Gastronomy in Spain
A Brief HistoryThe Spanish cuisine of today is an amalgamation of foods, flavors and styles that represent the various periods in the country’s history. Moors, for example, brought pomegranates and pesto to the region, while the North African Jews introduced a style of cooking with nuts. Potatoes and tomatoes, both a staple in Spanish gastronomy, were first brought by navigators sailing to the Americas, who also returned with a variety of plants and new ideas.
Spain’s long and storied history, with outsiders consistently intent on possessing the region, may at first glance appear to be a disadvantage from a gastronomical point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth. The result of this troubled history has instead been a Spanish cuisine with a wide and wonderful range of foods and cooking styles (cocinas), all blended together to form a national cuisine that is now popular the world over. Some of these styles were quite simple, others more complex, but the end product was a cuisine based on quality fresh ingredients and a variety of flavorful spices.
Spanish Cuisine by RegionBy European standards, Spain is not only large, but very diverse geographically. As a result, the cuisine of Spain can be divided into a number of gastronomic regions. These divisions can be attributed to the development of local traditions, each enriched in a number of manners by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors. A great majority of the country occupies three distinct regions: the area along the Mediterranean Sea, the north along the Atlantic Ocean, and the middle of the country, on a high plateau. Some of these regions are fairly dry throughout the year, while in other areas the rain falls quite frequently. All of these variables have led to a cuisine that is as diverse as it is delicious. To illustrate this, below we provided a few examples of Spanish gastronomy according to the three regions mentioned above:
The Mediterranean Region
The Mediterranean coastal regions of Spain take advantage of the local seafood, but have a different cuisine than some of the other regions of the country. In Catalonia, for example, just west of Languedoc, the food has French overtones, and is characterized by rice dishes such as paella and arròs negre. Andalusians tend to fry everything and, because of the hot weather, they enjoy cold soups like gazpacho. Other dishes found in this region include pescaito frito, a seafood dish; cooked and cured sausages; and Catalan cream, a dish similar to crème brûlée.
The Inland Region
In Central Spain, roasted meats are preferable to other types of preparations. Around Rioja, just west of the Pyrenees, cooks have been known to stew everything that can possibly be stewed—and excel with their specialties. This region is also well known for its international Rioja wines, as well as its vegetable soups and pepper and potato dishes. In Castile y Leon you will find dishes such as Morcilla from Leon, Burgos or Valladolid, black pudding made with blood and a variety of spices; Cochinillo Asado, “little roast pig”; Lechazo, roast lamb; and Jamon de Guijuelo, a type of Spanish cured ham from Salamanca. Hot thick soups, such as the bread and garlic-based Castilian soup, are also popular in this region, as are stews such as Cocido Madrilène. All of the food in the inland region is traditionally served by salting, like with Spanish ham, or immersed in olive oil, like Manchego cheese.
The Atlantic region, in the north of Spain, stands out with its specialties consisting of sauces and fish dishes. The residents in the north consume vast amounts of fish and have been coming to Newfoundland for centuries to load up on cod and other tasty species. The regions along the northern coast, including those of the Asturian, Basque, Cantabrian and Galician people, make plenty of vegetable and fish-based stews, such as pote gallego and marmitako. They also enjoy lacón ham, ham that has been lightly cured. The best known cuisine of the northern countries often rely on ocean seafood, like the Basque-style cod, albacore, and anchovy, and the Galician octopus-based polba a fiera, and shellfish dishes.
El Tapeo and TapasNo article on Spanish cuisine would be complete without mentioning el tapeo and tapas. In scores of Spanish cities, towns and villages, including the capital city of Madrid, el tapeo, the practice of sampling various tapas at the local restaurants and especially the bars, is a friendly and widely practiced tradition. The observance usually takes place as people are getting off work for the day, and the tapas bars are a great way for residents and tourists to get together, socialize and, most importantly, stave off hunger pangs while waiting for the evening meal.
Tapas, which translate literally to “small plates,” are small dishes of food, usually served free with the purchase of a drink. There are many different kinds of tapas to sample on any given night in a Spanish bar or restaurant, including small pieces of deep-fried fish and seafood, which are very popular in almost every region of the country. Some of the other favorites include olives, stuffed with cheese, anchovies or roasted bell pepper; Albondigas, or meatballs with sauce; Bacalao, salted cod loin sliced very thinly and usually served with bread and tomatoes; Carne Mechada, slow cooked pieces of tender beef; Chopitos, battered and fried tiny squid; and Frittatas, a tortilla containing vegetables and chorizo. Many of these snacks are drenched with olive oil, garlic, hot chilies and other spices, and because fat is not used sparingly in Spanish cooking, it’s best to leave the calorie chart at home.
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