About Spanish food for expats: Spanish national dishes, peculiarities of Spanish cuisine

What’s on this page?

  1. Overview of the historical and cultural influences that shaped Spanish cuisine
  2. The importance of regional dishes and how geography influences culinary taste in Spain
  3. Spanish national dishes
  4. What you can't do without in Spain
  5. Features of Spanish cuisine
  6. The influence of the mediterranean diet on Spanish food and its health benefits
  7. Dinner traditions in Spain
  8. Development of modern Spanish cuisine
  9. Experience Spanish cuisine like an expat

The art of Spanish cuisine lies in its simplicity. Yes, everything is easy, casual, without standing in the kitchen for several hours, but very, very tasty! In dishes that are traditional and familiar to the inhabitants of Spain, you will not experience a great variety of spices, moreover, you will not find a huge selection of spices from different countries on the shelves of Spanish supermarkets, except in the markets. But in reality, in Spain, the taste and pleasure of food is the opportunity to enjoy the local cuisine, washing it down with delicious wine and, most importantly, all this in a large, good company of pleasant, sincere and cheerful people.

So, we are going to tell you about the most popular dishes of Spanish cuisine and (Spain) food traditions. We will also tell you how expats can adopt Spanish cooking methods and where to find the most delicious ingredients for Spanish dishes. Let's share the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine. 

Note, you should now take something tasty, pour a glass of wine and then start reading this article. Otherwise, you will be tormented by the feeling of hunger.

Spain is famous for its multi-layered culinary heritage, which contains the influences of various cultures and the diversity of regions. With an abundance of dishes and ingredients, food in Spain reflects a great history, geographical location and cultural traditions.

Overview of the historical and cultural influences that shaped Spanish cuisine

The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors and other cultures that lived or ruled the territory of modern Spain throughout history made a significant contribution to the formation of Spain traditional food.

The Phoenicians and Greeks first brought olive oil, grapes, olives and other fruit crops to Spain, which became the basis of the Mediterranean diet. The Romans also brought their traditions of using grains and vegetables, which improved the country's culinary capabilities.

However, perhaps the greatest influence on Spanish cuisine came from the Moors, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. They brought with them such ingredients as ginger, safflower, sesame and oranges.

The Age of Discovery also had a significant impact on Spain food, as New World ingredients such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and chocolate were first introduced to European cuisine through Spain.

Modern Spanish cuisine is a synthesis of these diverse influences, reflected in a wide variety of dishes, the use of fresh ingredients, spicy flavors and traditions of hospitality.

Market in Spain

The importance of regional dishes and how geography influences culinary taste in Spain

In Spain, food, namely regional dishes are of great importance, as they reflect the wealth of cultural and geographical influences on the culinary landscape of each region. Geography plays a key role in shaping the culinary preferences of the population, as the availability of certain products and the climatic conditions of different regions determine which ingredients are used in local cuisine and which dishes are preferred.

Where What Meaning
Geographical regions of Spain Regional dishes Reflecting the cultural and geographical influences on the culinary landscape of each region, taking into account the availability of products and climatic conditions.
Northwest Spain Meat, potatoes, dairy products The main components of the diet, taking into account mountainous and cold climatic conditions.
Coastal regions (Costa Blanca, Andalusia, Catalonia) Fish, seafood A significant role in the local cuisine due to the availability of seafood and fish.
Central and Southern Spain Vegetables, fruits (tomatoes, peppers, olives) Basic ingredients for dishes in these regions, given the favorable climatic conditions for growing.

Consequently, Spain's geography influences culinary preferences, reflecting local products and cooking traditions. Regional dishes have become not only symbols of cultural heritage, but also an important aspect of the identity of each region.

Spanish national dishes

1. Paella is a culinary icon of Spain. This is one of the most famous and characteristic dishes of popular food in Spain, which has a long history. Its origins are linked to the Valencia region on the east coast of Spain, where farmers and fishermen used ordinary products to create exquisite dishes. Originally, paella was a simple worker's dish, cooked over a fire in a pot with the simplest ingredients available. But later, rice, seafood and vegetables, which are the main components of this dish, were so liked by the Spaniards that paella began to be prepared often for kings. And now this dish is, believe me, the first thing you should order in Spanish cafes or restaurants.

Region Variations of paella
Catalonia Paella with seafood, such as shrimp, mussels and squid, may be characteristic of this region.
Murcia In the region of Murcia, shrimp and crayfish are often added to paella, making it a unique variation.
The most traditional options They have rice, chicken, shrimp, mussels, chorizo sausages and olive oil. These ingredients define the basis of paella in Spain and make it a dish with a unique taste.

To truly enjoy authentic paella, you should visit restaurants and establishments specializing in Spanish cuisine, especially in regions where it is considered traditional. In Valencia, for example, many restaurants offer their own version of paella, prepared according to ancient recipes and using local ingredients. In addition, it is worth paying attention to the recommendations of local residents and culinary experts to find the best places to taste this wonderful dish.

N.B! Spaniards often order paella in restaurants during lunch. Paella is a rather hearty and high-calorie dish. To taste it, you need a little time, a few glasses of good Spanish wine. So, the locals order paella, have a noisy discussion of their affairs near the large frying pan in which this dish is served, and have fun. And then gradually, in the coolness of the covers of the cafes, they meet the siesta. Have eaten, you can rest!

Paella is not just a dish, but a symbol of Spanish culture and hospitality, and trying authentic paella is an unforgettable experience for anyone looking to discover the taste of Spain.

Paella in Spain

2. Tapas are the taste miniature of Spain. This is one of the most famous and characteristic features of Spain food. The term "tapas" comes from the Spanish word "tapar" which means "to cover". Historically, tapas were small dishes served with drinks in bars to cover glasses or cover drinks. Over time, tapas turned into its own food culture, becoming a symbol of social gatherings and gastronomic pleasure.

Tapas play an important role in Spanish dining culture, encouraging conversation, development of friendship and relaxation. The tradition of "tapeo" is the process of visiting several bars throughout the day, where people enjoy an assortment of tapas and drinks with friends or family. It also promotes community and sharing of news, as people gather around the bar to discuss events and share experiences.

Popular types of tapas:

  • Patatas Bravas: fried potato cubes served with spicy sauces such as Bravas sauce or aioli.
  • Shrimp or Squid in Sauce: Fried shrimp or squid, usually served with a garlic or tomato sauce.
  • Jamon y Queso: thinly sliced Iberian or Serrano jamon and an assortment of cheeses.
  • Tortilla Española (Tortilla Española): a traditional Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions, often served as tapas.
  • Pinchos: small pieces of bread decorated with various fillings such as olives, cheese or meat.

Tapas is not only a way of eating, but also a way of life, reflecting the joyful and delicious side of Spanish culture. They have become popular around the world, drawing attention to the multi-layered and flavorful Spanish cuisine.

Tapas in Spain

3. Gazpacho and Salmorejo are the taste wonders of Spain. These are cold soups that allow you to enjoy the freshness and taste of seasonal vegetables. Gazpacho and Salmorejo - differ not only in taste, but also in consistency and method of serving. But this is definitely Spain traditional food.

Characteristic Gazpacho Salmorejo
Type of soup Cold Cold
Ingredients A mixture of fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic. With the addition of olive oil and a drop of vinegar. Tomatoes, bread, garlic, olive oil, sometimes eggs or sausage
Consistency liquid Thick, creamy
Taste Fresh, light Rich, creamy
Serving options Usually served in a glass or cup Often served with an egg or sausage
Traditions Popular in summer as a refreshing snack Often served as a first or second main course

These soups are distinguished by their lightness and refreshing taste, which makes them ideal dishes for hot days.

Spanish soups Gazpacho and Salmorejo

A few more dishes are not inferior in popularity in Spanish cuisine. We will talk about them briefly.

4. Pimientos de Padrón. A common choice on the tapas menu consists of green peppers sautéed in olive oil and salt. For the most part, these peppers are mild in flavor with a hint of sweetness. But every now and then pepper gives a wonderful heat lol, so eating this dish is like playing roulette.

Pimientos de Padrón

5. Tortilla Español or Tortilla Patatos. People call this dish simply a cake. It is a loose mixture of eggs and potatoes. It is prepared by frying thinly sliced potatoes and often onions in a healthy amount of olive oil. It is fried with a large number of beaten eggs. When there is already a crust on one side, with the help of a plate, turn over to prepare the other side. This simple but hearty Spanish dish can be eaten as a tapas, as a sandwich or on its own throughout the day.

Tortilla Spanish

And at the end of the list, the two most popular Spanish desserts. Yes, the people of Spain really like to taste sweets. In supermarkets and markets you will find a huge number of different pastries, many different candies and chocolate. But there is something that can be tasted only when visiting or in a cafe. Believe me, when you come to Spain, start living and cooking here - you will also delight your relatives with these desserts, because they are not difficult to prepare. In Spain, traditional food is quite easy to make and it tastes wonderfully.

6. Churros. Spanish shepherds invented this dish as a substitute for baking. Later, this dessert began to be prepared in almost every kitchen of a Spanish home. Churros are made from fried dough, usually shaped like a stick or a loop, they can be sprinkled with sugar or eaten plain. Dipping them in hot melted chocolate is almost a law.

Spanish Churros

7. Leche frita. Leche frita, or fried milk, is a popular dessert made by whisking together milk, egg yolks, and flour. It is left to cool and harden, then coated with breadcrumbs and fried.

Leche frita

What you can't do without in Spain

It's hard to imagine a Spanish butcher shop without cured pork legs. Jamon is eaten everywhere. It is added to various dishes, or simply enjoyed in thinly sliced pieces.

There are two main types of jamon eaten in Spain. These are the common Serrano jamon, which is made from white pigs, and the more expensive Iberico jamon, which is made from black pigs. Iberian piglets are often fed acorns, which adds a special nutty flavor to the meat.

Here is what the Spaniards themselves say about jamon:

"We eat jamon before eating anything. The salty, rich taste is the perfect accompaniment to the wine, and it fills you with an even bigger appetite.”

"Thin slices of quality jamon shine when they are laid out on a plate. The meat has a sweet nutty taste. And thanks to its marbling, it almost melts in your mouth."

In Spain, they joke that jamón is eaten even by vegetarians, because it is good for health and is considered something much more than food.

Spanish Hamon

Features of Spanish cuisine

Olive oil, garlic and tomatoes play a key role in food in Spain, defining the flavor profile of many dishes and giving them a characteristic Spanish flavor and taste.

Olive oil is one of the main components of Spanish cuisine. It is used in various dishes, from soups to meat and fish dishes. It gives them a characteristic taste and aroma, and also contributes to the fact that dishes become more tender and juicy. Olive oil is used both for frying and for preparing sauces, marinades and dressings.

Garlic is another important ingredient in Spanish cuisine that adds a deep aroma and flavor to dishes. It is used both fresh and dried, adding a tangy and spicy flavor to many dishes such as sauces, soups, paella and tapas. Garlic also has antiseptic properties and is known for its health benefits.

Tomatoes are one of the most common ingredients in Spanish cuisine, used in various forms: fresh, canned, sautéed, dried, etc. They add a bright taste to dishes, and also make them more juicy and appetizing. Tomatoes are used in paella, gazpacho, salads, sauces and many other dishes, giving them a characteristic Spanish taste.

Spain also has a huge tradition of eating seafood and growing quality meat products, including local delicacies such as Jamon.

The large coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain allows this country to be rich in marine resources, making seafood an important part of food in Spain. From shrimp and mussels to squid and herring, seafood is used in a variety of dishes. The Spanish are known for their ability to cook seafood and preserve its natural flavor and aroma.

The influence of the mediterranean diet on Spanish food and its health benefits

Breakfasts and dinners in Spain are light. Lunch is the main meal of the day. Each region of Spain has its own specialty in food. But in general, Spaniards follow a healthy Mediterranean diet.

What does the Mediterranean diet include?

  • olive oil,
  • legumes,
  • seasonal vegetables and fruits,
  • nuts,
  • fish,
  • meat.

The influence of the Mediterranean diet on Spain food is extremely large, since Spain is located in the heart of the Mediterranean cuisine region, and also has a rich selection of products that characterize this diet.

Here are some of the health benefits of this diet:

  • Reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fats, fish containing Omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of fruits and vegetables help lower blood cholesterol levels and improve heart function.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. The Mediterranean diet is rich in high-quality, satiating proteins and low-calorie foods such as vegetables and fruits. It can help with weight control and prevent overweight or obesity.
  • Reducing the risk of respiratory diseases. Including plenty of vegetables and fruits in your diet, which contain antioxidants and vitamins, can reduce the risk of respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma.
  • Strengthening of the immune system. Vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish contain many vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system and help fight infection and disease.
  • Improvement of brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, are known for their beneficial properties for the brain, such as improving cognitive function and memory.

Dinner traditions in Spain

Spaniards love to eat well, especially something interesting. Here you will not find a family or a restaurant where you will be served a table with a huge number of different dishes. But here they prepare large and hearty portions of food. In cafes and bars, you can get free tapas with a glass of wine or beer. In Spain, traditional food is like this. Spaniards like to order a glass and taste tapas after several hours of conversation with friends, relatives or acquaintances.

In Spain, food culture involves lunch, which is an important part of the day, and has its own traditions and meanings. Meal times, the concept of "sobremesa" and the social aspects of eating out reflect the characteristics of the Spanish way of life and attitudes towards food.

Lunch in Spain usually takes place between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, and this is the time when the family gathers around the dinner table. Lunch can be long and include several dishes. Dinner can be lighter and usually happens later, approximately after 9-10 pm.

"Sobremesa" is a traditional Spanish practice of lingering at the table after eating. During "sobremesa" people talk, discuss events, enjoy coffee or liquor. It's a time for socializing and relaxing after dinner, when family and friends can enjoy each other's company.

Eating out in Spain is an important social event. Bars and restaurants often serve as meeting places where people gather with friends and family to enjoy food and drinks. Eating in a restaurant or going for tapas has become not only a way to enjoy food, but also a way to communicate and spend time with loved ones.

Spanish Dinner

Development of modern Spanish cuisine

The development of modern Spanish cuisine has been determined by many factors, among which the contribution of chefs such as Ferran Adrià, who changed the approach to cooking and presentation of dishes, is of great importance. Ferran Adria, together with his restaurant "El Bulli", became one of the founders of molecular gastronomy and influenced the international culinary scene to such an extent that his influence is still felt today.

Ferran Adria

Ferran Adrià opened new horizons in gastronomy, experimenting with textures, shapes and tastes. His techniques, such as spherification (creating spheres from liquid), distillation, emulsification and others, opened the way for new culinary possibilities. He overturned the idea of how dishes should look and taste, and became a recognized master of culinary creativity. Ferran Adria, together with his restaurant "El Bulli", attracted the attention of the world gastronomic community. His innovative approaches to cooking and serving dishes made him a celebrity chef and culinary artist. Many of his techniques and ideas were adopted by chefs from all over the world, which led to the emergence of new trends and innovations in global cooking.

Although the restaurant "El Bulli" closed in 2011, Ferran Adria remains an influential figure in world gastronomy.

Experience Spanish cuisine like an expat

Experiencing Spain food as an expat can be an exciting and unforgettable experience. We have prepared TOP-5 tips for expats on navigating local markets, ordering in restaurants and integrating Spanish food habits into everyday life:

1. Visit local markets

Visit the local markets for a real taste of Spain. Here you will find fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood and meat products of high quality. Try new foods that may be unfamiliar to you and ask the vendors for cooking tips.

2. Experiment in restaurants.

Visit local restaurants and try a variety of dishes from the menu. Try to choose traditional Spanish dishes such as paella, tapas, gazpacho and other local delicacies. Do not hesitate to ask the waiters about the composition of the dish or recommendations.

3. Study local culinary customs.

Talk to the locals and observe their eating habits. For example, many Spaniards like to eat dinner late, and "sobremesa" is an important time to socialize and enjoy after a meal. Moreover, there is a lot of popular food in Spain.

4. Cook at home.

Experiment with Spanish cuisine at home, preparing traditional dishes with local ingredients. It can be a fun and eye-opening experience, as well as help you better understand the country's culture and traditions.

5. Integrate into local life.

Join local culinary events, cooking classes or tasting clubs. This will not only allow you to learn more about Spanish cuisine, but also make new friends and conversationalists.

Remember that experimenting with food and culture is part of the exciting process of adapting to a new environment. Enjoy Spanish cuisine and new culinary experiences!

Cook at home

In Spain, food culture can be absorbed and the taste of Spain is enjoyed by preparing traditional dishes right in your kitchen. By cooking Spanish dishes at home, you not only enjoy the taste of Spain, but also keep in touch with Spanish culture and traditions. Share your culinary experiences with friends and family to expand your knowledge of Spanish cuisine and culture. Start by exploring traditional Spanish recipes. The Internet and cookbooks are great sources for finding recipes for popular Spanish dishes such as paella, gazpacho, tapas, and many others.

You have already been told a lot, but let us learn about the main ingredients used in Spanish cuisine. Many can be easily found in local supermarkets or markets.

Authentic Spanish ingredients and products:

  • Cheeses. Oh, there are so many different kinds of them...
  • Marinated olives. There are even more of these goodies. A whole year will not be enough for you to taste new and new tastes every day.
  • Canned seafood. There are no fresh ones on the shelves - this cannot be! But if you need it as an ingredient for a dish, look for small iron cans.
  • Vegetables and fruits. There is nothing to talk about here. You can buy everything fresh all year round.

Be open to experimentation and try different combinations of flavors and ingredients. Spanish cuisine is famous and delicious! Here everyone will find their own, learn to create something in the kitchen, and fall in love with all those traditions and customs that are characteristic of Spain.

Bon appetit!


What are some must-try dishes for expats new to Spain?

Spanish cuisine is full of interesting and unusual dishes. We advise you to definitely try Churros, Tortilla Española, as well as to order a variety of tapas in various establishments. Even if you don't really like fish and seafood, you should definitely order at least one of the Mediterranean dishes in Spain. Believe me, the taste will surprise you, because it is not at all what you can imagine.

Is Spanish food suitable for vegetarians?

Of course! For vegetarians, Spanish cuisine will help discover new and interesting tastes. Be sure to try the cold Gazpacho soup. Also, a huge variety of fruits and vegetables will definitely suit you. Spanish restaurants will also offer you Pisto (Spanish ratatouille) and a huge number of tapas and salads.

How can I find authentic Spanish ingredients abroad?

Look for Spanish specialty shops or international departments in large supermarkets. Many ingredients can also be ordered online.

What's the best way to learn about Spanish food culture?

Don't hesitate to ask locals for restaurant recommendations to discover authentic dishes and flavors. Also take part in local gastronomic tours and cooking classes.


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