Spanish cuisine is a delicious blend of diverse ingredients, flavours and unique tastes inspired by traditions and cultural influences from around the entire Mediterranean region. This means there’s so much more to Spanish cuisine than their world-famous iconic dishes like paella, tortilla, and gazpacho.

In order to get to understand Spain and its culinary history, here are some intriguing and interesting facts about Spanish food that promise to tantalise your taste buds.

So feel free to explore these Spanish food facts in order to discover more about this fantastic country and its culinary delights.

tortilla de patatas with onions and potatos
Tortilla Española with onion

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Spanish cuisine is part of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is based on traditional eating habits, products and ways of cooking from the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, hence the name. It was inscribed in 2013 on the UNESCO intangible heritage of humanity list and is recognized by health experts for its positive impact on health and well-being.

Both the Spanish lifestyle as well as the Spanish cuisine are based on the Mediterranean Diet.

Meal times in Spain differ from most other countries

Food is very important in Spain making it a crucial aspect of daily life. One of the major things about Spanish food culture is to understand the meal times and how different they are compared to a lot of other countries in the world. Understanding these eating times can help visitors plan their day when on holiday in Spain thereby allowing them to integrate better into Spanish daily life and culinary customs.

  • Breakfast: is not that important and often consists of just a coffee with a pastry, biscuit or small sandwich. Usually had between 7:00AM – 9:00AM.
  • Almuerzo: A light mid morning snack usually taken around 11:00AM.
  • Lunch: The most important meal of the day usually eaten between 1:30PM and 4:00PM. If possible, lunch will be a warm 3-course meal, consisting of a starter, main dish and a small dessert.
  • Merienda: A late afternoon snack (for Spaniards) eaten between 6:00PM – 8:00PM, depending on the season (later in the warmer months). This could be a biscuit, fruit or small sandwich to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner.
  • Dinner: Depending on the geographical area and season, dinner will be eaten as from 9:30PM onwards. In real, non-tourist Spanish restaurants the chef often only arrives at 9:00PM to start preparing for dinner.

However, in very touristic places restaurants have adjusted and so eating a meal at other times will of course also be possible.

Menú del día is a popular and affordable lunch option

Most people visiting Spain will want to eat the world famous tapas. But a more affordable and also highly authentic meal option is to order a menú del día or menu of the day.

The idea behind this ‘menu of the day’ has its origins in the mid 20th century when the Spanish government mandated that restaurants had to offer an affordable meal at a fixed price to ensure that workers had access to a balanced meal.

The menu typically consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert but bread and a drink is very often also included in the price of around €12 – €15 (in 2024). It is usually offered on weekdays only during (Spanish) lunchtime. It offers a range of regional Spanish dishes, including all kinds of traditional Spanish foods like gazpacho, paella, meats, fish, seafood and much more.

Spain is home to the oldest restaurant

sobrino de botin oldest restaurant in the world in madrid
Sobrino de Botín in Madrid

Located in the city center of Madrid, El Sobrino de Botín is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest continuously operating restaurant. Botín was opened in 1725 and has been serving traditional Spanish cuisine ever since.

This cultural landmark in Madrid attracts both international visitors and locals alike who seek authentic Castilian cuisine. They are famous for dishes such as cochinillo asado (suckling pig) and cordero asado (roast lamb) which are both prepared in a traditional wood-fired clay oven.

Sherry wine is only produced in Spain

glass of sherry wine on a blue table
Sherry

Sherry is a fortified wine that is exclusively produced in the Jerez region in Andalusia, in the southern part of Spain. This Sherry Triangle region is located between the cities Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. 

Sherry has a long history and is produced using the Solera system, which is a unique method of aging and blending wines where younger wines are progressively mixed with older ones to ensure a high quality blend.

Sherry vinegar is important in Spanish cuisine

Sherry vinegar is derived from sherry wine where the latter one is fermented and aged in oak barrels using a similar Solera system to give sherry vinegar its rich and complex taste.

Sherry vinegar is important in Spanish cuisine as it is used to add richness and depth of flavour to Spanish dishes like gazpacho soup, salmorejo or cold tomato soup, escalivada and many more.

Spain is the worlds largest producer of olive oil

3 bottles of olive oil extra virgin made in tabernas desert in Spain
Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Tabarnas Desert near Almeria

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, accounting for nearly 40% of total global production. Approximately 75% of Spanish olive oil comes from the Andalusia region in the south. Spanish olive oils are recognised by quality seals known as ‘denominación de origen’ which certifies the quality and taste of oils from specific regions.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil plays an essential role in Spanish cuisine and culture. It is deeply integrated into everyday cooking in Spanish households. Many dishes rely on olive oil as a primary ingredient, such as tortilla española, pan con tomate, alioli, and gazpacho.

Tapas are a culinary tradition in Spain

tapas in a bar in San Sebastian Spain
Tapas in a bar in San Sebastian, Spain

One of the most iconic culinary traditions of Spain is without doubt tapas.

But what are tapas?

Spanish tapas are small portions of food served alongside a drink and often for free (the tapa being free, not the drink). These tapas can range from a bite-sized appetizer, a snack, or easy dishes like some cheese, peanuts, chorizo or olives.

The word is derived from the verb ‘tapear’, meaning ‘to cover’. These small plates of Spanish tapas were originally used to cover glasses to protect them from insects. Today, Spanish tapas are an integral part of the country’s culinary culture.

Spanish cuisine is highly regional

Characterised by regional culinary traditions and influenced by geography, history, climate and cultural diversity, Spanish cuisine is highly regional in both the actual dishes and styles of cooking.

Various common ingredients are found across the whole country such as garlic, olive oil, parsley, tomatoes, peppers and all kinds of seafood, but it is the regional influence of local products and traditions that creates a specific dish.

Churros are served for breakfast

churros in a paper bag
Churros

In Spain, churros are not only served as a dessert or afternoon snack but are often also served as breakfast. They are usually served together with a thick hot chocolate drink which can be used as a dipping sauce for the churro.

They are a popular street food and are often enjoyed in the morning after a long night out.

Spanish saffron is important

Saffron is one of the most expensive and prized spices in the world. It is obtained from the orange-red coloured stigma of the Crocus flower, the Crocus Sativus.

Over a century ago Spain used to be the largest saffron producer in the world, however, production has drastically decreased and Spain is currently the fourth largest producer of saffron. At the time of writing, the number 1 producer with about 85% of world production is Iran.

Most of the saffron is harvested in the region Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. Due to its optimal growing conditions, traditional cultivation methods and strict quality control, Spain’s saffron is regarded as premium, high quality.

Spanish saffron is an important spice in Spanish cuisine as it is used in iconic dishes like paella, fideuà, crema catalana and arroz negro.

A Spanish tortilla is an omelet

A Spanish omelet is called a tortilla de patatas, tortilla Española, or just Spanish tortilla. It is one of the most iconic and famous dishes of Spain. But don’t get confused with the name tortilla as it is a completely different dish when compared with the well-known Mexican tortilla.

Spanish tortilla is a classic Spanish dish made with eggs, potatoes, olive oil and optionally onions.

Here is a recipe to make traditional Spanish tortilla.

grey plate with a spanish tortilla de patatas or spanish omelette cut in pie slices

The Spanish tortilla is cause for endless debate

Possibly the longest running culinary debate about Spanish cuisine is the discussion as to whether or not an authentic Spanish omelette should contain onions. There is currently still no conclusion to this debate so the choice to eat it with or without onions is completely up to you.

Spain was the first European country to introduce chocolate

Spain was the first country to introduce chocolate to Europe. It was brought from the ‘New World’ to Spain by the early explorers in the late 16th century.

It was initially consumed as a chocolate drink, but in order to adjust to a sweeter palate, Spanish monks started adding sugar, vanilla and spices to this rather bitter beverage.

Today, and with three independent chocolate factories, Villajoyosa in the Costa Blanca region is considered to be Spain’s capital of chocolate. One of the factories in Villajoyosa is the world famous Valor brand. Valor also has a small museum that is well worth a visit.

Read more information about Villajoyosa here.

chocolate museum in valor Villajoyosa inside the museum
Inside the Valor Chocolate Museum in Villajoyosa

The First machine-made chocolate was produced in Barcelona

It was in 1780 that the first chocolate making machine was inaugurated in Barcelona after which chocolate played an important role in the trade and economy in Barcelona.

When visiting Barcelona, don’t miss out on visiting the Chocolate and Nougat museum of which the entrance to this museum is also part of the Barcelona Museum Card pass.

Or visit the Casa Amattler house museum in Barcelona, who was the first creator of chocolate products end of the 18th century.

Paella has its origin in Valencia

paella in a large pan with vegetables and sausage
Colourful Paella

One of the most well-known Spanish foods is without doubt Paella, often considered to be Spain’s national dish. It is indeed the national dish of Valencia, the birthplace of paella.

Paella originated as a humble dish in the countryside near Valencia, where farmers would gather for lunch and cook rice in a large pan over an open fire. They would add vegetables and snails to the rice, and on special occasions, rabbit and chicken.

The name of the dish, paella, is derived from the name of the wide shallow pan, paellera, which is used to cook the rice dish. Inspired to make your own paella at home. Making it in a paellera or paella pan is a must.

Cold soups are common in Spanish cuisine

Eating cold soups during the warmer months is very common in Spain. The country’s hot climate, particularly in the southern regions like Andalusia, makes refreshing dishes popular for enjoying a nutritious meal without the need to cook hot food during the summer.

cold soup salmorejo with garnish
Salmorejo is traditionally served with ham and hard-boiled eggs

It should come as no surprise that the more popular cold soups all have their origins in Andalusia. Salmorejo, a cold tomato soup originates from Córdoba. Ajoblanco, a cold almond soup comes from Malaga and Granada. The well-known Spanish Gazpacho, cold vegetable soup, also hails from Andalusia. These soups are all delicious, the best thing about them being that no cooking is involved.

If you want to make these soups at home, be sure to check our Salmorejo Cordobés recipe and our authentic Spanish Gazpacho recipe.

Spain is a meat eating country

Spain has the highest meat consumption per capita in Europe while ranking in the world’s top 10. The reason is that meat consumption is highly embedded in the country’s cultural traditions and culinary heritage with dishes like jamón, chorizo, and cochinillo asado playing central roles in Spanish cuisine. 

Favorable agricultural conditions and a robust livestock industry make meat both accessible and affordable. Furthermore, Spain is a significant producer and exporter of meat and particularly pork. So the meat industry is for both domestic consumption and international trade.

Jamón Ibérico is the most expensive ham in the world

iberico hams in a shop lined up
Legs of Jamón Iberico for sale

Spain is famous for its dry-cured hams which have been a staple in Spanish cuisine for many centuries. There are two main types of dry-cured ham: Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico (Jamón means ham in Spanish). The major difference between the two is the breed of pigs used for the ham.

Jamón Ibérico de bellota, also known as Pata Negra (meaning black hoof), comes from special breeds of pigs with unique genetics that are fed primarily on acorns during the montanera season. The curing and drying process is meticulous and typically lasts at least 3 years.

The taste is characterized by its sweet, salty and nutty flavors, making it exceptionally delicious. Its price reflects its quality and is considered worth every cent.

Spain has a wide selection of fish and seafood

Not only does Spain offer a huge selection of red meat, but the country also has a wide range of fish and seafood, especially around the coastal areas of the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Bay of Biscay. It is the wide variation in sea temperatures around the Spanish coast that accounts for the variety of seafood.

Along with red meat, seafood is also an integral part of Spanish cuisine with traditional dishes like pulpo a la gallega, gambas al ajillo and seafood paella.

Percebes are the most expensive seafood in Spain

plate of percebes or goose barnacles with lemons
Plate with Percebes or Goose Barnacles

Percebes, or goose barnacles are some of the priciest and rarest seafood in Spain because they’re very difficult to harvest. They grow on rocky shores battered by strong waves, making it dangerous for the fishermen who collect them. They are rare due to strict harvesting rules while their unique taste makes them very popular, thereby driving up the price.

Spain has the 5th most michelin-Star restaurants

Spain is very well known for its high quality cuisine with strong regional diversity, rich cultural heritage and Mediterranean influences. Spanish chefs are consequently recognised for their innovative approaches while also preserving traditional cooking methods and ingredients. 

With no less than 269 Michelin-Star restaurants in 2024, Spain ranks 5th in the world after France, Japan, Italy and Germany. This goes to show that the Michelin Guide recognises the skills and creativity of restaurants in Spain.

Spain’s holiday food eating traditions

Being a country filled with culture and traditions, many dishes are tied to specific celebrations reflecting the country’s history and regional diversity. Some examples are:

  • Christmas: Turrón, a nougat confection made with almonds and polverones are crumbly almond cookies.
  • New Year’s Eve: 12 grapes are eaten during the 12 last seconds of the year to bring good luck for the new year. Also mariscos or seafood is usually eaten with the family on New Year’s Eve.
  • Three Kings Day (6th of January): Roscón de Reyes is a ring shaped cake decorated with candied fruits.
  • Easter (Semana Santa): Torrijas, similar to French toast. Salt cod dishes when the consumption of meat is traditionally avoided.
boxes with polvorones over christmas
Boxes filled with Polvorones are sold during Christmas time
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