Spain is wonderfully diverse across the board – food, people, culture and landscape. That’s probably why it is one of the most popular holiday destinations, and rightfully so.

Over the centuries, Spain has been an incredible cultural melting pot which has created the foundations of this amazing country’s cuisine. It would be impossible to list the best of each region but we can cover some things you shouldn’t miss on your next visit.

What to eat in Spain

What to eat in Spain very much depends on where you are. We would always recommend seeking out the local speciality, as well as checking the season you’re in – what’s freshest is always the best! Let’s take a look at some of the essential foods you need to try when you visit Spain.

National dish

I am just going to go ahead and say it. I know you already know paella and tortilla but I beg you not to dismiss it and try the real thing when you’re in Spain.

In fact, try it multiple times in different regions. Paella showcases the best seafood, meats and flavours of each region but real saffron will always make it better.


Grab a bottle of local wine and pick up some local cheese for a picnic on the go or, better yet, grab some of these favourites for the suitcase:

  • Manchego – You know it. Ewe’s milk. Hard. Sweet. Nutty.
  • Tetilla – From pastured cows. Salty and creamy.
  • Torta de Casar – Intense and slightly bitter; smooth and melts in your mouth.
  • Cabrales – Made of raw cow/goat/sheep’s milk, cured in caves, and outstandingly blue and full of flavour.
  • Mahon – from cow’s milk, aged to different degrees of perfection with a bit of salt from the sea; can be used in sweet and savoury dishes, and there’s one for every palate.

wheels of cheese

Hearty stews

Every country has its own rustic stews that have been around for centuries and are as essential as ‘cerveza’. Here are some you shouldn’t miss:

Robo del Toro (Oxtail stew) – Although it goes back to Roman times, it was often made after the bullfights. Cooked slow until it melts in the mouth.

Cocido Madrileno – There’s one essential ingredient to this dish and it’s chickpeas. That aside, it is packed full of flavours and things to get you through the winter; blood sausage, lard, bacon, chorizo, beef; along with winter root vegetables, all which make it the perfect family warming winter dish. Definitely not one for the veggies.

Zarzuela de Mariscos – Just a rustic, gorgeous, fresh catch of the day shellfish stew. Using a tomato base with some peppers, they’ll also chuck in some chorizo, jamon, olive oil, saffron, garlic, paprika – if you see it, just order it!


All of it! If you’re coastal, keep an eye out for a fantastic variety… octopus, squid, mussels, clams, oysters, crabs, crayfish, scallops – basically everything we can’t find in the UK and more, all fresh and fantastic (a major must if you find yourself in Galica).

Pulpo a la Gallega – Paprika and garlic octopus in olive oil

Gambas al Ajillo – Garlic shrimp, perhaps with a splash of sherry, lemon and parsley


Cochinillo asado – Crackling, suckling pig is a favourite the world over, but is something to behold in Spain.

Jamon Iberico – Cured ham from a black Iberian pig. Of course you’ve heard of it – throw some in your check in bag with some cheese.

legs of ham in a market


  • Flan – The timeless classic. Smooth, creamy custard, with hints of caramelised sugar.
  • Leche Frita – Translated ‘fried milk’ (custard) rolled in sugar and cinnamon, that oozes into your mouth.
  • Turron – Popular at Christmas, but can be found anytime, anywhere. Made with honey, eggs and sugar (like a nougat), but the star of the dessert is nuts. This has evolved into tons of choices, flavours and options.

nougat in a shop

  • Tarta de Queso – Spanish cheesecake. Nothing like New York cheesecake.

What to drink in Spain

Sidra (cider) – Traditionally poured at least a foot above the glass, it is tart, dry, and gaining popularity.

Horchata – Think rice pudding in a cup, milky, sweet, hints of cinnamon and vanilla, served cold on a hot day, or warmed up on a cold night.

Rioja (red wine) – When in doubt, order a glass of Rioja. First legally recognised by the King in 1102 and the grape dating back even further; they’re clearly doing something right.

Vino de Jerez (sherry) – As far back as the 12th Century, this Andalucian wine from Jerez (then the area of Sherish) was already beloved and exported over to England. Just don’t ask for Sherry – they may not know what you want.

Not to be missed

As with any trip, we firmly believe in exploring places on your own terms and carving your own personal experiences. However, the NotInTheGuideBooksteam’s personal culinary highlights in France were:

Lee says…

“If you find yourself in Madrid, pop into Panic for a fresh organic loaf, find a bottle of Rioja, some cheese and jamon, and find a quiet corner of a nearby park.”

Jennifer says…

“Pop in to the local tapas bar, order a drink and a pick and mix of food! Tapas is a great way to sample a lot of dishes at once. I recommend ‘huevos rotos’ and ‘pimientos de padron’.”

¡Buen provecho!

If this has got your taste buds going and an itch to explore the culinary wonders of Spain, why not take your next holiday in Spain to the next level on a cooking holiday?

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