I recently returned from a jam-packed whirlwind trip to Spain where food was a key focus. I hadn’t been back to mainland Spain since I was sixteen. Madrid was the first European city I ever laid eyes on, and it was wonderful to be back. I fell head over heels in love with Spanish food.
Travelling affords you the opportunity to immerse yourself in another country’s culture and food. It’s a beautiful thing. I tried to learn and understand as much as I could while I was there.
I have decided to break this trip up into four separate posts to make them easier to digest. This one is about Spain and Spanish food in general, after which I have written about Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastián & Rioja.
My photography from this trip
In the past, I have travelled mainly solo and with more time available to spend on photography. On this trip, despite taking my new Fujifilm camera which I bought for the purposes of travelling (it’s lighter than my full-frame Canon), I shot most of my pics on my phone.
It was quite liberating to be able to walk around with only one crossover bag and lug eight kilograms of camera gear around. It was bittersweet as part of me still wanted to spend the time it took to capture little vignettes of places. You can see a few I took on one of the occasions.
I have an iPhone 14 Pro Max so it really takes great photos. I’m also really enjoying video these days and making reels is another creative outlet. The demands of the social media algorithms aside, I love the story you can capture with video.
In many of the places we went petty crime is an issue; so not having the stress of shooting with two devices and putting my phone in and out of my bag was a relief. I was, after all, on holiday. I hope you enjoy my images which help give the words visual colour (I’ve used both cameras in these pics).
12 Spanish foods you will fall in love with
There is so much amazing food to be had in Spain and we tried to eat as many of the dishes as we could. Here are just a few things to look out for that I love.
I adore anchovies so went out of my way to eat as many as possible. I simply can’t get enough. You will see them all over Spain and might be wondering what the difference between anchovies and boquerón’s are – so here goes.
Are boquerón’s and anchovies the same?
Boqueron and anchovies are essentially the same fish, belonging to the Engraulis encrasicolus species. The difference in the names lies in their preparation. When consumed fresh, it’s referred to as “anchovy” or “Bocarte.”
However, when salt is processed, it’s called “anchovy,” and when processed with vinegar, it’s called “boquerón.” Anchovies are cleaned Bocarte fish, which are cured and matured in salt for about 6 months. Among the most renowned anchovies are those from the Cantabrian Sea (where San Sebastian Donostia is). They are known for their delicate texture and intense flavour.
The preparation of Cantabrian anchovy fillets involves a traditional salting technique, which extends the shelf life of the fish. They are then gutted, resalted and weighed down to dehydrate.
After about a hundred days, the anchovies mature, turning reddish in colour. The lid is removed, the container is cleaned with brine, and a final layer of salt is added before sealing it hermetically.
Canned anchovies are commonly sold in glass jars or plastic containers. It’s important to note that unlike canned fish and seafood, canned anchovies require refrigeration as they are semi-preserved.
If they are preserved it is in either olive oil or sunflower oil. This was confusing as we found tinned anchovies in the fridge aisles of supermarkets. I ate anchovies nearly every day on my trip as for me, they are one of the most delicious treats on the planet.
Paella is Spain’s most famous dish, and you will find variations all over the country. It originates from Valencia and is traditionally made with rabbit and snails.
I personally love it with seafood, and here you can have the seafood cleaned and ready to eat, or ‘dirty’ with the skin and heads of the prawns still on and the shells with the shellfish. Whilst eating it clean is much easier, keeping the heads and shells in the paella imparts a much richer flavour of the sea.
3. Spanish Fideuà (or pasta paella)
I ate this for the first time on this trip and fell in love. I can’t wait to try and recreate what I tasted in my kitchen.
Spanish Fideuà, especially the seafood variety (Fideuà marisco), is a pasta-based alternative to traditional paella. What’s even better is that it’s notably simpler to prepare. Fideuà is a one-pot dish that is great to feed a crowd. As everything cooks quite quickly, the seafood is cut very small to accommodate the cooking time.
3. Patatas Bravas
My biggest regret with this trip is that we only ate this dish twice. When we could have eaten it again, we were either too full or the restaurant we were in didn’t serve it. The dish we ate at El Quim in Barcelona was the best patatas bravas I have ever eaten. Doused in a red pepper and an aioli-like sauce it was pure heaven.
4. Padron pepper
Scorched whole Padron peppers are another delicious side dish which you will find all over. These are generally not too spicy and are one of the only ways you will feel like you are eating vegetables.
Spain produces some of the best Jamon (ham) in the world, especially from the Iberico region. Quality will vary and it’s worth hunting down the good stuff. The less expensive jamon is also however delicious.
Chorizo is typically made by combining ground pork with a blend of paprika, garlic, and other spices to create a flavour-packed sausage. This mixture is then stuffed into natural casings and left to dry or ferment, allowing the flavours to develop and intensify. The result is a delicious, slightly spicy sausage with a distinctive red colour, enjoyed in various Spanish dishes and tapas.
Eggs are big in Spanish cuisine, and you will find egg dishes everywhere. You will find them paired in unusual ways. For example, fried in olive oil and served with seafood or mushrooms.
Spanish tortilla is another very famous dish that I thought was a little bland before visiting. I ended up eating a few and really enjoyed them. They are best when made fresh in a small pan, otherwise, try to find ones that are freshly made with a wobbly middle.
Sometimes onions are used and other times not. They are an elaborate kind of omelette, and I found them perfect for breakfast. They are eaten at any time of day in Spain and this really is the most versatile dish imaginable. I can’t wait to play around with recipes for tortilla.
9. Fresh seafood
Spain has some of the most incredible seafood I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. We ordered more seafood than anything else. We didn’t eat chicken or beef as this is what we eat a lot of at home. I’m besotted with monkfish and razor clams.
10. Pimenton – or smoked paprika
Pimenton, Spanish paprika or smoked paprika is an essential flavour of Spain and I couldn’t imagine Spanish food without it.
Smoked paprika, or “pimentón,” is made by drying and smoking ripe red peppers. The process typically involves roasting the peppers over an open flame or in a smokehouse until they are charred and tender. Afterwards, they are ground into a fine powder. The smoking process imparts a smoky flavour and distinct red colour to the paprika. It is a key ingredient in many Spanish dishes. There are three main varieties of smoked paprika in Spain: dulce (sweet), agridulce (bittersweet), and picante (spicy), each offering different levels of heat and smokiness to various culinary creations.
The tomatoes in Spain are incredible in summer. You will see them featured in a few dishes but most prominently simply rubbed onto toasted bread con tomate.
The bread in Spain is very good so it’s not always necessary to order your bread con tomate (with tomato) as this is about four times the price of regular bread. We learned this the hard way when we ordered 3 portions at one of our early meals at about 5 Euro each so essentially paid R300 for 6 small pieces of tomato toast. It was, however, delicious and doused in olive oil.
Spanish turron, also known as nougat, is a sweet that is a big part of Spain’s culinary heritage. This confection is made by blending honey, sugar, and egg whites with roasted nuts, such as almonds or hazelnuts. The mixture is then shaped into blocks and left to harden, resulting in a sweet, nutty treat. There are two main types of turron: “turron de Jijona,” which is soft and smooth, and “turron de Alicante,” which is hard and crunchy. You will find specialty stores all over Spain and they offer samples to help you decide what to buy. I wish I had brought more back with me.
More travel stories: