Like many European countries, Spain has a strong culinary tradition which comes from a long and rich history of cultural turmoil. Over the centuries, Spanish food has changed because of internal factors and external influences from the former colonies.
Modern Spain includes 17 autonomous regions but ideally, you can divide the country into seven major cultural hubs: Basque country, Catalunya, Galicia, Andalucía, Asturias, Balearic Islands and Canary Islands. People in each of these regions are connected with a strong sense of belonging and cultural bonds that go beyond administrative ones.
Obviously, if you say 'Spanish food', the first thing that springs to mind is Paella. Rightly so, might I add, because it's one of the things that anyone, anywhere, knows and appreciates. However, there's so much more that Spain has to offer.
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Ok, Jamón is not exactly a dish, more a product, but it is a big deal around here. There is a world of difference between the trillion recipes and dishes which include the word 'Jamón'. In short, it is dry-cured ham and it is darker, more textured than other types of ham because it takes around 18 months to make.
Jamón is technically the Spanish word for ham, but that is only going to tell you a fraction of the story. It is produced all around Spain, with regional and local variants, but the most common type is called Jamón Ibérico, made from the black Iberian pig, a breed of black pigs native of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain.
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Gazpacho is a traditional cold soup which comes from Andalucía, specifically the area that includes Sevilla, Granada and Córdoba. The original recipe includes bread, olive oil, water, vinegar and garlic. Hardship breeds ingenuity, and Gazpacho, like so many other traditional dishes in Spain, and Mediterranean Europe in general, is easy to make and only contains simple ingredients.
Over the years, chefs and restaurants have created variants because Gazpacho can be enriched with more ingredients and more elements, without the altering the basic structure and nature of the dish. These days, Gazpacho can often include avocado, seafood and tomatoes, or even watermelon and strawberries.
Pulpo a la Gallega
Pulpo a la Gallega, also known as Polbo á feira in Galicia, is Galician style octopus, ideally accompanied with bread and red wine. Every step of the process and every ingredient it comes with is dictated by tradition. The octopus has to be boiled in a copper cauldron and before boiling it, you're supposed to dip its tentacles three times in the water.
All you add is "pemento", which is Galician spicy paprika, olive oil, and that's about it.
Gambas al ajillo
Spain has around 3084 miles of coastline. That means a great deal of Spanish recipes and traditional dishes are all about seafood. Gambas al ajillo, technically served as tapa(s) to go with your drink, is a relatively simple dish consisting of garlic and prawns, although some people use shrimps. It is very good and super-easy to make.
You can do it at home and it only takes a few minutes. Fry garlic in olive oil (some people add chili or green chili), then add prawns and parsley and hey presto, you've got yourself some gambas al ajillo.
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Patatas bravas can be found anywhere in Spain, usually served as tapas, with regional and local differences. Patatas is Spanish for potatoes, whereas Bravas refers to a type of sauce that originated, like the dish itself, in Madrid, and is made with sweet and spicy paprika (pimentón).
You slice potatoes into small cubes and then fry them in olive oil, some people add garlic, and then you add warm Bravas sauce. There's also a seafood variant, particularly popular near the coastline, with mussels.
This is going to be a bit more complicated because preparing Carillada takes skill and time. Carrillada is made with pork cheeks or beef cheeks, braised and soaked in sauce. The end result has be tender and juicy, so it's all about getting the pork or beef cheeks right.
Like most other traditional dishes in Spain, there are several local differences and variants, the most common of which is the addition of wine, especially sweet wine.
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Paella is by far and away the most popular and widely well-known traditional food ever to come out of Spain. The dish originally comes from Valencia, in Southern Spain, and even though several versions exist, the original recipe, known as 'paella valenciana' was made with round grain rice, bajoqueta, tavella and garrofó, varieties of green beans and lima beans respectively, along with rabbit, chicken, olive oil and saffron.
However, when we think of paella, we associate the name with the paella de marisco, seafood paella, which is the one that most people have actually tried, where beans, rabbit and chicken are replaced with seafood. Mixed paella is also very popular, it is essentially a hybrid version of both, including livestock and seafood, and vegetables, too.