Spanish Gastronomy is quite varied. While mostly what comes to mind when we think of Spanish cuisine is Paella and Sangria, the world of Spanish cooking is wide and wild, and has its roots in Celtiberian food, as well as Arab culture.
Each province of course has its own specialties, but you will find that the large zones, specifically the south, the central mesa, and then the north east and north west, have widely different types of food and wine. To get a little more in depth with this, we talk to food critic Jose Maria Llorente.
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CS: How would you describe the gastronomy of Spain in general?
JML: Succulent, excellent; it is really varied and different across regions. Not just Paella and sangria. There is something for every taste and more importantly, every budget. It’s a really accessible cuisine.
CS: What are some of the best dishes, the most significant, and the most creative that Spain has to offer?
JML: It is clear, in my opinion that the Spanish chefs that prepare modern, creative, and cutting edge cuisine are the best in the world. I’ll highlight the latest creation by Josep Roca as an example; in his restaurant, Cellar de Can Roca, in Girona, everything pays homage to the olive and olive oil. His menu right now includes gazpacho with olives and olive mousse, buñuelo, which is a type of small pastry ball, filled with black olive, manzanilla ice cream, fennel gelée and picual olive. It is a really rich menu, and avant-garde, but delicious.
In terms of overall traditional food, I would be remiss not to talk about Spanish rice dishes – and not only Paella. There are also the many types of gazpachos, cold tomato soups that is, and traditional Spanish stews. In the south you can also see how the marinades and desserts come directly from Moorish culture, such as the famous turrón, an especially tasty type of nougat.
CS: So, the gastronomy really varies from region to region! What would you say any traveler should try in the different gastronomic zones of Spain?
JML: Yes, it changes a lot. The base ingredients, the prep work, just about everything in the traditional kitchen is different area to area. For example, if we are talking about the north of Spain we could try a typical marmitako, which is a potato stew with peppers and native tuna. The north tends to do a lot with fish, ox, beef, peppers, potatoes, hearty foods. I would recommend as a complete meal not to miss, a cut of hake fish in green sauce to start, then a grilled side of ox, and canutillos, stuffed pastry rolls with cream, for dessert.
In the south they do a lot of fried fish, gazpacho, and rice dishes. I would recommend gazpacho to start with, of course, followed by a cut of red tuna, then partridge stuffed and marinated in onion, with honey biscuits for dessert.
The central mesa, where Madrid and La Mancha are located, does a lot of roasted meats, especially lamb and suckling pig. The ham from this area is one of a kind and world class. You will never find anything quite like Iberian ham. If you’re in the area you should try a whole meal starting with vinegar soaked fried anchovies, then Madrid’s famous cocido, a thick ham and sausage based step, and some famous frosted pastries called rosquillos de San Isidro for dessert.