Spain is an energetic and vibrant country, ranging from lush tropics to arid desert. From cities that are a nexus of culture (Madrid, Barcelona, Seville) to snoozing, picturesque and whitewashed coastal towns that are either time capsules of Iberian past or thriving knots of tourism, home to other Europeans seeking the constant kiss of peninsula sun. Every nation in Europe has a unique identity and Spain is no exception. With a warm climate and a close to Africa at its southern tip, via Gibraltar, Spain has seen an influx of various influences ranging from the Romans to the Moors. Subsequently that influence from both north in Europe and south in Africa has spread globally during the age of European colonisation, so Spanish culture has left an indelible mark on our planet. So if you ever find yourself in the varied tapas menu of the Spanish nation, discover these five Iberian delicacies:
No holiday to Spain would be complete without giving this refreshing soup a try. Served chilled, it is a cool mixture of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, bread, peppers and cucumber. It is often a regular feature of tapas bars and features strongly amid local cuisine in the autonomous desert region of Andalucía, regularly gracing such bars in jugs for frequent pouring into bowls or glasses. Salmorejo is a thicker version served in Cordoba, often finished off with pieces of Iberico ham on top.
Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician octopus):
With close to 5,000 kilometers of coastline both on the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, fishing bolsters the Spanish economy and seafood is a linchpin of the Spanish diet. With a plethora of morsels from the deep to select from, why not opt for a little more adventure and a culinary fiesta? Pulpo a la Gallega, or octopus, provides just such a challenge! Flavored with paprika, the tentacle dish has its origins in the 19th century when muleteers (mule drivers) brought octopi to fry them up at cattle fairs. Pulpo a la Gallega is ideal when served on a rustic wooden plate in a traditional Spanish pulperia, or octopus restaurant. Worth a look too is the Octopus Festival held in August in O Carballino, Ourense.
Usually eaten together with Jamon Serrano or Iberico ham, manchego cheese originates from the La Mancha region and is made from ewe’s milk. The buttery taste of this cheese is a wonderful compliment to offset the smoked saltiness of the Serrano or Iberico hams and would work as a great local snack.
Leche Frita (Fried Milk):
For those of you with a sweet tooth and for ones with a penchant for ferreting out the more unique of treats, then seek out Leche Frita, or Fried Milk. A hard milk centre is coated by flour and sugar, glossed over with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Cool on the inside and hot and crunchy outside. In addition to this is the Crema Catalana, essentially an Iberian take on the French Crème Brulee, often flavoured with some citrus zest or cinnamon.
Considered a seasonal dish eaten by the Spanish around Christmas, Turron is in fact enjoyed and is available throughout the nation all year round. Hailing from the town of Jijona in Alicante, the sweet dish is made with locally sourced almonds. Turron is made with almonds, honey and egg white and comes in the soft Jijona or hard Alicante varieties, the latter of which is served with pieces of almond.
So these are five dishes that a traveller to Spain should try – aside from the more obvious paella, tapas and sangria. Each meal offers you a rare glimpse into the food that has shaped and remains a staple of the Spanish peninsula and its peoples, allowing you get to the stomach and digest the bread and meat of the rich and deeply historic Spanish land.