The cuisine of Spain is one of the most intriguing the world has to offer. The diverse landscape, climate, and culture of Spain, combined with its rich history, create a cuisine unlike any other. The turbulent history of the Iberian Peninsula had a great influence on the cuisine of Spain, as the Romans, the Visgoths, and the Moors all left their culinary mark. The post-Franco Renaissance that encouraged richness and diversity in all aspects of life is demonstrated through the unique Spanish way of cooking. Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions, each differing in natural resources, creating a variety of specialty dishes specific to each region. In general, Spanish cuisine relies on Mediterranean flavors - garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs. Spanish cuisine is sophisticated, yet basic, unadorned and elegant.
The meal hours and dining customs in Spain are very different from those in many other countries. Breakfast in Spain is known as "el desayuno," and is not so much a meal, but a very small nibble in the morning. Many Spaniards will just have coffee, or "café con leche", while others have coffee and cookies, toast, cereals or a croissant.
The main meal, "la comida", is eaten in the middle of the day, but is usually more substantial than lunch. La comida is usually eaten around 2 o'clock in the home, as a family, and is an important part of Spanish custom. La comida is usually a three course meal. Bread, water and wine are typically served with the meal.
La cena, or dinner as we know it, is a lighter meal than la comida. This simple meal is eaten after 9 o'clock.
When dining in Spain, there are some different table manners that are an important part of proper etiquette:
Cuisine by Region
Andalucía is the region located in the southern part of Spain, that makes up part of the Iberian Peninsula. This is an area that was inhabited by Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Visgoths, Berbers and Arabs before being conquered by the Spanish crown. This diverse cultural heritage has greatly impacted the dishes that Spaniards in the south enjoy today. The conquest resulted in the introduction of olive oil and garlic to the Iberian Peninsula, Spain now being the largest producer of olive oil in the world. The Romans introduced Andalucíans to the cooking methods of roasting, grilling, and baking. Their most important contribution was the introduction of irrigation systems, which allowed for the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and a variety of grains.
The Visgoths brought spinach, radishes, and some beans to Andalucía. Spain's cuisine was completely revolutionized by the Moorish conquest of 711, during which the Moors occupied the country for more than seven centuries, leaving a great culinary mark. When the Moors conquered Spain, they brought almonds, rice, sugar cane, eggplant, citrus fruits, and spices, which are all very important to Spain's cuisine.
The warm and varied landscape and climate of Andalucía has a large influence on the gastronomy. Andalucía is made up of mountain ranges, countryside and coast, which makes for a wide range of possibilities when it comes to cultivating crops. Being surrounded by both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, you are always sure to find fresh caught seafood in most of Andalucía.
Valencia is a region of Spain that is located on the Mediterranean coast. Valencia was known as the "Garden of Spain," because of its orange groves, olive groves, rice fields, and vineyards that nowadays have become wonderful villas with their nice swimming pool. There is a variety of delicious seafoods in Valencia because it is right on the sea. The cuisine in Valencia is similar to that of Andalucía, because it is a Mediterranean diet, influenced by the Romans, Arabs, and Moors.
During the 500 year rule of the Moors, a water canal system for agriculture was built in Valencia, which contributed greatly to the growth of new crops. The Arabs brought artichokes, nuts, dried fruit, and rice, which grows abundantly in the swampy land near the Mediterranean. The mass production of rice is especially important in Valencia, because it allows the creation of Paella. The Arabs also introduced important spices in cooking, such as saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
Catalonia makes up the northeastern corner of Spain. Like the other regions, Catalonia's cuisine is predominantly Mediterranean, but the influences of other cultures can certainly be tasted. The Romans and the Greeks have impacted the cuisine, along with the French, and Italians. This has resulted in the blending of the Mediterranean diet, with dishes that can be recognized as French or Italian.
To the east, Catalonia borders on the Mediterranean Sea, the coastlines being the Costa Brava and the Costa Daurada in the Tarragona area. This location introduces a seafood cuisine, such as lobster, crayfish, sea urchins, rock fish, and many more. Inland, Catalonia is made up of valleys, and mountains, such as the Pyrenees, which contribute other important staples to the cuisine. Mushrooms grow in all parts of Catalonia, as well as other vegetables and rice. Catalonia is well known for its various sausages and mixed vegetable stews. Catalonia is also very well known for its wine and vineyards, due to the varied landscape.