Spanish cuisine, Everything you need to know


Spain’s land-bridge location between Europe and Africa and its long history of invasion and settlement by many different groups have resulted in a great mixing of peoples and cultures, particularly the strong influences of the Roman, Jewish, Moorish, and Muslim cultures.

Geographic location

Spain is Europe’s third largest nation and occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula at the South-western edge of the continent. It borders France and Andorra in the north and Portugal in the west. Spain’s physical geography comprises a large peninsula protected by a ring of mountains on nearly all sides. These mountains make Spain the second highest country in Europe, after Switzerland. The eastern and southern coasts of Spain border the Mediterranean Sea. The varied topography makes for diversity in both climate and natural resources.

Historical Background

  • Around 1100 B.C., Phoenicians from the area that is now present-day Lebanon set up trading colonies along the Spanish coast. After the fall of Phoenicia it was occupied by Rome for six centuries, laying such important foundations as the Latin language, Roman law, the municipality structure, and the Christian religion.
  • After the Roman Empire fell, the Suevi, Vandals, and Alans came to Spain but were defeated by the Visigoths, who, by the end of the sixth century, had occupied most of the peninsula. The Arabs entered from the south at the beginning of the eighth century.
  • The year 1492 heralded the discovery of the Americas under the command of Christopher Columbus. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Spanish Empire became the world’s foremost power and a huge presence in European politics.
  • In 1808 Joseph Bonaparte was installed on the Spanish throne, following the Napoleonic invasion. A fierce resistance followed and Spanish rule was restored with Fernando VII occupying the throne. TheSpanish overseas empire finally dissolved in 1898 when, after a brief war with the United States, Spain lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
  • During elections in 1931, it became clear that the people no longer wanted the monarchy ruling over them.
  • In 1982, Spain became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1995, Spain joined the European Union. Spain’s economy has grown at a rapid pace, and now has reached near parity with the northern European industrialized democracies.

Significant Features – Staple food with regional influences

  1. The Moors’ occupation of Spain for 750 years greatly influenced Spanish  culinary development. The Moorish invaders introduced the cultivation of rice; spices such as saffron, cumin, and anise; nuts (especially almonds); and fruit such as figs, citrus, and bananas. The Moors also introduced their own methods of food preparation.
  2. From the Spanish conquests in the New World in the sixteenth century came eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, red and green peppers (both hot and sweet), and chocolate.
  3. Spain has instituted a government-controlled quality program known as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) for many agricultural and food products.
  4. Spanish cuisine is similar to other Mediterranean cuisines in the use of olive oil as the main fat for cooking, the importance of bread in the daily diet, and the production and consumption of wines
  5. The Spanish influence on the cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula is felt in the many TAPAS (small plates of individual items served with drinks) bars of Spain, as well as in  the similar dishes found in Portugal. A number of theories exist about how the tapas tradition began in Spain, the  most common of which cites the introduction of small bites  of food—such as olives or chorizo—placed on plates to keep flies out of drinks in bars. Regardless of how the tapas tradition got started, it is now part of the fabric of life in Spain, where it is typical for people  to  visit  a  tapas  bar  before  going  to  eat  a  meal  at  a restaurant. Many of the common tapas dishes are simply preserved foods such as jamón serrano (cured ham), a ceitunas, or cheeses (such as Manchego). Many other tapas styles and dishes exist, such as slices of tortilla Española (potato and egg “cake”), pinchitos (skewered and grilled items), croquetas (breaded and fried thick bechamel with seasonings), and montaditos (foods placed on slices of bread or crostini). All of these foods are simple to finish and plate, and they rely on good quality products to produce good tapas. Because Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water, fresh seafood is always plentiful in the markets.Wonderful cheeses of every type can be eaten in Spain. Spanish cheeses are made from sheep, cow, goat milk and mixed milks.
  6. Chiles became a significant crop and have remained popular in the cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula, as seen in the use of chilli powders and fresh chiles.
  7. Cumin is a very common seasoning in Spanish cuisine.
  8. The nomadic heritage of the Celtic people who were the early inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula is still evident today in the practice of preparing a one-pot food. Early Celtic tribes would cook available foods over a fire in a large cauldron, and dishes such as paella, açorda (Portuguese bread soups with various other components), arroz con pollo (Spanish stewed rice and chicken), and cocido madrileño (one-pot meal served in courses with beef, chicken, ham, pork belly,chickpeas, and cabbage with chorizo and morcilla) are still common today in Portugal and Spain.
  9. Spain’s wonderful salt cured hams, of which the renowned jamón Ibérico is arguably the best in the world, along with its sausages.
  10. Tomatoes are definitely an essential ingredient in Spanish cooking.


The states of Spain include Andalusia, Aragonia, Asturia  ,  Balears,  Baskimaa,  Canary  Islands,  Cantabria, Castilla and León, Extremadura , Galicia, Kastilia-La Mancha, Katalonia,  La  Rioja,  Madrid,  Murcia,  Navarra, Valencia .

The Spanish mainland can be broadly divided into five distinct regions: Green Spain, Central  Spain, the Pyrenees, Mediterranean Spain, and Andalusia.

Green Spain

  • Green Spain is located in the north and northwest and includes the regions of  Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, and the Basque Provinces.

Central Spain

  • Central Spain includes the provinces of La Rioja, Castile-Leon, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, and the country’s capital, Madrid. Food here is a blend of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions producing a rustic style of cooking.
  • Central Spain is also where one of their most precious products is produced, saffron. The Moors brought with them the spice az-zafaran over a thousand years ago.


  • The rugged mountain chain of the Pyrenees extends along the Spanish-French border from the Bay of Biscay to the Gulf of Valencia.

Mediterranean Spain

  • Mediterranean Spain includes the regions of Catalonia, Valencia, and Murcia. The coastal or irrigated plains are home to citrus orchards and produce. Rice fields, vineyards, olive groves, almond, fig, and citrus orchards are characteristic of this area. Seafood and shellfish are abundant here.


  • Andalusia in southern Spain is the largest of the country’s provinces. Andalusia is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and its flavour is the foundation of the region’s cooking.

Popular Ingredients

  • Aioli: Garlic flavored mayonnaise, typical of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.
  • Saffron: The stigma of the purple crocus flower, intensely fragrant, slightly bitter in taste. By soaking saffron in warm water, the result is a bright yellow-orange solution.
  • Queso (Cheese): Cabrales, Cantabria, Ibores, La Serena, Mah´on, Majorero, Manchego, Murcia al Vino, Pic ´on, Roncal, Zamorano


  • Arroz con leche: It is a simple rice pudding made with famous rich and creamy milk.
  • Arro’z con pollo: Chicken and rice stew common in Spain
  • Chorizo: Brick-colored sausage prepared with light variations in various parts of Spain. Normally made with pork, fat, and pimentos’, which gives it its characteristic color and smokiness.
  • Churro: Choux pastry dough deep-fried in olive oil, spiral shaped, and similar to a doughnut.
  • Coca: Flat sheet bread made from yeast-leaved dough and often topped with various ingredients
  • Croquetas: Thick, cooled béchamel with various other ingredients added, and then breaded and fried; typically served as tapas
  • Empanada: In Spanish the word empanada means “in dough” and describes pies with savory fillings enclosed in bread dough, short pastry, or puff pastry.
  • Flan: Baked custard dessert, usually served with caramel sauce.
  • Gazpacho: Cold vegetable soup, the best-known version of which is from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. It is made of ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, and bread moistened with water that is blended with olive oil, vinegar, and ice water and is served cold.
  • Horchata: Drink made from ground dried tiger nuts mixed with lemon and sugar and then filtered
  • Jambon: Serrano Cured ham similar to the prosciutto of Italy, with a sweet- salty flavor.
  • Paella: Traditional rice dish originating from Valencia, an authentic paella valenciana contains chicken, rabbit, sometimes duck, and the land snails called vaquetes, for which a rosemary sprig can be substituted. The only permissible vegetables are flat green beans, artichokes, and butter beans. The star of this dish is rice. Other authentic ingredients include a sofrito of tomatoes, garlic, saffron, and pimiento. The Valencian word paella, meaning “pan,” comes from the Latin patella, which also means “pan.”
  • Pil-pil: Sauce made in Basque region of Spain from salt cod, olive oil, and garlic
  • Salsa romesco: Sauce made from roasted tomatoes with ground almonds, garlic, olive oil, and chili peppers

Key Terms

Þ Anisette: A digestive, the flavoring for many liqueurs (anisette or anise). Its flavor varies according to which seeds are used—aniseed or star anise.

Þ Sherry: Sherry is a fortified wine from a small region of Spain, made from the Muscat, Palomino, and Pedro Ximenez grapes.

Þ Cocido: It is based on a large cauldron, which simmers all day.

Þ Cazuela: Earthenware pot used to cook and serve stews, soups, and beans

Þ Paellera: Large, shallow oval or round pan with handles on ends; used to make paella

Amit Kumar
Amit Kumar
Hii! Welcome to My digital home, I am Amit – an almost no-code generalist, helping businesses with their online presence using WordPress and other tools and simplifying some of their operations with ideas and automation. A psychology and philosophy geek by interest and a graduate in Hospitality Management. I founded hmhelp during college, which got me into WordPress. I am a highly motivated and results-oriented professional with a proven track record of success in the hospitality industry. I’m also a Digital Marketing Enthusiast with significant academic and practical experience managing digital content across multiple platforms. Skilled at SEO optimization, developing digital content for social media platforms, I offer extensive knowledge of multiple software programs, strong attention to detail, and extraordinary communication skills. If you are interested in talking about any of the topics I have mentioned on my website, you are in the right place. You can contact me or learn more about what I do. You can also connect with me on social networks.

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