If you're headed for Spain, your tastebuds are in for a treat! There are plenty of great dishes for you to enjoy, and what's even better is that they come at a range of prices to satisfy either the budget traveller or the high-rolling foodie. The thing is, different dishes are unique to different regions of the country—although the country might seem rather small on a map, there's a lot of regional diversity! That said, many of the staple dishes have been borrowed into other parts of the country now, so no matter where you go, you'll find some of the dishes on your list of things to try. Here are the five best staples of Spanish cuisine to keep your eye out for:
Tapas, tapas, tapas—I can't get enough of them! Tapas are finger foods that can range from fish like boquerones to pieces of cheese to croquetas to small sandwiches and more. They're the best way of getting a full meal for cheap—actually, many places will offer desert tapas as well. Depending on what region you're in, tapas will be handled a bit differently: in some regions, you'll get a complimentary tapa when you order a drink in a bar; in other places, you'll load your plate up with tapas and pay by toothpick afterwards. If you're unsure, see what the locals are doing and follow their lead or ask the bartender what's up.
This dish is usually made of rice mixed with seafood, although you can often find it mixed with chicken or vegetables as well. It's said to originate from the Valencia region of Spain, although many other regions offer their own take on the dish, including some like fideuà, which substitutes noodles for rice, or arròs negre, which is black in color rather than the typical saffron-caused yellow of paella. You'll find different paella recipes nearly every restaurant you try, so it's worth checking out a couple different places, especially if you're traveling to different regions.
Although gazpacho is a soup, it's traditionally served during the summer—because unlike most soups, this soup is served raw and cold! It's native to the Andalusia region of Spain and combines a base of tomatoes with cucumber, garlic, stale bread, and other vegetables and spices. You'll also likely see gazpacho manchego while you travel around Spain, but beware: this hot, meaty stew is generally nothing like gazpacho! You'll also find that depending on the area you're in, the gazpacho may be thicker or thinner, sometimes bordering on being a dip rather than a soup.
4. Tortilla Española
If you're thinking of tortillas like the thin, bread-like substance that goes around a burrito, think again! Tortilla Española—often just shortened to 'tortilla' or called a 'Spanish omelette'—is actually a thick (usually 1.5-2” in height), eggy affair similar to an omelette or a quiche. It's usually made up of a mixture of eggs, cheese, potatoes, and other vegetables and is sold hot or cold, anywhere from classy restaurants to supermarket aisles. Although paella is often considered to be Spain's national dish, tortilla is definitely a close runner-up.
Okay, okay, so this isn't a food but rather a drink—but you still should definitely try it while you're in Spain! You can get sangria in many places around the world, but nobody does it quite the same as the Spanish. Spanish wine is cheap and delicious to begin with, but with added fruits like oranges, lemons, apples, and berries, along with sugar, you'll be delighted at the way the flavors swirl in your mouth. Overheated on a long day? Grab a glass of sangria on the Plaça Reial and watch the world go by! What a way to make the most of your time.
From appetizers to deserts to drinks, Spain really knows how to make some excellent culinary choices. Although you might come to Spain for the history or the beaches, you definitely won't be complaining about the restaurants either. Pick a nice place to sit back, relax, and enjoy some excellent tapas while you soak in the local culture.