Spain's Culinary History & Six Food Regions
Spanish food is known to be straightforward, comforting, and, most importantly, fresh. The ingredients are always of premium quality, and each dish is made with love, passion, and cultural pride.
Spain's cuisine reflects a country that was both conquered and has a long history of colonization.
When North African Moors arrived in Spain in 711 CE, they shook things up on the culinary scene. Alcohol was banned for well over 345 years, meaning wine production halted.
However, olive oil production exploded with innovative techniques and irrigation technology brought over by the Moors.
Olives may have arrived in Spain thousands of years earlier, but the Moors introduced olive oil to cooking, a method that is a fixture in Spanish cuisine today.
New World Influences
It was 1492 CE that marked the end of Islamic rule on the Iberian peninsula, and it was also the year the Spanish made their foray into the New World. Their empire stretched from the Caribbean and parts of North America to Central and South America. They discovered local crops, varieties of fruits and vegetables, and culinary methods that they later brought back to Spain.
By the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, Mesoamerican crops like pumpkin, chilis, tomatoes, cacao, papaya, and avocado had been incorporated into Spanish cuisine.
Like just about every other nation, Spain was invaded by multiple empires and ethnic groups.
The Romans, Phoenicians, and late descendants of the Berber peoples, to name a few. Because of this, feudal villages and kingdoms existed throughout the country and ran with their cultural practices, languages, currency, and cuisine.
While there are distinctive regional culinary differences, two ingredients found across the country; are olive oil and garlic.
Today, there are six distinctive culinary regions, so if you're looking to have the whole Spanish culinary experience, try and plan your itinerary around some of these regions.
The Six Regions
Andalucia - This region is famous for pescaito frito (deep fried fish), jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), oxtail soup, gazpacho, Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet) and delicious sherries like manzanilla and fino.
The Pyrenees - Here, you'll find dishes that include fresh tomatoes, onions, sauteed peppers, and chilindrones, a hearty Spanish stew made with chicken, venison, wild boar, or beef.
Eastern Region - This region is the birthplace of Spanish paella. Enjoy various rice-based dishes like Arròs Negre (squid ink fish) and Conejo con Arroz (rice and rabbit).
Central Spain - This area would include the stunning baroque region of Castilla-Leon.
Prepare for a more robust menu in this region with a heavy focus on roasted meats. It's also the home of comfort food, where you will find plenty of cocidos (Spanish stews), sopas de ajo (garlic soup), and manchego cheese.
Cataluña (Catalonia) - Heavily influenced by Italy, France, and the Mediterranean, Catalan food is bursting with flavor and creative fusion foods. Esqueixada (salt cod), mongetes amb botifarra (sausage and beans), and Escudella i carn d'olla (meat and mixed vegetable stew).
Northern Spain - This is Basque Country, and if you eat anything here, let us suggest one word: Pintxos. Pintxos are similar to tapas in that bars and taverns serve them, but the ingredients differ. These bite-sized flavor bombs are topped with seared green peppers, cheese, fresh octopus, cured ham, croquettes, and sausages. Northern Spain is also home to some of the best Mediterranean-influenced seafood dishes in the country.
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