The dominant Moor culture laid the foundations for today's cuisine, which largely relies on tradition.
Bite-sized snacks are called tapas. On the tapas serving dish, you can find almost everything – from small pieces of shrimp and fish, to stuffed vegetables, cheese, small breads and omelettes.
Located in the southwestern part of Europe, Spain is the third largest country on the European continent. It is very mountainous, with less rain than the remaining parts of Europe.
The landscape varies from dry mountainous regions to fertile fields and orchards; from the magnificent coast to the rural or city centres in the interior.
The complex ethnic and cultural system reflects a tumultuous past which began with the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthagans, who settled in the coastal areas. The area was later occupied by the Romans and Moors, the founders of traditional Spanish cuisine, which began to obtain its full form with the discovery and import of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, chocolate, vanilla, and other spices.
Characteristics of the cuisine
It is said that it is as complex as Asian cuisine, exceptionally diverse as though all European cuisine was mixed into it, and that it reflects the contradiction of its own country – this is Spanish cuisine.
The Romans and Moors created the foundation of Spanish cuisine, which began to obtain its full form with the discovery and import of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, chocolate, and vanilla.
There is a saying: on the south the food is fried on oil; in the interior, there are roasts and barbeques; and in the north they make stew.
With its diversity in geography and climate, Spain is a country with an interesting and rich culinary offer. As is the case with other Mediterranean countries, the backbone of this cuisine is made up of seafood, though a large quantity of pork is also consumed here.
The dominant Moor culture laid the foundations for today’s cuisine, which continues as tradition.
The meals are served very late: a light breakfast is served around 8, a midmorning snack around 11, lunch after 14, and dinner is served after 21. The Spanish clearly have a different understanding of time than their rushed European neighbours, even the meals are not ''jumped into'' directly, but are preceded by a light bite-sized snack, known as tapas. On the serving dish of tapas, nibbled on with drinks (there are numerous tapas-bars, better known as tasca), you can find everything – from pieces of shrimp, squid, shellfish and fish to marinated or stuffed vegetables, cheese, eggs, small breads and omelettes.
You have probably heard of paella: a colourful dish of rice and chopped pieces of fish, seafood, meat and vegetables, always seasoned with saffron. This specialty has its own frying pan in which it is prepared - paellero which is wide, round and shallow, with a flat bottom. For paella, you require either calasparra or arborio rice, which the Arabs brought into Europe over the Iberian peninsula. Though paella was invented in the Albufera region, it is known today as paella a la Valenciana, because it came to full life in that region. In the risotto, you can add cuttlefish and its black pigment, so the risotto turns black - arroz negro.
Contrary to the close, but still diverse, Italian cuisine, traditional Spanish cuisine does not use pasta. If you do not get rice as a side dish, you will receive potatoes or bread.
The strongest spice is garlic. Gambas al ajillo are shrimps fried with garlic on oil or butter; champignon al ajillo is also a tasty dish of mushrooms braised with garlic, and sopa Juliana is a soup of vegetables and garlic.
Zarzuela de mariscos, a seafood stew, is found on most restaurant menus. Before cooking, meat is most often marinated in a sauce comprised of oil, vinegar, garlic and onion, and the sauces served with the meat contain a small amount of wine.
A lot of oil (olive oil of course) is used in Spanish cooking, more so than in other parts of Europe.
A plentiful meal needs to be accompanied by the proper drink: a sweet madeira, red marsala, sangria of wine and fruit, sweet red wine, sherry of white wine and cognac or a drink made of milk and almonds, horchata.
Traditional desserts emerged under Moor influence. They are very sweet, and the most common ingredients are ground almonds or marzipan, candied fruits, honey, eggs, lemon peel and cinnamon. Flan is a cooked egg cream smothered in caramel sauce. With coffee or hot chocolate, churro is served, a fried dessert which we provide the recipe for.
Basque country is proud of its seafood dishes: eels, squids, fish soups and other fish dishes, as well as marmitako, a dish made of potatoes and tuna. To the east, along the coast, there is Asturia, whose specialties combine green beans and pork – the fabada stew, Cabralesquality blue cheese, and the distinguished apple-brandy. In Cantabria, maritime and mountainous cuisine is combined with quality ingredients, including beef, anchovies and dairy products. The northwesternGalicia still preserves their Celtic origin in their meals, such as meat and fish pieces, seafood and veal. Aragon, La Rioja and Navarra are fertile plains, a true heaven for fruits and vegetables (asparagus, peppers, pears, peaches...).
Cataloniais believed to be the most exciting gastronomic region, with specialties such as seafood with rice, meat and poultry, which are combined with local fruits. Andalusia loves spicy food, and uses spices such as saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sesame. From this region of Spain, the recipe emerged for the famous gazpacho, a cold tomato soup. In Castile, you will find mostly meat specialties – roast meat and lamb, and Estremadura was made famous for its dried pork products (bacon, ham, and chorizo sausages).
The Canary Islands offer an especially specific cuisine, and highlighted specialties include gofio, bread made of ground roast cereals baked in the shape of a ball, dishes made of leguminous plants, tropical fruit and mojos, hot sauce with peppers and coriander.
- Capital city: Madrid
- Surface area: 505, 000 km2
- Population: 42, 700, 000
- Time zone: GMT/UTC +1
- Languages: the official language is Spanish, but other languages include Galician, Catalonian, and Basque
- Religion: 85% Roman Catholic, 2% Jewish, 2% Muslim
- Currency: euro (€)