don’t miss either the roast piglet or the roast lamb).
Morcilla is a blood sausage (black pudding) and appears in all sorts of dishes; spread on a piece of toast as a tapa or a few slices served to accompany a beer, you will also see it in all manner of stews across Spain.
Choose between Morcilla de Burgos, which is chunky texture with a milder flavour or the Morcilla de Leon which has a stronger flavour and a smoother consistency.
Castilla-La Mancha: Pisto
You probably thought we were going to choose Manchego cheese, but as you are pretty unlikely to avoid it we thought it important to point you in the direction of pisto.
This is a tasty traditional vegetable dish not dissimilar to the more internationally famous ratatouille which is served either cold as a starter or a tapa or warn as a side dish to accompany meat.
It is believed that pisto was introduced to Spain by the Moors, who used to call it alboronia.
And guess what? It’s the perfect accompaniment to a slice of Manchego cheese.
Extremadura: Jamon Iberico
At the risk of annoying other Spanish ham producing areas – Jabugo (Huelva), Guijuelo (Salamanca) and Los Pedroches (Córdoba) – we are naming Jamon Iberico as the one dish you can’t leave Extremadura without trying.
Arguably the best of this most noble of Spanish cured meats is from Iberian pigs raised on sweet nutty acorns while running free in the dehesas of Extremadura.
The meat is then salted and air-dried for at least 36 months to become the perfect accompaniment to a chilled dry sherry, crisp white or full bodied red.
Navarra: White asparagus
The fertile lands of Navarra provide some of the best produce in Spain so it is with difficulty that we single out just one.
White asparagus is in fact exactly the same vegetable as green asparagus but the farmers in Navarra cover it with earth and keep it on the dark once it starts to shoot so that it never develops into the grassier tasting green variety.
Harvested in spring before being peeled and preserved in jars, you’ll often find one or two draped across a house salad or an entire plate of the soft white spears served with mayonnaise.
Canary Islands: Papas arrugadas
Photo: Martín Alvarez Espinar
Of course you will find exceptional fish caught and served up fresh in restaurants across the Atlantic archipelago but it is the humble potato that we have chosen to showcase.
Small, wrinkled and of underwhelming appearance, these potatoes are actually a real delight when doused in sea salt and paired with sumptuous mojo verde and rojo sauces. A simple pairing of incredible taste and quality.
Balearic Islands: Ensaimada
At last we come to something sweet. In the Balearic Islands you won’t want to miss out on the snail shaped light and fluffy bun called an ensaimada.
In Mallorca it is served instead of croissant and the sweet fluffliness is highly addictive. You will find them in small sizes suitable just for one person and huge sharing versions the size of a dinner plate.
it is these deligts that you will encased in cardboard boxes and squeezed into overhead lockers on flights from the islands.
Madrid: Bocadillo de Calamares
What could possibly be more Madrileño than the Calamari Sandwich?
You’ll find food stands devoted to selling them during the annual San Isidro street festival but they’re also sold year round in dedicated establishments around Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.
Soft sliced squid coated in fluffy batter and deep fried before being loaded into a hunk of crusty bread, this culinary delight is best washed down with cold caña of Mahou.
This dish of breadcrumbs fried in olive oil with garlic, chunks of sausages and peppers is the most traditional of shepherding fare. Found in rural mountain areas across Spain, it is taken to another level in Aragon where people add grapes and the delicious succulent local sausage known as longaniza.
It is often served with a fried egg on top.
La Rioja: Torrijas
Photo: Vincenzo Caico / Flickr
This is a sweet Spanish version of French toast which is popularly served across Spain at Easter. But it appears on menus all year round in the region of La Rioja where it is known as Torrijas a la Riojana (Spanish-style French toast)
Made with slices of stale bread soaked in milk and flavoured with cinnamon or vanilla. Then bathed in beaten egg, fried in oil and sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and powdered cinnamon and sometimes accompanied by a sauce such as custard, or a rich ice cream. It is a wonderful dessert for those with a sweet tooth.
Photo: Carmen Lopez/ Flickr
These fritters are so quintessentially Murcian that you’ll hardly ever find them outside the region. Paparajote are battered and fried lemon leaves which are traditionally served during spring festivals.
This dessert consists of lemon leaves coated in a light doughy batter and deep fried before being dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Thought to date from the Moorish period in the Middle Ages, eating them properly involves a certain amount of skill as the outer case is consumed while leaving behind the inedible leaf bitter flavour within.
We hope you have enjoyed this culinary tour around Spain. Do comment below if you have discovered a regional dish that mustn’t be missed on your travels across Spain.