The Spanish strive to live life to the fullest, which means good food, drinks, and company. So, a visit to the country of “fiestas and siestas” isn’t complete without exploring its incredible food culture.
Wondering what to eat in Spain? We asked our expert Chloe, who visited Spain on tour, to dish on the experiences you have to have while you’re there. Read on to get all the tips in her guide to Spanish food and wine!
Eating all the types of paella
Paella is a quintessential dish that everyone visiting Spain needs to try at least once or twice—or even more! We promise it’s that good. What makes this dish so unique is that while the base recipe is the same (rice, cooked with fixins in a cast-iron pot), there are many ways to enjoy it.
If you want the original
Try Paella Valenciana. It was first made in Valencia in the mid-19th century and it traditionally includes chicken and pork. Locals also enjoy it with rabbit.
If you like seafood
Get Paella de Marisco or Paella Negra. The first, a classic seafood paella, is usually prepared with prawns, clams, mussels, and squid. Paella Negra is also cooked in squid ink, giving it a deep black color and an irresistibly rich and salty flavor.
If you’re vegetarian
Order Paella Vegetariana. Pro tip: You might not see this on the actual menu, but it could still be available upon request. Traditional Spanish cuisine is meat-heavy, but vegan and vegetarian eating is gaining in popularity—so don’t fear if you follow a plant-based diet.
Did you know? Paella gets its iconic yellow color from the saffron that flavors the dish.
Chowing down on charcuterie
Spaniards don’t eat dinner until around 10pm, which means you’ll want a late-afternoon snack if you’re planning to live like the locals. Charcuterie is what to eat in Spain if you want to try some Spanish specialties and save room for supper!
It’s a sausage made with chopped pork, seasoned to perfection with garlic and paprika. It’s known for its red color, delicious spice, and smoky flavor.
Spanish cooks strive not to waste food—an important part of la matanza, or ritual of butchering the pigs. Morcilla, the black-colored sausage made with the pig’s blood, is prepared differently all throughout Spain. But, it’s commonly made with onion and rice, and is seasoned to perfection. Unlike jamón and chorizo, morcilla is only partially cured, so must be cooked before you eat it.
There are a few different types of jamón to try in Spain. The best (and most expensive) is Jamón Ibérico, which is made from free-range acorn-fed pigs. You’ll also see Jamón Serrano, a cured and dried ham.
Watch our video to learn more from our Spanish Tour Director and expert, Manuel:
Made with sheep milk, manchego gets its signature patterned rind from the baskets it’s aged in.
This cheese’s name tells you it hails from the province of Zamora, where the climate and cave-aging process lend the cheese its smooth and sweet flavor.
Idiazábal has a signature smoky flavor, and there are strict rules for how an Idiazábal cheese can be made—just like wines!
Eating fresh-caught seafood
Thanks to the miles and miles of coastline, fresh seafood isn’t hard to find. With all the delicious seafood options, you might be wondering what to eat in Spain—so here are a few favorites.
Gambas al Ajillo
This fresh shrimp dish is sautéed with garlic, olive oil, and a hint of chili pepper to enhance its flavor. Gambas al Ajillo is served on a sizzling plate and is often accompanied by bread to soak up its heavenly juices.
Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega comes from the region of Galicia, located in the northwest of Spain. This traditional dish is commonly shared as a tapa and is made with thinly sliced octopus served over boiled potatoes. It’s seasoned with salt and paprika and finished off with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Fried anchovies—called boquerones fritos in Spanish—were one of our staffer Jamie’s favorite dishes from her trip. “In Granada, we followed a local’s recommendation and went to Los Diamantes II, a tiny tapas bar that specializes in seafood,” she said. “Eating boquerones paired with championes (mushrooms) and a cerveza while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people from the neighborhood was a top moment for me.”
Trying all the tapas—and pintxos!
Many people might be familiar with tapas, the small-plate meals that Spain made famous the world over. But did you know that tapas are only tapas if they’re on a plate? In the Basque region of Spain, pintxos are tiny bites served atop toasty slices of bread.
Whether you’re at a restaurant or just stopping for a snack at a market, tapas (and pintxos) are what to eat in Spain to get the most local flavor. Watch our video to get tapas-eating tips in this Spanish food guide from Miguel, an expert Tour Director in Barcelona.
Top tapas to try in Spain
Pan con tomate
This is arguably one of the most signature tapas in all of Spain, and it also happens to be the simplest. Just like its name, pan con tomate is made with fresh, crusty homemade bread that is covered with a hint of garlic, layer of ripe tomato, drizzle of olive oil, and dash of salt. Often, you’ll see Spaniards snacking on it with breakfast.
Made with meat, fish, or vegetables and bound together with a creamy white sauce called béchamel, then deep-fried—well, croquetas are by definition heavenly. If you can only pick one type to try, we recommend the croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes).
Pimientos de Padrón
Padrón peppers come from Galicia in the northwest of Spain, and for this dish the tiny peppers are fried with oil and seasoned with flaky sea salt. They aren’t particularly spicy, making them easy to eat one after the other, but it’s very possible that every so often you will encounter an unexpected burst of spice. This is part of what makes these peppers so enticing!
Also known as tortilla de patatas, this is a signature dish in Spanish cuisine, and we’re being serious when we tell you that every family in Spain will claim their recipe to be the best. Tortilla española is an omelet prepared in a frying pan that contains egg, potato, and sometimes onion. While the traditional Spanish omelet doesn’t include meat or vegetables, there are no limits to how this dish is prepared. It can be served hot or cold and can even be found in sandwiches!
Some people might call these French fries, but comparing them wouldn’t do this dish justice. The crispy fried potatoes are served with “brava” sauce, which is a spicy sauce made with smoked paprika and chili powder. They’re also commonly served with garlic aioli. Want to try them at home? Get our patatas bravas recipe!
You might’ve encountered these sweet, fried dough bites as a dessert—but in Spain, they’re traditionally served as a breakfast treat. Stop by a churrería before noontime to get freshly made churros paired with rich dipping chocolate. Yum!
Exploring fresh food markets
Any Spanish travel guide will tell you: Restaurants and tapas bars are great spots for dining out, but Spain’s markets add a whole new layer to Spanish food culture. They’re where locals do their grocery shopping, but there are plenty of stands that sell prepared bites and tapas as well. Here are some not to miss:
Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona
This market is known for its beautiful and impressively crafted colorful mosaic roof. The market itself is an architectural masterpiece and a popular tourist attraction. Mercat de Santa Caterina is less crowded than the tourist-heavy Mercado de La Boquería, so you can experience just as much excitement with less noise and people. It’s a short walk from Barcelona’s famous Gothic Quarter, making it a great place to stop as you explore the area and nearby sights.
Mercado de la Bretxa in San Sebastián
Dating back to the 1870s, this lesser-known gem is one of the most traditional markets in San Sebastián. The market is in a larger shopping mall, but many visit this area specifically for groceries. Located in the Old Town of San Sebastián, Mercado de la Bretxa is often frequented by local chefs in search of the highest-quality produce. San Sebastián is one of the top fine dining destinations in the world, so you best believe the produce here is the real deal.
Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid
This is Madrid’s most famous market and is a popular must-see tourist attraction. The large iron-and-glass building is located directly in the heart of the city center. It’s the perfect option if you’re looking for high-quality prepared foods from all around the country. It’s also a great spot to shop for wine, beer, and sweets. Mercado de San Miguel is even home to several tapas bars, making it a prime spot to socialize over delicious food and drinks.
Read our staffer Rebecca’s recommendations on what to eat in Madrid while exploring the market on tour.
Sipping amazing wine
Knowing what to drink in Spain is almost as important as knowing what to eat in Spain! The country is home to a few of the world’s top wine regions, and these are just three of the best sips you can try on tour:
Rioja, a fruity red wine made with tempranillo grapes. Along with the eponymous wine region of La Rioja, Ribera del Duero is where you’ll find some of the best wines made with tempranillo grapes.
Cava, a sparkling wine that’s similar in style to Champagne. If you’re looking for a sip, there are Cava bars around Barcelona dedicated to the bubbly stuff.
Vermouth, a strong, fortified wine. You might not want to drink this straight—but it’s part of our Tour Director Snezana’s favorite afternoon aperitif.
Did you know? Spain is also famous for its gin! See staffers Jay and Kate’s recommendations on where to get a great gin and tonic in Barcelona.