Food and Cuisine in Spain
The Spanish have never acquired the international reputation for haute cuisine enjoyed by their French neighbours. And millions of foreign tourists who flock to Spain's costas each summer find their menu options at best limited and at worst swimming in garlic!
In fact many overseas visitors never get to sample food from the “real Spain” because the most popular coastal areas have been saturated with fast food joints and international restaurants.
To savour the truly wonderful world of Spanish food it's essential to venture beyond the seaside tourist traps and follow the example of the Spaniards. Food is far more than a way of keeping body and soul together in Spain – it's an entire experience and the focal point of the Spanish way of life.
Influences on Spanish Food
Spanish food reflects this vast country's turbulent history, diverse geography and Mediterranean culture. Centuries of occupation by the Moors, who were the first to cultivate olives and oranges in Spain, made a huge impact on the Spanish diet as did decades of extreme poverty suffered by millions under Franco's repressive regime.
You can taste the Moorish influence in the huge variety of Spanish dishes flavoured with cumin, saffron and other exotic spices. The sumptuous soups and stews which you'll find all over Spain today were the staple diet of peasant communities, surviving on home grown vegetables and meat bones stewed for hours to eke out very ounce of flavour.
The food and cuisine of Andalucia
The Costa del Sol is famed for its grilled sardines, barbecued on the beach in the summer months, whilst wider Andalucia brought us Gazpacho (chilled tomato soup) and the delightful habit of serving tapas with every drink.
Traditionally a tapa, which means cover in Spanish, was served free with a drink – maybe a morsel of dried ham, manchego cheese or tortilla. The snack was placed on the small plate used to cover the drink to keep away flies. In most tourist centres these days you have to pay for your tapas but they're still served free in many inland areas of Andalucia and elsewhere around the country.
Food and cuisine of Galicia
Galicia, in the north west corner of Spain, is the place to visit for some of the finest fresh fish in the world. And in many regions where the numbers of pigs and sheep outnumber people, you'll find a heavy reliance on pork and lamb dishes. Pork is the most widely eaten meat in Spain – partly because the Moors refused to eat it so cooking with pork became almost a symbol of Christian defiance.
An exciting way of exploring Spanish food and wine is through culinary tours in Spain. You can find all sorts of them, from wine tasting in La Rioja to tapas tours in cities like Madrid and Barcelona, as well as cooking lessons in emblematic places and olive oil or serrano ham routes.