In recent years, however, people have come to celebrate the extraordinary flavors and variety of produce the cuisine has to offer.
High-profile chefs such as Ferran Adria, mastermind of the now-closed El Bulli restaurant, and the Roca brothers, founders of the El Celler de Can Roca , have brought Spain's alta cocina international acclaim. But the heart of Spanish cooking remains in its rustic, homespun nature, a legacy of a time when hard-pressed Spaniards had to work the land for everything it would offer.
These 14 dishes -- from seafood and meat to rice and pastries -- are essential meals when you travel to Spain. Paella is perhaps the most famous Spanish dish of all, and certainly one of the most abused. Authentic paella originates from the region around Valencia, and comes in two varieties: Paella Valenciana, with rabbit and chicken; and seafood paella. Saffron gives the rice its color, and the base should be left to crisp into a mouth-watering black crust, called the socarrat. Always eaten at lunchtime. Where to try?
La Matandeta near Albufera, Valencia. Foodie and gastronomical guide Diego Gil takes us on a journey to see the influences of the Moors on Spanish food. A staple among the small dishes that make up a classic tapas menu, patatas bravas -- "brave potatoes" -- is named for its spicy sauce, rare in a land that generally shuns fiery food. The potatoes are cubed and shallow fried and served the same everywhere. The sauce can come in any number of ways, from spicy ketchup to garlic mayonnaise with a dusting of pimiento smoked paprika , or both.
One theory holds that the dirtier the bar, the better the bravas. Key factors are the social sharing of food, and the opportunity to try a lot of different things in one meal. In short, tapas are a way of life. This tomato-based Andalusian soup is most famous for being served cold. This can be quite a shock for those who aren't expecting it, but in the searing heat of a Seville summer, the attraction becomes clear.
Its principal ingredients, aside from tomato, are peppers, garlic, bread and lots of olive oil. Enrique Becerra, Seville. A common dish on tapas menus, pimientos de Padron are green peppers that hail originally from the town of that name in Galicia, in Spain's lush, rainy northwest. Pimientos de Padron are fried and served with a deep sprinkling of salt. Though generally sweet and mild, their fame stems from the fact that the occasional pepper will be fiery hot -- lending a Russian Roulette element of surprise to eating them.
Bierzo Enxebre, Santiago de Compostela. It's popular in Catalonia and Valencia in seafood dishes that rival paella for their taste and intricacy. Legs of ham were traditionally salted and hung up to dry to preserve them through the long winter months. The best ham should be enjoyed in thin, melt-in-your-mouth slices on its own, with a little bread. Look for 'waxy' fat: when you rub it, it should melt into your skin like candlewax. The content of this meal is usually a soup dish, salad, a meat or a fish dish and a dessert such as fruit, yoghurt or something sweet.
Tapas may also be typically served before or during lunch. In the last years, the Spanish government is starting to take action to shorten the lunch break, in order to end the working day earlier. Most businesses shut down for two or three hours for lunch, then resume the working day until dinner time in the evening. La cena , meaning both dinner or supper , is taken between pm and 10pm. It typically consists of one course and dessert.
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Due to the large time span between lunch and dinner, an afternoon snack, la merienda , equivalent to afternoon tea , may take place at about 6pm. At merienda, people would typically drink coffee, eat something sweet, a sandwich or a piece of fruit. Appetizers right before lunch or dinner, or during them, are common in the form of tapas tiny rations. Andalusian cuisine is twofold: rural and coastal. Of all the Spanish regions, this region uses the most olive oil in its cuisine. The Andalusian dish that has achieved the most international fame is gazpacho.
It is a cold soup made with five vegetables, vinegar, water, salt, olive oil, and stale bread crumbs. Snacks made with olives are common. The hot soups include cat soup made with bread , dog stew fish soup with orange juice and migas canas.
A culinary custom is the typical Andalusian breakfast, which is considered to be a traditional characteristic of laborers which is extending throughout Spain. Cured meats include Serrano ham and Iberico ham. The Aragonese cuisine has a rural and mountainous origin. The central part of Aragon, the flattest, is the richest in culinary specialties. Being in a land where lambs are raised on the slopes of the Pyrenees , one of its most famous dishes is roast lamb asado de ternasco. The lamb is cooked with garlic, salt and bacon fat. Pork dishes are also very popular. The most notable condiment is garlic-oil.
Legumes are very important but the most popular vegetables are borage and thistle. In terms of cured meats, ham from Teruel and Huesca are used often. Among the cheeses, Tronchon is notable. Fruit-based cuisine includes the very popular Fruits of Aragon Spanish: Frutas de Aragon; candied fruits and Maraschino cherries. Asturian cuisine has a long and rich history, deeply rooted in Celtic traditions of northern Europe. One of its most famous dishes is the Asturian bean stew , known as "fabada".
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Fabada is the traditional stew of the region, made with white beans, sausages such as chorizo , morcilla , and pork. Another well-known recipe is beans with clams. Asturian beans "fabes" can also be cooked with hare, partridge, prawns or octopus. Also of note are Asturian stew made with white beans, cabbage, potatoes and a variety of sausages and bacon and vigil stew. Common meat dishes include: carne gobernada roasted veal meat , cachopo a crunchy, crumb-coated veal steak stuffed with ham and cheese and stew. Fish and seafood play also an important role in Asturian cuisine.
The Cantabrian Sea provides a rich variety of species, including tuna, hake and sardine. Asturian cheeses are very popular in the rest of Spain. Among them, the most representative is Cabrales cheese , a pungent, blue cheese developed in the regions near the Picos de Europa. These can be enjoyed with the local cider , a low-alcohol drink made of Asturian apples, with a distinctive sourness.
When the cider falls into the glass from above, the drink "breaks", getting aerated and bubbly. It is consumed immediately after being served, in consecutive, tiny shots. The Balearic cuisine has purely Mediterranean characteristics due to its location. The islands have been conquered several times throughout their history by the French and the English, which left some culinary influences. Balearic food is an example of the famous Mediterranean diet due to the importance of olive oil , legumes , unrefined cereals , fruits , vegetables and fish. The cuisine of the Basque Country has a wide and varied range of ingredients and preparations.
The culture of eating is very strong among the inhabitants of this region. Highlights include meat and fish dishes. Among fish, cod is produced in various preparations: bacalao al pil pil , cod Bilbao , to name a few. Also popular are anchovies, bream, and bonito.
Among the most famous dishes is the seafood changurro. Among the meats are: the beef steaks, pork loin with milk, fig leaf quail, and marinated goose. The Canary Islands have a unique cuisine due to their geographical location in the Atlantic ocean. The Canary Islands were part of the trading routes to the American Continent, hence creating a melting pot of different culinary traditions. Fish fresh or salted and potatoes are among the most common staple foods in the islands. The consumption of cheese, fruits and pork meat also characterizes Canarian cuisine.
The closeness to Africa influences climate and creates a range of warm temperatures that in modern times have fostered the agriculture of tropical and semitropical crops: bananas , yams, mangoes, avocados, and persimmons which are heavily used in Canarian cuisine. The aboriginal people, Guanches , based their diet on gofio a type of flour made of different toasted grains , shellfish, and goat and pork products.
Gofio is still consumed in the islands and has become part of the traditional cuisine of the islands. A sauce called mojo from Portuguese origins is very common through the islands and has developed different varieties adapted to the main dish for which it is being used.
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Some classic dishes in the Canary Islands include papas arrugadas , almogrote , frangollo , rabbit in " salmorejo sauce", and stewed goat. Wineries are common in the islands. However, only Malvasia wine from Lanzarote has gained international recognition. Recognized quality meats are Tudanca veal and game meat. Cantabrian pastries include sobaos and quesadas pasiegas. Orujo is the Cantabrian pomace brandy. Cider sidra and chacoli wine are also favorites. In this region, the culinary habits reflect the origin of foods eaten by shepherds and peasants. Al-Manchara means in Arabic , "Dry Land".
Which indicates the arid lands and the quality of its dishes. Wheat and grains are a dominant product and ingredient. They are used in bread, soups, gazpacho manchego, crumbs, porridge , etc. One of the most abundant ingredients in Manchego cuisine is garlic, leading to dishes such as ajo arriero , ajo puerco , and garlic marinade. Some traditional recipes are gazpacho manchego , pisto manchego , and migas ruleras. Also popular is morteruelo , a kind of foie gras manchego.
Manchego cheese is also renowned. Given the fact that its lands are dry, and thus unable to sustain large amounts of cattle living on grass, an abundance of small animals, such as rabbit, and especially birds pheasant , quail , partridge , squab can be found.
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This led to game meat being incorporated into traditional dishes, such as Conejo al Ajillo rabbit in garlic sauce , Perdiz Escabechada marinated partridge or Huevos de Codorniz quail's eggs. Major wines in Castilian-Leonese cuisine include the robust wine of Toro , reds from Ribera del Duero , whites from Rueda , and clarets from Cigales. The cuisine of Catalonia is based in a rural culture; it is very extensive and has great culinary wealth.
Notably, it was in Catalonia where the first cookbook was written in Spain. It has a triple cuisine: seafood, mountain and interior. Among the most popular dishes include: escudella and bread with tomato. Bean omelette , coca de recapte , samfaina , thyme soup , and caragols a la llauna are famous dishes. Notable sauces are: romesco sauce , aioli , bouillabaisse of Catalan origin and picada.
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Cured pork cuisine boasts botifarra white and black and the fuet of Vic. Among the desserts are: Catalan cream , carquinyolis , panellets , tortell , and neules. La Rioja is recognized by the use of meats such as pork, and their cold cuts made after the traditional slaughter. The lamb is perhaps the second most popular meat product in this region Sarmiento chops and finally, veal is common in mountain areas. The most famous dish is Rioja style potatoes and Fritada.
Lesser known are: Holy lunch and Ajo huevo garlic eggs. La Rioja is famously known in Spain for its red wine, so most of these dishes are served with wine. Rioja wine has designated origin status. Another well-known dish is Rioja stew. The cuisine of Extremadura is austere, with dishes prepared by shepherds. It is very similar to the cuisine of Castilla. This breed of pig is found exclusively in Southwestern Iberia , both in Spain and Portugal.
Other meat dishes is lamb stew or goat stew caldereta de cordero and caldereta de cabrito. Highlights include game meats such as wild boar, partridge, pheasant or venison. Famous cheeses are Torta de la Serena and Torta del Casar. Cod preparations are known, and tench is among the most traditional freshwater fish, with fish and vegetable dishes such as moje de peces or escarapuche. Soups are often bread based and include a variety of both hot and cold ones. Pennyroyal mint is sometimes used to season gazpachos or soups such as sopa de poleo.
The region is also known for its vino de pitarra tradition, home-made wine made in small earthenware vessels. Galician cuisine is known in Spanish territory because of the emigration of its inhabitants. One of the most noted is Galician soup. Also notable is pork with turnip tops, a popular component of the Galician carnival meal laconadas. Pork products are also popular. The seafood dishes are very famous and rich in variety. Among these are: the Galician empanada, Galician octopus, scallops, crab, and barnacles.
Among the many dairy products is Queso de tetilla. Orujo is one of Galicia's alcoholic drinks. Cattle breeding is very common in Galicia, therefore, a lot of red meat is consumed; typically consumed with potatoes. Madrid did not gain its own identity in the Court until , when Philip II moved the capital to Madrid. Since then, due to immigration, many of Madrid's culinary dishes have been made from modifications to dishes from other Spanish regions.