Jamon Serrano, paella, cocido, tortilla de patata – these are some of the most common dishes that are easily associated with Spanish cuisine, but there is a whole lot more to it. Spanish cuisine is a complex and diverse buffet of dishes where the unifying thread lies perhaps in the use of fresh ingredients that come from the surrounding environment – seafood from the waters and all others grown from the land. Thus it has come to be known more for its distinctly rustic flavors, loyal and true to the regional roots and the local ingredients that inspired the dishes.
Traditional ingredients used in cooking have come from all across the Mediterranean region – olive oil, wheat, beans, potatoes, cabbage and mushrooms. Animal products such as pork, lamb and beef are also integral to the cuisine – hams and other pork products have long been staples in the Spanish diet. Wine is also very much a part of the cuisine, either incorporated into the dishes or served with the meals. Today, wine, beer and water are the typical accompaniments to a meal.
For the Spaniards, a day may consist of several meals – starting from the desayuno (breakfast) which consists of either coffee or hot, thick chocolate with a toast or sweet roll. There is also las onces (second breakfast), taken around 11 am (hence the term). For some households, 12 noon is time for tapas, a little midday snack with wine. Tapas (meaning “lid” or “cover”) can be as simple as bread and meat, or as complex to a stew of vegetables and seafood, or an omelette of potatoes, ham and cheese. Lunch is taken late at around 2 pm and is typically the heaviest meal of the day. Then there is la merienda (afternoon snack) taken anywhere from 5 pm to 9 pm followed by la cena (dinner) served late in the evening. Most often forgo the dinner and just go for a leisurely tapas crawl, where several small plates of savoury and sweet dishes are eaten with wine, beer or aperitif.
Every region in Spain can be identified by the indigenous cuisine and food items that are their contribution to the gastronomic pot. From Valencia comes the famous Paella (saffron rice with an assortment of seafood, meat, poultry and vegetables); Asturias is known for Fabada Asturiana (white bean stew with morcilla, chorizo and saffron) as well as the strong Cabrales cheese; from Madrid came Cocido Madrileno (chickpea stew with morcilla, salt pork, poultry and other vegetables) and Callos a la Madrilena; internationally-known Rioja wines from La Rioja; Txakoli wine and seafood dishes from the Basque county; Gazpacho (chilled tomato soup) and Jabugo ham from the Andalusian region; Jamon Serrano from Aragon and the decadently rich Crema Catalan from Catalonia. These are just among some of the many culinary gems that can be found in the different regions of Spain and are among the attractions.
Although very traditional, Spanish cuisine is evolving and taking on new dimensions thanks to the efforts of chefs and food experts who have put the food on the world map. Angel Muro was a 19th century gourmet and author who wrote the definitive “Practicon” – a cookbook that is still being referred to by Spanish chefs today. Ferran Adria, a proponent of molecular gastronomy is hailed as one of the best chefs in the world today.