If, when you hear “Spanish food,” you immediately picture paella and sangria, you wouldn’t be the only one. But there’s so much more to it than both of the above (neither of which locals actually eat or drink frequently, to be honest).
From the hearty meat-based fare of the inland regions to the light and fresh seafood on the coast, Spain’s culinary landscape is rich and diverse. But one thing’s for sure: no matter where you find yourself in the country, you’re sure to find excellent food.
Need help narrowing it down? Here are 10 typical foods from all over Spain that you won’t want to miss.
Madrid’s namesake stew is not for the faint of heart. This multi-course meal extravaganza consists of a light noodle soup to start things off, then escalates into a feast fit for a king complete with chickpeas, vegetables, and a whole lot of pork. By the time you devour it all, you’ll be more than ready to take part in another vital part of Spanish culture: the siesta.
Try it at: La Bola is a family-run gem in the heart of Madrid that hasn’t changed its cocido recipe—or the traditional way of preparing it—since 1870.
Everyone has heard of gazpacho, but few outside of Spain are familiar with its heartier cousin. Salmorejo is a chilled, tomato-based purée hailing from Córdoba in southern Spain, and its thicker texture (thanks to the addition of bread) makes it an arguably better choice for a meal than the more famous gazpacho.
Try it at: Locals love the salmorejo at Gran Bar in Córdoba, where you can enjoy it out on a lively terrace. Not too far away, La Salmoreteca at gastro-market Mercado Victoria puts creative spins on the classic (avocado salmorejo, anyone?).
Rice (But Not Necessarily Paella!)
There’s so much more to Spanish rice dishes than just paella. The fertile Mediterranean-facing lands on the eastern coast of the country are prime for growing rice, and there’s no shortage of ways in which it can be used. From the brothy, almost soup-like arroz caldoso to the black rice which gets its unique color from cuttlefish or squid ink, there’s always a new and surprising rice dish to try.
Try it at: Valencia’s Casa Carmela has won the hearts of locals and visitors alike for their iconic rice dishes—including what many consider to be one of the best authentic paellas in Spain.
You’ve heard of tapas—now meet the Basque version. Pintxos are small bites that pack a big punch and can be anything from succulent pork cheek to freshly fished gourmet anchovies. Every tavern in the Basque Country has its own specialty pintxo, so join the locals in a bar hop to try the best of the best.
Try them at: Gandarias in San Sebastian is a fabulous traditional Basque bar and restaurant whose homemade pintxos come together with top-quality ingredients. For something more on the modern side, A Fuego Negro is the best experimental pintxos bar in town.
Crispy fried potatoes, garlicky aioli, and a spicy sauce for an exciting kick—what’s not to love? Patatas bravas are a tapas bar staple throughout Spain, offering a spice factor that’s lacking in many other Spanish dishes.
Try them at: Barcelona’s Bodega La Palma serves up the best bravas in town, with an excellent selection of local wines to boot.
Tortilla de Patatas
Spain doesn’t have an official national dish, but if it did, it would be the humble potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. Don’t let the name fool you—this particular tortilla has nothing to do with Mexican food. Instead, it’s a simple staple of Spanish cuisine consisting of eggs, potatoes, sometimes onion, and extra virgin olive oil.
Despite its inland location, Seville is home to some of the best fried fish (pescaíto frito, in the local dialect) in Spain. Brought to Seville’s freidurías fresh from the coast every day and fried to crispy perfection, it pairs perfectly with a dry sherry such as manzanilla or fine.
Try it at: Freiduía La Isla fries up Seville’s best pescaíto frito. Try the cazón en adobo, which is marinated in a delectable mixture of spices before frying.
Keeping with the seafood theme (because let’s face it: Spain has a lot of it), pulpo, or octopus, is a staple in Spain’s northwesternmost region of Galicia. There are dozens of ways to prepare it, but the most classic form is pulpo a feira—or pulpo a la gallega, “Galician-style octopus,” as it’s known in other parts of Spain—where the octopus is boiled and topped with olive oil and spicy paprika.
Central Spain’s meaty dishes contrast dramatically with the lighter seafood options in coastal areas. In the sprawling region of Castilla y León, it’s all about cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig. With crispy skin and unbelievably tender meat, this traditional dish is perfectly filling and cozy.
Try it at: Restaurante José María in Segovia is considered to be the home of Spain’s best cochinillo asado. Can’t make it out there? Madrid’s Botin (also the oldest restaurant in the world!) does a fantastic version as well.
Churros and Chocolate
We had to round out this list with an option for something sweet, but beware: churros and chocolate are not a dessert food in Spain! (And if you do see them on the dessert menu, run.) Instead, you’ll find locals enjoying them as a sweet breakfast, or during the mid-afternoon snack time known as merienda.
Try them at: Madrid’s Chocolat and Seville’s Bar El Comercio both make their churros and chocolate from scratch (which unfortunately is less common than you’d think!). The care that goes into the process is evident in each soul-warming bite.