Spain

1. Croquettes

You can find Spanish a plate of croquetas in almost any restaurant or bar, each made to the establishment’s own  – sometimes secret – recipe, combining ingredients such as jamon (cured ham) or bacalao (Atlantic cod fish) with béchamel sauce, which is then breaded and fried. The creamy cheese (queso) croquettes pack a smooth flavour, or try the croquettes of local sweet-spiced black sausage (morcilla) or Spanish blue cheese (queso de Cabrales) for unique Spanish flavours.

It’s also a good yardstick for comparing food in Spain: the quality of a bar-restaurant can often be judged by their ability to handle the Spanish tapa staples of croquettes or bravas (Spanish potato chips). The traditional, scrubbed-down bars usually serve the best.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Croquetas

2. Tortilla Espanola

The Spanish omlette is another beloved top Spanish food – and everyone has an opinion on how to cook it. It’s a great starter (or meal) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no doubt you’ll come across many Spanish potato omelettes during your time in Spain. Like croquetas, you can find them in almost any bar and to varying degrees of quality and flavour. The best ones come from slow-cooking caramalised onion and potato in olive oil, which later creates a soft-sweet centre once egg is added and it is cooked into a thick omelette, almost like a cake. A tasty Spanish snack you’ll see around is a wedge of omelette squeezed between bread to make a bocadillo (sandwich).
Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Tortila espanola

3. Gazpacho or salmorejo

This zesty, chilled tomato soup has claimed space in supermarkets and on menus around the world, but few compare to refreshing Spanish gazpacho made with full-flavoured Spanish tomatoes. Usually eaten as an appetizer – and sometimes drunken straight from a bowl or glass – this thick soup is made from blending a whole heap of fresh tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, garlic, onions, vinegar and herbs. It’s the perfect Spanish food for summer, as well as a low calorie and healthy dish. Salmorejo is a similar Andalucian version combining pureed bread, tomatoes, garlic and vinegar – also served cold – and sometimes varied with a bit of ham or egg slices on top.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Gazpacho

4. Pisto – Spanish ratatouille

This vegetarian top Spanish dish is for all ages, eaten in Spain as a tapa, appetiser, a side dish to meats, or even as a meal with a fried egg on top or chorizo. It’s a Spanish ratatouille of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, and of course, olive oil. The palatable competition of intense roasted flavours makes this a tasty recipe to try at home. You can find it in restaurants around Spain, and especially in the towns across the plains of La Mancha, south of Madrid.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Pisto

5. Cured meats – jamon, chorizo, salchichón

Jamon is ubiquitous in Spain, carved thinly off cured legs of pork that you will see hanging in most bars and restaurants. Jamon is a serious business and an art in Spain, with many factors in place to determine quality, such as what the pigs are fed, the type of pig and the curing process. Jamón ibérico de bellota is the top category, where Spanish pigs (Ibérico) are free-range and acorn-fed (bellota); other types include Ibérico (corn-fed) or Serrano ham, which are typically cheaper.

Another Spanish favourite is chorizo, a cured sausage with sweet and spicy flavours, identified by its red smoked-pepper colouring. You’ll also see the softer-flavoured salchichón served on mixed charcuterie platters.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Jamon

6. Pulpo a la gallega

This boiled octopus dish gets its unique flavours from maceration in three simple ingredients: paprika (pimenton), crusty rock salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s a signature Galician dish and you’ll find it on the menu in many Galician restaurants around Spain, and especially in the many polbeiras (octopus restaurants) dotting the Galician region. This top Spanish dish is usually served with a potato or two, on top of a wooden platter.

It was traditionally cooked at fairs in copper cauldrons, which supposedly gave the octopus a unique taste that couldn’t be achieved with other ways of cooking. You can still see this fair-style cooking in some places, such as in Lugo where the dish is the celebratory food for the fair of its patron saint (San Froilán).

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Pulpo a la gallega

7. Paella

This rice-based dish is well known internationally, although in Valencia you will find many authentic variations that equally vie for attention. Some consider this a national dish of Spain, but many consider it a Valencia dish, from where it originated and you can typically find the best paella. The most traditional Valencian paella is a mixture of chicken or rabbit (or both), white and green beans and other vegetables, but seafood is also common, where you can find an array of seafood suprises among the flavoursome rice, such as calamari, mussels, clams, prawns, scampi or fish, depending on the type you order. For the adventurous, a black rice stained by octopus ink is a must try (arroz negro), and if you find paella with less common ingredients such as eel (anguila) or duck (pato), don’t miss the rare chance. Fiduea is tasty twist on the rice-based paella, as it uses a small curly pasta instead.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Paella

9. Fried milk

You might not find ‘leche frita’ on every menu, but it is a classic Spanish dessert to try for something unique. Its firm, cool, milk-pudding centre contrasts with a warm, crunchy encasing of flour and egg, dusted with sugar and cinnamon. A similar popular Spanish dessert is torrijas, a mix between french toast and bread pudding, where large slices of bread are soaked in milk and sugar, and then lightly fried in a pan and topped with sugar and cinnamon or honey; their pudding-like consistency make them an impressive but easy dessert to make at home. If that’s not on the menu, it’s hard not to like the Catalan version of crème brûlée, Crema Catalana, that can be found with variations of orange or lemon zest or cinnamon in many Spanish restaurants. You’ll also see many churrerías, stalls or cafes serving up thick Spanish hot chocolate andchurros, a thin long donut-type pastry that you can dip in your hot drink; the thicker, less-sweet version,porras, go great with coffe. If you visit at Christmas time, the must-eat sweet is turrón, a Spanish-style almond nougat.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Leche frita

9. Prawns in fried garlic

As in many top Spanish foods, simplicity and drawing out natural flavours of fresh ingredients are key, and this is easily seen in this tantalising yet simple dish gambas al ajillo. Small Spanish prawns are typically lightly cooked in a small clay dish of hot olive oil, roasted garlic and usually a small chilli that gives this dish a little kick. It’s hard not to want this sizzling dish when the fried garlic smell hits your nostrils.

Top 10 Spanish foods – with recipes: Gambas al ajillo