This post is a part of our Spain for Everyone series. The information below was curated by our expert guides across the country. They are foodies too, and this is their bucket list for you!
Spanish food is so much more than paella and tapas!
Yes, both of those things are famous for good reason, and they even earn a spot in this foodie guide to Spain. However, there’s so much more to Spanish cuisine! The national gastronomy varies so much depending on what part of the country you find yourself in, but there are a few things nearly all Spanish food has in common. It tends to come from simple, natural, fresh, seasonal ingredients that create something truly magical when put together. Sound good? This foodie guide to Spain will walk you through some of our top can’t-miss gastronomic experiences all over the country!
1. Wander the stalls of a local market
There’s no better way to take a look at local life than by visiting the neighborhood market. Colorful, bustling and vibrant, market halls are a feast for all five senses. It’s no wonder, then, that our number one pick in this foodie guide to Spain is to visit one of them!
Take some time to simply find the nearest market and make your way through the stalls, observing as the locals do their grocery shopping. Once you get a feel for the market, make your way back to the places that caught your eye. Maybe you’re in the mood for a drink and tapa at one of the bars, or perhaps you want to pick up some jamón and cheese for a picnic later on. Whatever you’re in the mood for, be sure to stop and chat with the vendor if they’re not too busy and learn their story. We love getting to know these passionate, hardworking people who carry on their families’ traditions of selling the highest quality food products!
All major cities in Spain and even most smaller towns will have markets. Here are a few that stand out!
- Mercado de los Mostenses in Madrid (Plaza Mostenses, 1) has earned a stellar reputation for its wide selection of products from all over the world.
- Also in Madrid, Mercado Vallehermoso (Calle de Vallehermoso, 36) prides itself on its close-knit, family-style atmosphere.
- Recently reopened earlier this year after a nine-year renovation period, Mercat de Sant Antoni in Barcelona (Carrer Comte d’Urgell, 1) feels like a more intimate, less touristy version of the Boqueria.
- Hands down, Malaga’s Mercado de Atarazanas (Calle Atarazanas, 10) is one of the best fresh produce markets in the entire country!
2. Taste your way along Calle Ponzano in Madrid
A foodie guide to Spain would be incomplete without mentioning what might just be the best gastronomic street in the country: Calle Ponzano. This stretch of road in the authentic Chamberí neighborhood offers a whole world of culinary possibilities in the span of nearly a dozen blocks. Going out to eat here has become such a popular pastime in recent years that the concept has even earned its own hashtag on social media: #ponzaning!
No matter what you’re craving, you’ll be able to find it on Calle Ponzano. Hearty Segovian cuisine? Los Arcos de Ponzano (Calle de Ponzano, 16) has got you covered. Margaritas, micheladas and Mexican fare? Make your way to Taquería La Lupita (Calle de Ponzano, 91). Tapas with a modern twist in an industrial-cool setting? You can’t beat La Malcriada (Calle de Ponzano, 38). And that’s not to mention the Iranian caviar, Brazilian street food, no-frills cervecerías and so much more that you can find on the same street!
3. Eat the best seafood you’ve ever tasted
With shores that touch both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it’s no wonder why Spain’s seafood offerings are so diverse. Fresh fish has never been easier to find (or more fairly priced!). With that being said, we knew we had to include some of the best seafood-related experiences in the country here in our foodie guide to Spain.
In Barcelona, you can’t miss the fish auction in the traditional Barceloneta neighborhood. This time-honored custom in the city’s old fishing barrio has helped sustain local fishermen and their families for generations. The organization El Peix al Plat supports this event by organizing guided tours of the auction, as well as of neighborhood fish markets and the docks. Join one of their experiences for an insider’s look at this slice of local life.
If you find yourself in Seville, wake up early and make your way across the bridge from the city center into one of the city’s quintessential neighborhoods: Triana. If you get to the Mercado de Triana (Calle San Jorge, 6) early enough, you may have the unique experience of seeing fresh fish delivered to the vendors. We recommend buying some right away to take back to your accommodations and cook if you have access to a kitchen!
4. Taste liquid gold at an olive oil tasting in Seville
Did you know that Spain is the world’s number one producer of olive oil? That’s right—about 44 percent of the world’s olive oil comes from right here! Of the nearly 1.2 million tons of oil produced here annually, the overwhelming majority comes from the sun-drenched southernmost region of the country, Andalusia.
Most visitors to Andalusia will probably include regional capital Seville on their itinerary. If so, you can’t miss the chance to take part in an olive oil tasting here! Andalusian extra-virgin olive oil is the best in the world, and we think you’ll understand why once you try it for yourself. Many local gourmet shops in Seville organize tasting events so that guests can learn all about this beautiful oil. Some of our favorites take place at Ines Rosales (Plaza de San Francisco, 15) and La Oleoteca de Sevilla (Calle Garcia de Vinuesa, 39)!
5. Discover San Sebastian’s happening pintxos scene
Move over, tapas—in San Sebastian, it’s all about pintxos! While many visitors to Spain may be more familiar with the former, the Basque Country’s version of small plates is known locally as “pintxos.” In fact, it’s become such a phenomenon that Lonely Planet even named pintxos crawling the top foodie experience in the world! However, if popping into a crowded bar seems overwhelming, try taking a pintxos tour to help you get used to this unique way of eating.
There’s no better place to discover this one-of-a-kind concept than San Sebastian’s old quarter, home to the highest concentration of bars in the city. You’ll be able to find everything in this historic part of San Sebastian, from old-school tascas to contemporary haute cuisine pintxo bars. However, no matter where you go, each place will have its own specialty. Check out what the locals are eating—chances are it’s that particular bar’s signature pintxo that everyone comes there to try!
6. Eat authentic paella in Valencia
If you visit most cities in Spain and ask a local where to get a good paella, chances are they’ll respond with “Valencia.” Unless, of course, you’re in Valencia! While paella has earned a reputation as Spain’s most recognizable food, it’s actually a regional specialty that is at its best in its home region.
Visitors to Valencia can’t miss the chance to eat an authentic paella in the place where the dish itself originated. One of our favorite options for some of the best paella in the city is Restaurante Levante (Carrer de Góngora, 1), where you can accompany your rice with one of their 10,000+ bottles of wine. Another excellent option is La Riuà (Carrer del Mar, 27), a family-run locale that has won dozens of awards despite its humble roots.
Insider’s Tip: Keep in mind that a good paella will be freshly prepared to order. As a result, it can take a while if you order it at the restaurant itself. Many restaurants encourage guests to call ahead and order their paella ahead of time so that they can have it ready when you arrive. If you don’t do so, and your paella comes out shockingly fast (probably with a bright yellow color) run away—you’re at a tourist trap and are probably about to eat frozen, reheated rice!
7. Indulge in Spain’s gastronomic crown jewel
We’re talking about acorn-fed Iberian ham, of course! Jamón ibérico de bellota is the highest quality and most expensive version of the country’s iconic cured ham. The difference comes from the fact that it’s made exclusively from black pigs that are native to the Iberian peninsula. Throughout the last months of their lives, the pigs roam freely through mountainous meadows, eating a diet heavy in acorns. As a result, the meat has a nutty flavor and a texture that practically melts in your mouth. Acorns contain a high level of oleic acids, which give the final product a healthy fat. The salt-curing process itself can take years at a time.
When looking for a good ham, the name speaks for itself. If you see “ibérico de bellota” on the label, you know you’re getting the good stuff. Hams with a black label are guaranteed to be made from 100 percent acorn-fed Iberian pigs. Buy it directly from a ham vendor at the market to watch how they expertly slice the ham from the leg into paper-thin pieces!
8. Discover Malaga’s unique almonds
Yes, Malaga’s coastal location makes it a seafood hotspot. However, one of the most typical foods from the city may surprise you: almonds! That’s right—Malaga’s salty roasted almonds are in a class of their own. The only problem is that they’re addicting and you might find it hard to stop eating them! Get some from the market and add them to a cheese plate for a quick and easy dish to share. You’ll also find almonds in many of the region’s typical dishes, such as ajoblanco soup.
9. Learn about Spain’s true national dish
No, it’s not paella! In fact, many first-time visitors to the country may not have ever heard of Spain’s most ubiquitous food: tortilla española. This simple dish is Spanish food at its finest. All you need are potatoes, eggs, oil and salt. Some recipes call for onion, but this is a topic of heated debate in Spanish foodie circles!
The best part about tortilla española is that it’s incredibly easy to make at home (no need to look for a special pan and stand over the stove for hours like you would for a paella!). Make our tried-and-true recipe here! You can also sign up for a cooking class in a city like Madrid, Barcelona or Seville to learn more about the secrets of Spanish cuisine.
10. Go out for tapas in Granada
Tapas are a national phenomenon, but Granada is one of the best cities to experience this unique way of eating out. That’s because the overwhelming majority of bars in the city will give you a free tapa with every drink you order! This once-common practice is getting harder and harder to come by in many other cities, but Granada still holds steadfastly to the tradition. In fact, it would be strange to not get a free tapa at a bar there!
Eating like a local in Granada starts with knowing what kind of bar you’d prefer. Luckily, the city has everything from classic establishments that have been around for generations, to trendy and modern tapas joints serving fusion cuisine. Locals tend to stay at one place for most of the evening, knowing that the tapas will get better and better with each round. However, you can also take a tapas crawl across several different bars to experience more flavors.
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.