Spain is home to some of the world’s most famous and beloved dishes, making it a popular travel destination for foodies worldwide. Spanish cuisine’s rustic touches and flavorful yet straightforward recipes keep tourists and locals alike flocking to Spanish restaurants and bars.
With so many delectable Spanish dishes to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. From paella to churros, we’re breaking down the most popular foods in Spain that are a great entry point for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Spanish cuisine.
Paella: A Spanish Rice Delight
Widely regarded by tourists as Spain’s national dish, paella is always a crowd-pleaser and family favorite. While it’s now a staple in households and restaurants throughout Spain, the dish originally hails from the country’s Valencia region. Some locals regard the dish as distinctly Valencian, and some don’t identify the dish with Spain at all.
Regardless of where it came from, paella is now one of Spain’s most recognizable dishes. The one-pan dish is made with a base of rice, loaded with veggies, and topped with a protein like chicken, chorizo, or seafood.
While different regions and cultures all have their own adaptations of paella, the dish has some primary components that are consistent through every variation. Almost all paella is spiced with saffron and paprika, giving the dish its distinct yellow hue and warm, subtly smoky flavors.
If you’ve never tasted Spanish cuisine before, paella should be at the top of your list. Despite its contested history, the dish is almost synonymous with Spanish cuisine nowadays.
Chorizo: Pork for Your Fork
Chorizo is a traditional Spanish sausage made from pork. Unlike the Mexican iteration, which consists of raw, uncooked pork, Spanish chorizo is typically fermented, cured, and smoked, meaning it can be eaten without cooking.
Spanish chorizo gets its signature bite from spices like garlic and pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika). The paprika gives the sausage its patent deep red tone and smoky flavor. Spanish chorizo is classed as either picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet), depending on what type of paprika is used.
Spanish chorizo is typically eaten sliced and is a popular addition to tapas spreads, often served alongside other famous tapas like manchego cheese and olives. While chorizo holds its own as a solitary dish, it also makes a great addition to recipes like the aforementioned paella.
Jamón: Ham with the Fam(ily)
Jamón is at the center of many Spanish feasts. Jamón is the Spanish word for ham, but jamón typically refers to a specific type of dry-cured ham native to Spain.
Like chorizo, jamón is often served sliced and included in tapas spreads. Some have likened Spanish jamón to the Italian prosciutto; both are made from pork leg. However, Spanish jamón is made from a narrower breed of pigs.
Most of the jamón served in Spain is known as jamón serrano. That said, many are familiar with Jamón serrano’s more upscale relative, jamón iberico. Jamón iberico gets its name from the Iberian-breed livestock pigs from which the product is made. Jamón iberico is known for its higher fat content and marbled texture, making it a highly-demanded delicacy in Spain and around the world.
Related Article: Jamón Serrano vs Jamón Ibérico
Empanada: A Meat-Filled Thrill
Empanadas are an integral part of Spanish, Latin, and other European cuisines. The crescent-shaped pastries are similar to the American turnover and are stuffed with various fillings, both savory and sweet.
The empanada was most commonly filled with tuna or chicken, mixed with bell peppers and onions in its infancy. Now, numerous cultures have their take on the empanada and fill them with ham, chorizo, lobster and crab, cheese, vegetables, and even fruit before frying them until crispy.
The exact origin of empanadas is unknown, but they are believed to originate from Galicia in northwest Spain. The first recipe for empanadas appeared in 1520, making them one of Spain’s oldest recipes still in use today. Spanish colonists then carried the recipe over with them throughout Europe and Latin America, where they are still widely popular.
Churros: A Cinnamon-Packed Snack
Churros are a world-famous Spanish dessert made from fried dough, similar to a donut. In fact, churros are often compared to the American mini-donut, but consider them a more elevated version of the American snack. Like empanadas, churros are found throughout Latin America and Portugal but have their roots in Spain and Mexico.
Churros are made from fried dough, often in cylindrical form. After the dough is fried, the hot churros are coated with cinnamon sugar and served with a dipping sauce like chocolate ganache, caramel, or dulce de leche.
Churros are commonly served up as street food or at the end of a traditional Spanish meal. Their crispy outside and soft, spongy inside make them an irresistible indulgence.