Food should always a centric part of the trips you take. It expands your connection with the culture and gives you a true sense of place, more so than any other activity, in my opinion. Spain has an incredibly rich food culture. It’s a fun place to search around for new and exciting foods to try, because food is such a big part of the Spanish culture.
Although there is a common thread that runs through the cuisine of Spain, each region has its own distinct and incredible food specialties, , like Paella that originates in Valencia. You can find many of the dishes described below throughout Spain, but some of them you can only find one specific area, like Catalunya or Galicia. You may also encounter various renditions of a dish that are done one way in northern Spain, and another in southern Spain. But that’s all part of the fun of discovering Spanish food.
Before your trip, take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the foods you must eat in Spain, so you know what to look for and where to find it.
Many of these foods can be found on a typical tapas or pinchos crawl, so we think that’s one of the first things you should do when you arrive. The main cities all have many different food tours and tapas crawls you can go on. A food tour will familiarize you very quickly with the foods of the area and entice you to come back for more.
16 Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Spain
A well-known and loved Spanish rice dish, Paella is a comfort food, often cooked in giant batches on large, round paella plates (see above), and piled high with meat and seafood. While you can enjoy a hearty, satisfying plate of paella just about anywhere in Spain these days, the dish was created in Valencia, where they only use rabbit meat and never seafood. If you’re making a stop in Valencia, make sure this dish is on your list. You’ll find different variations throughout Spain, like the Arroz Marinero Gallego from Galicia, that uses only mussels and no meat.
2. Patatas Bravas
This is what happens when crispy potatoes meets spicy tomato paprika sauce and aioli – it’s a seriously delicious combination. This dish is commonly served as an appetizer, or tapas, in bars and restaurants. The potatoes are fried and extremely fluffy inside. They are piled high on a plate, then topped with a secret blend of tomato sauce, paprika, garlic, chili powder, and sugar. There’s usually a white aioli-type sauce on it too. As you can imagine, the sauces vary grately, depending on the chef, but it almost doesn’t matter, they’re always delicious.
When you’re in Logroño, Spain, for a pinchos crawl be sure to stop by Bar Jubera, where we found the delicious-looking dish above. We’ve had it a few times and it never disappoints – it’s truly one of the best patatas bravas you’ll ever eat.
3. Lechazo Asada
Served in the asadores of Arande de Duero, lechazo asado is roast baby lamb with crackling skin and tender meat. It is considered a true specialty of this area, two hours north of Madrid, and even has IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) status because of the unique way the lamb is raised only on milk, which is said to make the meat especially tender and delicious. (Also see our post about wine tasting in Ribera del Duero).
You can, of course, also find this dish in many other parts of Spain. We had the lovely dish above in a restaurant in Haro, Spain.
4. Tortilla Espanola
Tortilla Española, or Spanish tortilla, is one of the most popular dishes in Spain. It’s traditionally made with just eggs and potatoes, but sometimes onions are added, and Chorizo, peppers, ham, etc. It’s the perfect appetizer and if you find a really good one, it’s REALLY good. The potatoes are incredibly tender and melt in your mouth, and the egg is still a bit runny in the middle. If you’re in San Sebastian, I highly recommend queuing in the morning for a ticket that will get your one slice of the famous tortilla made at Bar Nestor. Just keep in mind that it bears no resemblance to a Mexican tortilla.
5. Spanish Chorizo
Spanish chorizo is a fermented, cured pork sausage that is seasoned with spices including Spanish smoked paprika that gives it the spicy and sweet flavor. It originated in the Iberian peninsula, but now can be found through Spain. It’s often eaten by itself or with cheese and bread, but is included in many other dishes, some of which are featured on this list. I love to eat it on its own as it is so full of flavor. Again, Spanish Chorizo bears no resemblance to the Mexican variety, which is often sold raw and can be crumbled.
6. Jamón Ibérico
Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian ham, is a type of cured ham that is produced in Spain. According to Spain’s Denominación de Origen rules on food products, Jamón Ibérico must be made from black Iberian pigs, or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 75% Ibérico. Within the classification, there are differing levels of quality that can be purchased, the highest being Jamón Ibérico de Belotta.
Served for breakfast or as a snack or dessert, Churros are very popular in Spain and can be found in many cafes and churrerías, or even from street vendors. They are cylindrical ropes of fried dough, rolled in cinnamon and sugar and often served with a cup of warm chocolate for dipping. It’s hard to resist the crunchy-sweet doughy goodness.
In Spain, croquettes are traditionally a crunchy and delicious fried ball of bechamel sauce, mixed with other ingredients like Jamón or fish and sometimes vegetables, ground meat or seafood. Many bars and restaurants serve them as tapas and they may add their own unique ingredients to keep it interesting.
9. Grilled Octopus (Pulpo)
Galicia’s signature dish, Pulpo (Grilled Octopus) is a delicious dish often flavored simply with paprika and olive oil. It’s commonly known as Polbo a Feira or Pulpo a la Gallega (in Spanish), and is served in most tapas bars or at seafood restaurants, where it’s served on rough wooden plates. The octopus is so tender that it closely resembles succulent pieces of lobster. Bonus: here’s a recipe for Pulpo a la Gallega so you can make it at home!
10. Manchego Cheese
Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain. It technically must age between 60 days and 2 years to be considered Manchego. It’s a little bit earthy, sweet and nutty with a semi-soft texture. You’ll often find it served as a starter or tapas alongside Chorizo.
11. Gambas Ajillo
Gambas al Ajillo is garlic shrimp. While it’s extremely popular in the south of Spain, it is one of the most popular tapas dishes. The main ingredients, of course, are shrimp, garlic and olive oil, and most recipes include dry sherry, sweet Spanish paprika, fresh lemon juice and parsley. It’s irresistibly good.
12. Empanadas Gallega
If you’ve had Argentinian empanadas, you might be surprised by the Galician version. Instead of a small hand-held pie, empanadas gallega is a one full pie that is cut into pieces. The filling is typically made up of meat or fish (or even mussels), with peppers, onions and paprika. The crust is incredibly crispy and crunchy. It’s the perfect snack, which is why it’s often served as an appetizer.
In Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia and Aragón there is a dish called Escalivada that is made up of smoky grilled vegetables, like eggplant, red bell peppers and onions. The grilled vegetables are laid out flat on the plate and covered with olive oil and salt. They are perfect all by themselves, but are usually served as a side dish.
14. Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago is a typical cake dessert in Galicia. It’s made with almond flour, eggs and sugar. The dense, but moist, cake is then sprinkled with powdered sugar and served for dessert with coffee. It’s sweet, but not overwhelming. The almond gives a lovely aroma and taste to the cake.
15. Pementos de Padrón
If you’ve been eating in Spain for a while, you already know that Spaniards don’t really like spicy food. It’s a bit strange to see them always snacking on these little blistered peppers from Padrón, a municipality in the province of A Coruña in Galicia. However, Padrón peppers are not typically spicy – only about 15% are spicy. The Galicians have a saying “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” , which translates as “Padrón peppers, some are hot, some are not”. The peppers are so tasty that they just take their chances!
We’d be remiss not to mention at least one more dessert. One of our favorites is Crema Catalana. It resembles a creme brulee, but this version is flavored with orange and cinnamon. The crema is very light and only slightly sweet and the top crust is a very thin layer of carmelized sugar, which adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the dessert without overwhelming it.
If you are able to find and try each of these items while in Spain, you’ll have a great grasp on the cuisine and the main staples of the Spanish diet. Of course, there are hundreds of other things that will tempt you, as well. I could spend a whole year in cities like San Sebastian and never tire of the delicious pintxos there. I highly recommend a pinchos crawl in Northern Spain. And in Southern Spain, find out where to eat tapas in Seville. (Just make sure you learn the difference between pintxos, pinchos and tapas before you go!)
If I missed your favorite one, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it on!
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.