Spain's unique regional foods
The diverse regions of this vibrant country yield rich culinary rewards, from herbaceous gins and roast suckling pig to salty white wines, paprika-spiked octopus and handmade doughnuts dipped in hot chocolate
Aged steak – Basque Country
This lush green region is where Spain’s most prized cows graze and roam until the ripe old age of 18. This long life, along with a dry-aging process of up to 100 days, results in dark meat with stunning marbling and deep flavour, served most famously in the form of txuleta rib steak. The countryside’s Michelin-starred restaurants and family-run taverns cook these huge cuts over charcoal, open flames or on hot plates until the edges are charred and crisp. Only simple sides are needed – fresh tomato salads or neighbouring Navarra’s delicate white asparagus. This regional delicacy isn’t only found in countryside spots – San Sebastián and Bilbao’s many pintxo bars serve little skewers of steak drizzled with olive oil, alongside homemade tortilla, salty slivers of sardine and green pepper, and glasses of the local wine, mineral txakoli, poured from a height into glasses to aerate.
Mediterranean gin – Menorca
This laidback Balearic island in the Mediterranean is wild and rugged, but also boasts plenty of greenery (it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) and bustling small towns. The drink at the centre of the island’s weekend celebrations (including the lively jáleo, where horses and riders dramatically process into town squares and dance to local music) is the refreshing pomada cocktail. Lemonade is poured over ice with Xoriguer, the island’s wine-based, juniper-forward gin. Though made in Mahón in wood-fired copper stills, the gin encapsulates the island’s wild side, with notes of Menorcan herbs, Mediterranean citrus and a subtle woody aroma from large oak barrels. When it comes to cuisine, the island’s rich cultural heritage makes it a true melting pot, with delicacies including caldereta lobster stew, sobrasada slathered on hot toast with a drizzle of honey, and salty Mahón cheese sprinkled with black pepper and tarragon.
Cabrales cheese – Asturias
Discover orchards, cheese caves and chorizo farms amongst the rolling hills and breathtaking mountains of this northern province. The dramatic, craggy Picos de Europa boasts walking routes with spectacular scenery, through which roam brown bears and Iberian wolves. Deep in this national park’s limestone caves is where creamy cabrales cheese matures to develop its distinct wiggly blue veins. Asturias is all about farm-to-fork (or glass!) – mountain village cider houses splash apple cider into glasses from a height, Oviedo’s cosy restaurants serve steaming bowls of fabada (a comforting concoction of morcilla, chorizo and buttery local faba beans) and fish markets offer freshly caught calamari and sardines to eat on the spot.
Horchata and buñuelos con chocolate – Valencia
This cosmopolitan east-coast city is known for its oranges (that can be seen growing in the picturesque Patio de los Naranjos at the Silk Exchange and sold at Central Market) and bubbling rice dishes (traditional paella, seafood black rice and oven-roasted rice with morcilla) enjoyed on the golden sands of the surrounding beaches.
More like this
A lesser-known local tradition is the afternoon snack of horchata (tiger nut milk brought over by the Moors) with fartons (iced buns to dunk in), served in bustling neighbourhood horchaterías. Every March, these traditional canteens and cafés also offer donut-shaped fried churros dipped into molten chocolate (buñuelos con chocolate) to celebrate the city’s Las Fallas festival. Giant, elaborate wooden figures are processed through the streets and set alight in dramatic bonfires, bedtimes are pushed back until the early hours of the morning, and children line up in pairs to feed each other hot chocolate, wearing bibs to keep their Sunday best safe from stains.
Pan de alfacar – Granada
Nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this atmospheric Andalucían city boasts a rich cultural heritage. Sacromonte’s caves are used to host passionate flamenco shows, while the World Heritage Site Alabaicín district is bursting with teahouses, hammams and market places, and the magical Alhambra palace dazzles in the setting sun. Thanks to Granada's Moorish history, Arabic dishes are common, including colourful remojón salads, bean stews and spiced tagines. Old, wood-fired Arab ovens (hornos morunos) stand the test of time in the surrounding mountain villages, still used to bake the region’s smoky, slow-fermented alfacar bread. This bread is also used in popular regional dishes such as migas (garlicky breadcrumbs) and salmorejo (cold soup made from bread, oil and tomatoes), as well as being toasted with a drizzle of olive oil for breakfast.
Papas con mojo – the Canaries
This string of islands are known for their volcanic soils that make way for black and white sand beaches, lunar landscapes and renowned vineyards. Look closer, and you’ll also find starry skies, ancient forest trails and deep gorges. Though the warm climate means mangos grow in abundance and the clear waters produce bountiful parrotfish, grouper and corvina, the sea is also to be thanked for the Canary Islands’ signature dish, papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes). Boiled in sea water to form a salty crust and their distinct wrinkly shape, these little potatoes are traditionally served with mojo rojo, a vibrant sauce of chilli, cumin, paprika and garlic. This delicacy is found across the island in beach bars, on contemporary menus and most authentically in guachinches, traditional tavern-style restaurants serving local cuisine and homemade wine, named after the Canary Islands’ first inhabitants, the guanches.
Pulpo a feira – Galicia
This region has Celtic roots – lively dancing, a unique language, and landscapes to match. Thick forests nestle into rocky coastlines, broken up by river inlets, fishing villages and white sandy beaches. Ribeira Sacra’s rivers carve their way through monasteries perched on hillsides and vines growing on steep terraces, the latter producing some of Spain’s most famous wines. Galicia’s citrussy, salty white wine, albariño, is best enjoyed with the region’s most famous dish – pulpo a feira. Meltingly soft slices of fresh octopus come laced with olive oil on a bed of buttery paprika potatoes. Pair with a portion of blistered padrón peppers, and relish in the delight of Galicians’ faces to see if you come across a spicy one or not.
Suckling pig (cochinillo) – Segovia
This enchanting town lies beneath an ancient Roman aqueduct of 167 arches. Here, explore the hidden passageways of the otherworldly Alcázar, marvel at the cathedral and mooch along medieval city walls, all against the breathtaking backdrop of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. Steep, cobbled streets lead up into a warren of traditional restaurants serving the city’s iconic dish, cochinillo. A whole suckling pig is brought to the table – ear, hoof and all – and portioned out so each diner gets their share of delicately crisp crackling, a thin layer of melting fat and tender meat that falls apart into a pool of salty jus, mopped up with a rustic bread roll.
Cocido Madrileño – Madrid
Though every household in Spain serves its own take on this comforting dish during the winter months, cocido originates in the country’s capital. Hunks of jamón, tocino (veal shin) and morcilla (black pudding) are cooked in a big pot with chickpeas and jamón bones to create a salty, hearty caldo (broth). Each Spaniard has their own unique ritual when eating cocido, whether that be separating ingredients out and dousing the chickpeas in olive oil and vinegar, taking a little of each ingredient and plopping into the broth or slurping the soup first before mopping up the juices with meat and crusty bread.
This reflects Madrid’s many personalities – from La Latina’s quirky nooks and bohemian community to Malasaña’s lively pavement cafés and neighbourhood vibe, and the majestic, pristine boulevards surrounding the manicured Retiro park.
Comments, questions and tips