First off, let me tell you. I’m a foodie. I think I might actually have some kind of problem when it comes to food. I’m not joking. When I choose somewhere to travel, good and interesting food is top of my list of requirements (followed shortly thereafter by good climate and culture).
I’m the type of person who will start planning my lunch as I’m eating my breakfast. I daydream about the food I want to taste. Markets are not just a feast for my eyes, but literally for my stomach. I will be the sheepish person trying everything on offer and then trying to sneak another taste. Hence, I thought that writing a blog about ten Spanish plates you must try would be an absolute breeze… Until I tried to narrow it down to just 10!!
I found a sneaky way to get around this (haha!). There are a few individual ‘Spanish dishes’ I’ve included below that technically may be ‘categories’. I’m sorry. I tried. I really did. But there are simply too many things to list here. And the last thing I want is for you to miss out on some mouthwatering morsels simply because it didn’t fit into a list of 10!!
So, see below my list of 10 Spanish dishes that you simply must try.
Clearly, this is the number one dish to sample in Spain, even if just to say “I tried it!”. I mean, can you even say that you’ve gone Spain unless you’ve tasted paella? The classic, most famous dish representing Spain. One may even go so far as to say it is a national icon rather than just a ‘dish’. I was fortunate enough to try this famous plate in its birthplace, Valencia.
Cooked to perfection in a shallow. Wide pan over a fire in a driveway. Lovingly tended to for hours by two grizzled locals. I cannot even put into words how amazing this was. And not just eating it, but the whole experience of watching, waiting, waiting, waiting. And then finally sitting down to a communal table. And finally enjoying the explosion of colours and flavours. A dish that absolutely lends itself to being shared with friends. Not to be missed!
*Unfortunately, I have no photos of paella because honestly, I’m always just too excited to eat it and I forget!
Not sure whether this technically counts as a ‘dish’, but, well it has fruit in it, so I’m bunging it in here! Similarly to paella, you haven’t experienced Spain without sampling sangria at least once, and I would say that the enjoyment doesn’t just come from the sangria itself. It’s a combination of the hot summer’s day winding to a close, the ferocious heat dying down just a little, and the fresh crisp sweet sangria wetting your lips and maybe whetting your appetite for whatever food will come afterward! It’s the experience of sharing a jug with your friends and trying to pour everyone an evenly-sized glass without one person ending up with all the fruit or all the ice! Also, it’s seeing the sun shining through the jug (because, let’s face it, sangria is meant to be served in a jug!) and creating a warm red glow with jewels of fruit nestled in the bottom.
Nothing like a refreshing drink with some good friends. Ahhh perfection…
*No photos of sangria either…same reason as for paella!
I may be a little bit biased with this one – I know that jamón (serrano ham for you non-initiated) is almost as famous as paella and sangria, but somehow I feel like it’s not celebrated enough. Let me tell you, once you’ve sampled this sweet, salty, soft, chewy, melt-in-your mouth delicacy, any other ham is so far down the list it almost doesn’t count. You can savour jamón in top-notch restaurants, in cafés, bars, at home with friends, or out at a picnic. Put it in your quiches, wrap it around chicken, eat it out of the packet (guilty…), make an antipasto plate with some olives and cheeses, wrap it around breadsticks, eat some more out of the packet…the possibilities are absolutely endless and utterly divine.
I love this ham so much, I will eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and why not for a little snack in between! Not to mention, if you whip it out next time you have a dinner party, you’ll look super fancy…
Ahhhh croquetas…they have to be my dearest dearest friends (can you see why I say I have a bit of a food problem?!?!). These soft, salty, creamy morsels must have been created by the gods themselves. What divine genius discovered the exquisite process of mixing bechamel sauce with such delicacies as jamón (yes, please!), chicken, cod, spinach, mushrooms or other fillings, semi-freezing the mixture, coating in breadcrumbs and then deep frying. Oh my. I would almost say that you should prioritise croquetas over paella or sangria, only that would be incredibly un-Spanish of me. Do yourself a favour and gobble as many of these bad boys up as you can handle. You can thank me later.
Imagine this – it’s an incredibly hot summer’s day (standard fare in Spain), you’re hungry, but can’t really stomach the thought of anything hot and/or greasy, and the salads on offer aren’t appealing (sorry Spain, this is one area where I have been disappointingly underwhelmed…). You want something fresh, cool, filling, tasty, and healthy. What do you choose?! Gazpacho of course!
Interestingly enough, the first time I tried gazpacho was in London (go figure!) as, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Australia hasn’t really caught on to this wonderful meal. Gazpacho is a tantalising mix of cucumber, tomato, red pepper, garlic, onion, olive oil and herbs. Blended together into a cold soup that is the most sublime antidote for a just-too-hot day. Serve, generously, in a big bowl with some crusty bread. Heaven!
6. Pa amb oli
Pa amb oli is another one of these magical meals that feel right at home in a fine dining locale overlooking the million-dollar yachts, or haphazardly thrown together on a plastic table on the roof terrace with a couple of friends
enjoying a bottle of wine.
The Mallorquin’s response to Italy’s antipasto platters, this mouthwatering meal is a feast on a plate and no two offerings are the same. The only necessary element for pa amb oli is fresh bread spread with a crushed tomato salsa. Any other addition is fair game! You may be surprised with any number of cured Spanish meats (sobrasada, butifarra, chorizo, paté etc.); cheeses, and other yummy treats like pickled onions, olives, or caperberries. Perfect for grazing at while enjoying some good company.
Reading through my list of foods, I was about to change the order completely and throw this queen of Spanish food right up the top where she belongs, but then I remembered that this is my sneaky way of listing only TEN foods you must try, and secretly including a whole bunch of foods under one label (you’re welcome!).
Honestly though, if this wasn’t right at the top of your list and now you’re relying on my advice to tell you to try tapas, well maybe Spain isn’t the right country for you… Regardless, because I love tapas (and pretty much all food in case you couldn’t tell!), here are some suggestions for you:
– Patatas bravas
– Gambas pil-pil
– Croquetas (just in case you missed no. 4)
– Pimientos del padrón
I can’t be bothered detailing every single one of the above tapas because I’ll then want to go and eat them all right now, but suffice to say they are all tantalisingly delicious and also fairly common wherever you go (well, wherever I’ve been they tend to have them all at any rate!)
The perfect option for when you’re out with friends, enjoying some good company. In all honesty, though, you really can’t go wrong, especially if you find somewhere heaving with locals; the longer the queue to eat, the better!
8. Home-cooked meals
If you are ever given the opportunity to sample a home-cooked meal from Spain (or for that matter, any country), please run as fast as you can towards this person and
do not let them change
their mind. If you haven’t been offered this chance, feel free to ask random strangers on the street until someone eventually says yes. Last resort, search for cooking videos on YouTube, find an abuela (grandmother) and try your hand cooking something at home – even if it’s terrible you won’t have anything to compare it to so you won’t know! There are far too many incredible dishes to list here, but it’s the fact that it’s home cooked that really makes it special – not what type of dish it is! So whether you’re in an abuela’s house, chasing a random abuela down the street, or befriending YouTube abuela, do whatever you need to do in order to try some authentic home cooking in Spain. And remember, always enjoy with good company, over a glass of wine (or sangria).
Don’t skip no. 9! I know you want to, you’re doubting me – despite all of the above knockout suggestions I’ve almost lost you with number nine, but bear with me and listen for just a minute. There is nothing not to love about these little mouthfuls of heaven. Buttery, garlicky, delicious and addictive: once you start eating them you won’t be able to stop! One of my favourite memories is sitting in a dingy old bar in Sevilla, two days into my first Spanish trip, not knowing a word of Spanish and accidentally ordering a bowl of steaming caracoles. My boyfriend and I exchanged bemused glances, but then shrugged our shoulders and tucked in while watching a game of football on the telly. An unforgettable memory, and a great story for the family (and Facebook). Like pretty much every other Spanish dish, great for enjoying with good company.
This is the last item on my list, and – although I don’t have a sweet tooth – I thought it would be fitting to close off this list with a dessert, typical to my current hometown, Mallorca! Ok people, take a moment, close your eyes and imagine a croissant. Now mix that with a donut (no, I’m not going for cronut here), now add in a little bit of bread, and a sprinkling of a pastry snail – if you don’t know what that is, I’m sorry…
Basically, an ensaimada is a spiral of light, fluffy, sweet (but not too sweet) pastry, bready deliciousness. And that’s just the plain one! You wait until you taste one that’s filled with candied pumpkin (oh yum), chocolate (dear god!), or, burnt cream – kind of like a crème brulee (holy mother of all that is edible, please save me!). I’m not going to mention the fact that these are full of sugar, calories, and to make them extra special, pork fat because these would be unnecessary distracting details that do nothing but take away pleasure!
And so my friends, that, in short – or not so short – is my summary of the Spanish plates you simply MUST try when in Spain. Oh, and if you find anything special that I’ve missed, leave a comment for me!
By Jessica.T., 2018/19