The online Plaza Mayor for those who love Spain, and those who blog about it.

Five Delicious Things About Spain

April 23, 2013 by Luann Edwards

A true Iberophile knows that Spain has some of the best cuisine in the world. Travelers to the Iberian peninsula can land in any city, inland or coast, and enjoy something that is truly delicious and completely unique. We have the country’s rich history and culture to thank for it – and every bite tells a story. Learning a country through its food is the most basic way to travel.

Our theme this week is food; in particular, tapas. Tapas are the food version of social media. Its history is murky, but there is one common idea in the story: people would sit with tapas and beverages and eat them together. When eating in any Spanish city, I have noticed that I am never served a glass of wine without a small sandwich or other bite to accompany it. That may prove the theory as travel blogger Emma Higgins says in her blog about Spanish tapas, “…Bars serv[ed] every drink ordered by a sailor or solider with a small plate of food on top to ensure they kept eating and wouldn’t get so drunk.”


Tapas are typically known by the common selections: tortilla, gambas al ajillo, jamón Iberico, croquetas, and patatas bravas. My favorite is the tortilla Española, a deliciously simple combination of potatoes, a whole onion, a dose of olive oil and eggs. A cool glass of wine and some fresh crusty bread and I am one happy lady. Below are what I’ve judged to be the top five most important tapas:


1. Tortilla

I start with my favorite, the tortilla Española. This deliciously simple combination of potatoes, yellow onion, a dose of olive oil and eggs can be found in almost every Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. It works for breakfast, lunch, and that middle hour between the siesta and dinner that tapas tradition owns. You can have it in a plate, or on a bun – a bocadillo.  A wedge of tortilla, a cool glass of wine and some fresh crusty bread makes me one happy lady. As Ms. Higgins said, “For some reason I’ve found that there really is nothing like a tortilla made by a Spaniard.”  I couldn’t agree more!


2. Gambas al ajillo

Shrimp, or prawns, served in a clay pot swimming in a spicy olive oil.  This dish is associated with a memory so poignant that I yearn to return to that moment: A warm evening in Segovia, sitting outside the Plaza Mayor. I remember a Tweet I shared about it, “Dinner on the square: gambas al ajillo, crusty roll, cool glass of Rueda. A woman sits at a piano. #travelbite #segovia.” In case you’d like to make your own, here’s a recipe by a guest blogger at wwww.holayessica.com. As she says, ” Gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns), in particular, are classic Spanish and the perfect example of how easy it really is to cook Spanish cuisine.” I  believe that what makes Spanish cuisine so good is the fresh simplicity of its ingredients. Yes, there’s plenty of  fancy in Spain, but these old favorites endure.


3. Jamón Iberico

I feel a bit sad for all of the pigs that live in Spain, since there fate is already pre-determined. Eventually, some day, they will find themselves hanging out at a Museo del Jamón. At the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing. This cured Spanish ham, a superior cousin of Italian proscuitto, is woven into the fabric of Spanish cuisine. If you enter a traditional Spanish restaurant and there are no ham hocks hanging from the ceiling, turn and walk away. If you are in Spain, seated at a table, about to enjoy some tapas, there had better be a portion of jamón coming out. Just read the description as Jennifer Shanks wrote in her travel blog: “[They are] gorgeous cured ham shanks made from acorn-fed black Iberian pigs – hung from the ceiling.” It’s a must – don’t leave Castille without a taste.

Cheese gets second billing here, but is an important accompaniment as well – a few slices of Manchego will only enhance the experience of the jamón, but that’s just my opinion.


Museo de Jamón, Madrid

Museo del Jamón, Madrid


4. Croquetas

I will spend the least time describing croquetas – croquettes – since they’re the least interesting to me. It is still one of the most famous and important items on the Spanish tapas menu. I’ll let Don Victor’s Homemade Spanish Cuisine blog tell the story, “A Croquette is a small bread crumbed deep-fried oval or cylinder shaped dough containing, usually as main ingredients, mashed potatoes, ground meat (Chicken and/or Serrano Ham), fish (unsalted Cod and/or Prawns), cheese, vegetables (Leek, Mushrooms, Onions) or any combination thereof and mixed with Béchamel.”


Please  do not think, however, that having croquetas with jamón means you’ve fulfilled the requirement listed in number 3.


5. Patatas Bravas

They’re carbs. They’re fried. And then they’re covered in a delicious tomato-ey, spicy, oily sauce and served  you on a platter. What’s not to love about patatas bravas? They so rich that you have to share, but so good that you have to resist fighting your table mates for the last bite. Matthew Hirtes at Spain Holiday had this nugget of wisdom to share: “Whilst the Spanish are keen on spices, they’re not so hot for spicy food. One of the few exceptions to the rule is the nationwide favourite, patatas bravas.” My fondest memory of this dish occurred on the Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona: I’m sitting at an outdoor restaurant on an unseasonably warm December afternoon, enjoying one bite at a time.


My fellow Iberophiles will have enjoyed this tour through the favorite tapas of Spain – and likely have some fond memories to go along with them. If you’re an aspiring Iberophile, go forth and start tasting some memories of your own.


Posted in Curation, Food and Wine |

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