Spanish food is one of the most famous cultural aspects of the country, as it has an ample variety and diversity of dishes and ways of cooking. It is the result of the influence of different regions that have contrasting cultures and climates, and the different ethnic groups that form part of Spain's history (including the Arabs) or people from nations that were colonized by Spain.
A brief history
It is well known that Spain was conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. This influenced culinary habits hugely, although we don't know much about what Spaniards ate before their arrival. The Romans made more widespread the consumption of chickpeas, mushrooms, grapes and wine, as well as walnuts and other fruits.
In the year 711, Arabs and Berbers crossing the Strait of Gibraltar brought new elements to the Spanish cuisine as well as ingredients from Persia and India. They also brought olive oil, almonds, oranges, lemons, rice, sugar, aubergines, watermelons...etc. Later, with the discovery of America in 1492, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chocolate came to Spain, making the cuisine more diverse and complex.
We can point to the widespread use of olive oil for cooking and as a dressing across Spain, the use of distinctive pulses (chickpeas, beans, lentils..), fruits (oranges, lemons, apples, pears, melons, water melons, peaches, bananas, berries, grapes...), vegetables (lettuce, aubergines, courgettes, cauliflower, artichokes, carrots, potatoes, leeks, onions, garlic..), cereals (rice, wheat...), mushrooms (in the semi-northern part of Spain), fish and seafood (very much consumed everywhere), meat (types of sausages - or embutidos - such as chorizo, ham, black pudding, pork, lamb, calf), some bushmeat, usually more consumed in the centre of the country (rabbit, wild pig, partridge).
As for spices, saffron (used for paella), paprika, parsley, thyme, rosemary and black pepper are very common.
Ways of cooking
Guisos (stews): These are stews, very much consumed in winter, made in saucepans, and they may include meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, and pulses. They can also take the form of soups and creams, and they vary in every region.
- Asados (roasts): These are very common in the centre and north of Spain and consist of meat, such as lamb or pork or some types of fish (along the coast). They are cooked in the oven, very often in a clay pot.
- Sofritos (Stir-fries): These are based on some vegetables, especially garlic, onion and paprika, cooked with olive oil and spread on meats, fish or vegetables.
- Encurtidos (pickles): Food preserved with salt and vinegar, such as olives, anchovies, cucumbers...
Adobo (marinates): This is a technique of raw food immersion in a sauce composed of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic and vinegar, before cooking it.
Among the most popular drinks in Spain are hot chocolate (of the very dense and dark variety), coffee (either with milk, with a little milk, with very little milk, with no milk or with ice), horchata (very popular on the east coast), a cold tomato soup (gazpacho), and beer, wine and cider (from the north).
Typical Spanish dishes
Although Spanish cuisine varies considerably depending on the region (since each part has a different culture and climate, as I mentioned in my post about the multitude of climates of Spain), some dishes that originated in one particular region have now spread to the rest of Spain. This is the case with paella (originally from Valencia), gazpacho (from the south of Spain), tortilla de patatas, ham, chorizo, tapas (different in every region), patatas bravas, patatas alioli, olives, pintxos (typical of the north), bocadillos (sandwiches made with a hard bread, similar to the French one)...etc. It is important to remember that Spaniards have peculiar times for eating meals (see the related post).
At breakfast it is very common for Spanish people to eat coffee with milk, accompanied by a fresh orange juice and some pastry (croissants..), or some toasts (with jam, butter, olive oil, or chopped tomatoes with olive oil spread).
Have you enjoyed reading about Spanish food? Well, we will publish a part II to distinguish the particular gastronomy of each region. Are you looking forward to it?