Spanish cuisine has been greatly influenced by many different cultures, notably the Moors and Arabs, who left their mark over more than seven centuries, until the end of the 1400s. Many of Spain's most exquisite dishes are based onseafood, although there are countless regional specialties too. In the Basque Country, to the North, cod vizcaina or cod pil-pil are a particular delicacy, as well as angulas, tasty baby eels from Aguinaga. Asturias is famed for its bean soup, called fabada, also for its cheeses and the best cider in Spain. In Galicia you will find the best quality shellfish, often cooked in casseroles, and a number of regional seafood dishes, such as hake a la Gallega. Even in the interior of Spain you'll find excellent fresh seafood.
Spaniards are also very proud of their meats, particularly Jamon (ham). You will often see whole joints of ham hanging from hooks in bars and restaurants. Lamb and sausage (especially chorizo) are also very common. Central Spain, in particular, is known for its roasts. Lamb, veal, sucking pig and young goat, to mention but a few, are typically slowly roasted in wood ovens to give them their especially rich flavors. Beans, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and lots of olive oil are all common ingredients in Spanish cooking.
With over 50 wine regions, Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world. Its most famous wines are reds from the regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and whites from Penedes and Rueda. Also famed are Spanish sherries from Jerez, and a fine sparkling wine known as cava (Spanish champagne).
Beers in Spain: Most bars will only have one beer on tap (though some will have a standard lager and a non-alcoholic version, while a few others will have a pale and a dark lager). More and more dark beers are popping up in Spain, especially in the North. Beer in Spanish bars isn't sold by quantity but by the type of glass - and the type of glasses available in one bar can vary greatly to those available in other bars. These are the types of glasses:
- Caña: The smallest beer that a bar sells. In size it may resemble a wine or brandy glass.
- Tubo: A tall thin glass. About 10oz.
- Botella de cerveza: A 10oz bottle of beer.
- Bottelin de cerveza: A smaller, 6oz bottle of beer. Not available in all bars.
- Jarra or Tanque: Generally the largest glass available, normally about a pint. (Confusingly, a 'jarra' might also be used to describe a large jug, served with many glasses to be shared.)
- Paella, from Valencia in the East of Spain, was originally prepared with meat and no seafood. Paella is a rice dish seasoned with saffron, and can include seafood, sausage, chicken, beans, and vegetables. It is prepared and served in a special flat pan, usually for two or more people.
- Gazpacho is a cold soup of blended tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions. It is typically served in summer. (Salmorejo is a special type of gazpacho, which also includes bread.)
- Empanadas are small pies made with either meat or fish.
- Pimientos de Padron are small green peppers, deep fried or fried in oil. They can be a bit spicy!
- Albondigas are meatballs. They range from being large and wrapped in bacon, to small and covered in a sauce. As well as being a main meal they are often served as a tapa.
- Queso Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese and is served in various degrees of age.
- Flan is a caramel custard dessert.
- Tortilla is a particularly thick omelet with potato and a little onion, usually served as a tapa.
- Cocido is a traditional Spanish stew, consisting of three basic ingredients - meat, pulses and vegetables, which vary according to the specialties of the region. It is usually served in three courses, called vuelcos. First comes the soup, i.e., the broth in which everything was boiled, then the vegetables and pulses, and finally the meat.
There are also many dishes based on beans (chickpeas, lentils, green beans).
Breakfast (desayuno): A traditional Spanish breakfast is small, but quite rich. It typically includes a cup of coffee with a slice of toast and jam or a pastry. Spaniards also drink cafe con leche (espresso coffee with steamed milk) with a roll and some cheese and/or jam. One very Spanish breakfast combination is chocolate con churros; thick hot chocolate served with a sort of deep-fried tubular doughnut.
Lunch (almuerzo/comida): Generally eaten quite late and is considered the main meal of the day. It is typically served between 2:00pm and 4:00pm (most restaurants will not open before 2pm). It is a long and relaxed affair, with several courses and, if you like, plenty of wine.
Dinner (cena): Also served relatively late, from around 8:30pm onwards, with most Spaniards eating at 10:00pm or later. You'll be hard pressed to find a restaurant that is open earlier than this. In most restaurants in Madrid reservations are strongly advised, especially on weekends.
Tapas: Thankfully, for those of us who can't wait to eat, and those of us who don't always want to eat a large meal, there are tapas. Tapas are finger foods, served in bars and cafes in a range of styles and prices. You can find bars serving tapas all day long. As there is a gap of several hours between lunch and dinner, Spaniards usually go "bar hopping" ("Ir de tapas") after work. Keep in mind, however, that tapas is not a particular type of food. Tapas in Spain are usually given for free to accompany a drink before lunch or dinner (especially in southern Spain, but not so much in Madrid city centre). They may be cold, such as mixed olives and cheese, or warm, such as puntillitas, Andalusian battered, fried baby squid. When looking for tapas bars, look for cervecerias (bars specializing in beer), tabernas, tascas, mesones, or bodegas.
Eating out in Spain is often a cheap option and there is something to suit every palate. Below is just a sample of recommended restaurants in Madrid. All of the restaurants which have "(V)" after their name serve vegetarian options.
Spanish & Tapas
Traditional Spanish cuisine
Cava Baja, 35 (Metro La Latina) map
Approximate price: 30 Euros
Based on the edge of old Madrid, Casa Lucio first opened its doors in 1974. Since then it has become a favorite for many famous faces. The traditional Spanish cuisine and friendly atmosphere have attracted celebrities such as Elle Macpherson, Pierce Brosnan and Will Smith, as well as politicians and statesmen, including Queen Sofia and Laura Bush.
(Link to Viejo Madrid within the website of its mother restaurant, Casa Lucio)
Traditional Spanish cuisine.
Cava Baja, 32 (Metro La Latina) map
Approximate price: 40 Euros
Located opposite its "mother restaurant", the Casa Lucio, Viejo Madrid offers the same high quality and traditional experience with a few extra specialties of the house, including "el filete especial del buey" (special beef fillet) and "chipirones" (baby squid).
Calle Velazquez, 57 (Metro Velazquez) map
Paseo de la Castellana, 132 (Metro Santiago Bernabeu) map
Calle Fuencarral, 43 (Metro Tribunal, Gran Via or Chueca) map
Approximate price: 20 Euros
Always busy, this restaurant is a popular place to try a variety of cooking styles and flavors - tapas is the perfect introduction to Spanish cuisine. There are three of these restaurants dotted around Madrid in Calle Fuencarral, Paseo de la Castellana and Calle Velazquez.
Paseo de la Castellana, 8 (Metro Colon) map
Approximate price: 50 Euros
With its avant-garde decor, Castellana OTTO manages to combine being a modern restaurant with serving traditional cuisine. The menu is updated regularly to incorporate seasonal ingredients. At night time the restaurant transforms itself to include a bar area, which is ideal if you simply want a drink in a sophisticated and up-beat atmosphere.
(Link to Goizeko Gaztelupe restaurants across Spain)
Comandante Zorita, 37 (Metro Alvarado) map
Approximate price: 60 Euros
This restaurant has held the Michelin Star for thirteen years. Specialties of the house include the lobster salad, red tuna in a mango vinagrette and the cod ravioli with "pil pil" sauce. They pride themselves on serving authentic Basque flavors with modern and seasonal twists in an elegant setting.
Rice dishes from Eastern Spain
Calle Capitan Haya, 43 (Metro Cuzco or Plaza de Castilla) map
Approximate price: 60 Euros
The famous L'Albufera Restaurant is the ideal place to sample exquisite rice dishes from Spain's east coast, as well as a wide range of Spanish cuisine. For greater privacy its space is divided into two, a welcoming covered terrace and a large lounge on several levels, including a smoking area.
Calle de Palomares, 1 map
Close to the Tryp Leganes Hotel. This restaurant offers excellent pastas and pizzas at reasonable prices.
Parque de la Chopera de Leganes map
This restaurant is set in a very picturesque location on the outskirts of Leganes. Their specialties are barbequed meats (carnes a la brasa), rice with lobster (arroz con bogavante) and oxtail (rabo de toro).
More suggestions of restaurants in Leganes here.
Try these links for useful vocabulary guides to ease your dining experience!