Spanish cuisine

Spanish cuisine
Jamón Ibérico, BEHER "Belota Oro", was elected as "Best ham in the world" in IFFA Delicat 2007 and 2010.

Spanish cuisine consists of a variety of dishes, which stem from differences in geography, culture and climate. It is heavily influenced by seafood available from the waters that surround the country, and reflects the country's deep maritime roots. Spain's extensive history with many cultural influences has led to an array of unique cuisines with literally thousands of recipes and flavors. It is also renowned for its health benefits and fresh ingredients, as Mediterranean diet.



The first introduction of a product to ancient Iberia was that of wheat. Wheat was thought to be brought by Iberians from the south of the peninsula[citation needed]. It was perhaps brought from Aquitaine in the north of the peninsula, due to the difficulty of transporting from the south. In time, the wheat of Iberia came to be considered to be the best in the Roman Empire, and became one of the main commodities of foreign trade. The Romans' early approval of the wheat led to the spread of wheat from Spain to Greece and Egypt and easterly parts of Russia.

There were two major kinds of diet in the peninsula. One was found in the northwest part of the peninsula, with more animal fats that correspond to the husbandry of the north. The other could be considered the precursor of the Mediterranean diet and was found in the southerly parts of the peninsula.

Roman cuisine

As early as Roman times, with the exception of products later imported from the Americas, many modern foods[clarification needed] were consumed, although mostly by the aristocracy, not the middle class. Cooking references from that era discuss the eating habits in Rome, where foods from all of the Empire's provinces were brought. Thousands of amphorae of olive oil were sent to Rome from Spain.[citation needed] Nonetheless, and especially in the Celtic areas, consumption of animal products (from lamb, beef, etc.) was more common than consumption of vegetables.

Already in that era, cabbage was well known and appreciated, and considered a panacea for various aliments. Other popular vegetables of that time were thistles (such as artichokes) and onions.

In Roman Spain the hams of Pomeipolis (Pamplona) had great prestige. The export of pork products became the basis of a strong local economy.

It is almost certain that lentils were already consumed in Roman Spain, because they formed a staple food for the army and because they are easy to preserve and transport. Fava beans were known from antiquity and were considered sacred by the Romans. In the Saturnalia, the later December festival in honor of Saturn, fava beans were used to choose the king of the festival. This custom is believed to be the source of the present day custom of hiding an object in the roscón de reyes (similar to the sixpence traditional in a Christmas pudding); until quite recently, that object was a piece of garbage. Garbanzos were also popular, primarily among the poorer classes.

Mushrooms were common and popular in the northern part of the country.

They mastered the science of grafting. According to Pliny, Tibur saw a tree that produced a distinct fruit on each of its branches: nuts, apples, pomegranates, cherries, pears, but he added that they dried out quickly.

Viticulture already was known and practiced by the Romans, but it seemed as well the fact that it was the Greeks who extended the vine across the Mediterranean region. This includes those wines that were most popular in the Empire.

In this era the wealthy typically ate while lying on a couch (a custom acquired from the Greeks) and using their hands, because forks were not used for eating. Tablecloths were introduced in the 1st century. They came to use two plates, one flat (platina or patella) and the other deep (catinus), which they held with the left hand. That hand could not be used for many other things while eating, given that they ate with their left arms while reclining in bed, so that only the right hand was free. They used spoons, which, like today, had different sizes, depending on what they were used for. The first spoons were made from clam shells (hence, the name cuchara), with silver handles.

The mode of flavoring and cooking was quite distinct from what is found in modern times.

Typical dishes

Gastronomía manchega, Pedro Muñoz, Spain

Among the multitude of recipes that make up the varied cuisines of Spain, a few can be considered common to all or almost all of Spain's regions, even though some of them have an origin known and associated with specific places. Examples include most importantly potato omelette ("tortilla de patata", "tortilla española" or just "tortilla"), paella, various stews, migas, sausages (such as embutidos, chorizo, and morcilla), jamón serrano, and cheeses.

Iberian pork embutidos

There are also many dishes based on beans (chickpeas, lentils, green beans); soups, with many regional variations; and bread, that has numerous forms, with distinct varieties in each region. The regional variations are less pronounced in Spanish desserts and cakes: flan, custard, rice pudding (arroz con leche), torrijas, churros, and madeleines are some of the most representative examples.

Other foods include:

Asturian chuletillas

The most famous regional dish is Fabada Asturiana, a rich stew made with large white beans (fabes), pork shoulder (lacón), morcilla, chorizo, and saffron (azafrán).

Apple groves foster the production of the traditional alcoholic drink, a natural cider (sidra). It is a very dry cider, and unlike French or English natural ciders, uses predominantly acidic apples, rather than sweet or bittersweet. The proportions are: acidic 40%, sub-acidic 30-25%, sweet 10-15%, bittersweet 15-20%, bitter 5%.[1]

Andalusian "pescaíto" frito.

Sidra is traditionally poured in by an expert server (or escanciador): the bottle is raised high above his or her head to oxygenate the brew as it moves into the glass below. A small amount (~120ml) is poured at a time (called a culín), as it must be drunk immediately before the sidra loses its carbonation. Any sidra left in the glass is poured onto a woodchip-strewn floor or a trough along the bottom of the bar.

Asturian cheeses, especially Cabrales, are also famous throughout Spain and beyond; Cabrales is known for its pungent odour and strong flavour. Asturias is often called "the land of cheeses" (el pais de los quesos) due to the product's diversity and quality in this region.Other major dishes include faba beans with clams, Asturian stew, frixuelos, and rice pudding.

  • Catalonia: Alongside Valencia, Catalonia has a long tradition of rice-dishes and seafood. In addition, cooked and cured sausages from Vic are famous. Perhaps the most well-known dish is the Catalan cream, similar to crème brûlée. Catalan cuisine is rich, pa amb tomàquet and botifarra are typical food of Catalonia.
  • La Rioja: above all its international Rioja wines, as well as its vegetable soups and its pepper and potato dishes.
  • Extremadura: Cocido extremeño (a rich stew of bacon, fowl, ham, meats, and vegetables), embutidos of Iberian pork, cheeses (including the indispensable torta del casar, a close relative of the Portuguese queijo da serra), pitarra wine.
  • Andalusia: (Andalucia) fried fish, salmorejo and gazpacho. Seafood, especially shrimp, squid, mackerel and flatfish. Jabugo ham and Sherry wine.
  • Aragón: Somontano, Borja and other wines. Jamón serrano (cured ham) in Teruel. Migas, very typical in small villages. Nuestra Señora del Pilar sweets in Zaragoza. "Ternasco con patatas a lo pobre", one of the most popular dishes in Aragón. "Borrajas", vegetable typical of this zone. Peaches with red wine (from Calanda, in Teruel). And "chiretas", very popular in "Ribagorza" and "Somontano de Barbastro".
  • Murcia: The products of its rich market gardens, such as zarangollo; fish and lamb stews; and the wines of Jumilla, Yecla or Bullas. There are also the Murcian migas.
  • Valencia: The Valencian region, specialises amongst others in the famous Paella, and is its birthplace. This dish is very popular, and it's common to cook one each Sunday for family lunch. In fact, in Valencia, during Falles, one of the biggest holidays there, it is quite normal to find big paellas being cooked in the street. The typical Valencian pael contains meat and vegetables, but many other variants of rice-based dishes can be found, with shellfish, meatballs or just covered in egg ("Arròs amb crosta").
  • Balearic Islands:A typical island-based diet of seafood and simple, vegetable-based dishes as well as Sobrasada. Samfaina (Ratatouille) and Cocas are typical of Catalan cuisine generally. Majorca's biggest export is the Ensaimada, a pastry.
  • Basque country: skillfully cooked dishes such as "txangurro relleno" (spider crab) "marmitako" and hake and clams. Idiazabal cheese and a distinctive wine called "txakoli". Piquillo peppers, filled with cod or tuna.
  • Navarre: vegetable stews, Tudela's lettuce hearts with anchovies, salmon, or a simple vinaigrette (oil, salt and vinegar); piquillo peppers, which are often stuffed with meat; trout à la Navarra (cooked stuffed with bacon and cheese), Roncal and Idiazabal cheeses, curd from Ultzama, claret wine, and patxaran liquor.
  • Galicia: Caldo gallego; an array of seafoods, especially octopus, cod and goose barnacles; Tarta de Santiago, a tart made of almonds and lemon; empanadas; Albariño wine from the Rias Baixas.
  • Castilla y León: Morcilla from León, Burgos or Valladolid (black pudding made with blood and different spices), Judión de la Granja, Sopa de Ajo (Garlic soup), Cochinillo asado (little roast pig), Lechazo (Roast Lamb), Botillo del Bierzo, Hornazo from Salamanca, a great variety of sausages like Salchichas de Zaratán and cheeses like Cheese of Serrada or Burgos's Fresh Cheese and various of the best wines in Spain *Ribera del Duero wines. Don't forget Jamón de Guijuelo (Spanish cured ham from Guijuelo (Salamanca))


Today, Spanish cooking is "in fashion", especially thanks in part to Ferran Adrià, who in the summer of 2003 attained international renown thanks to praise in the Sunday supplement of The New York Times. His restaurant El Bulli is located in the province of Girona, near Roses. In a long article, the New York Times declared him the best chef in the world, and postulated the supremacy of Spanish cooking over French cuisine.

Four other Spanish chefs hold three stars in the prestigious Michelin Guide:

  • Karlos Arguiñano, who over the years has presented cooking programmes on various Spanish television channels, in which he shows his communication skills and sense of humour while cooking.
  • Simone Ortega, author of the best-selling cookbook in Spain, "1080 recetas".
  • Sergi Arola, chef at "La Broché" and a disciple of Adrià.
  • José Andrés, chef/owner of "Minibar by José Andrés" in Washington D.C., and a disciple of Adrià. Current host of Made in Spain, airing on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Public television.

Prominent names in the history of Spanish cuisine include:

  • Ángel Muro: 19th century food expert and author of the book "Practicón", which is equivalent to Ma cuisine by Escoffier.
  • María Mestayer de Echagüe, "Marquesa de Parabere": author of a two-volume cooking encyclopedia (with the second dedicated to the pantry) that is still in print, and that contains a large number of recipes, as well as chapters dedicated to table manners.

Other notable chefs specializing in Spanish cuisine:

  • Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef Season 2, was known for his Spanish-inspired dishes. He has worked at the acclaimed Casa Mono Spanish restaurant in Manhattan.[2]

See also


External links

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