There are many reasons why you’ll love Spain as an expat. There’s the gloriously warm, sunny weather, life in general seems to run at a much slower pace than in the UK, and the country’s natural beauty is the most varied and awe-inspiring in the whole of Europe, maybe even the whole world!
But one gem of its crown, and one that a lot of people overlook, is its food. With so many culinary traditions, a variety of local gastronomic delicacies, and an abundance of talented chefs, it’s no surprise that Spain is a haven for foodies – the place is a food and drink paradise!
Because each region boasts its own exclusive flavours and specialties, you could say that Spanish food is as diverse and as spectacular as the landscape itself. Where ever you go in Spain, you’re rarely far from a hearty meal, and the beauty of an authentic Spanish dish lies in the use of fresh ingredients and simple cooking techniques.
The Mediterranean diet might not be the most elegant, but its colour and fusion of incredible tastes makes it one of the best in the world.
If you’ve only just decided to become an expat, or if you’ve found your new home but don’t know much about the region you’re moving to, we’ve compiled a list of the types of foods you’d expect to find in each region.
So, as well as getting excited about the usual Spanish things, like the amazing festivals, glorious weather, numerous and wonderous things to do, and interesting things to see, you can now get super excited about the splendid food too.
As you read through the rest of this post, please be careful not to drool on your computer!
(All links in this article open in a new tab of your browser, so you don’t lose your place!)
Galacia Region – A haven if you love shellfish and seafood
Gastronomy is one of Galacia’s main attractions, and the importance of food is celebrated in more than 300 food festivals throughout the year. Local produce, especially that of the sea, are cooked in simple, traditional ways.
Because Galacia’s stunning coastline stretches for over 800 miles, it is a region that lives from the sea, therefore seafood makes up a high proportion of ingredients.
This diet, known as the Atlantic diet, makes for excellent, nutritional meals, and has excellent health-related qualities. In fact, Galacians are among the most long-lived peoples of Spain, with much lower rates of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
One of the advantages of this type of diet lies in the variety of fish on offer, as fish are filled with Omega 3 acids, high quality proteins, vitamins and minerals, to help keep you fit and healthy. Combined with simple culinary techniques, the Galacians enjoy some of the healthiest foods around.
But don’t worry, it’s not all fish, fish, fish! The Galacians’ favourite meat is veal, and they also enjoy capons (free range chickens), and kid (sorry to say that this is a baby goat).
The Galacians also grow a wide range of vegetables, including the potato, grelos (a type of cabbage), corn, nuts, mushrooms, beets and beans.
Typical meals that you’ll find here include octopus, Gambas al Ajillo (prawns in garlic), chicken casserole, Caldo Gallego (Galacian soup), and goats cheese.
Asturias Region – The place to go if you love rich cheese and dry cider
Asturian cuisine can be defined as ‘slow cooked over a low heat’, so imagine stews, soups and bisques. Asturians don’t use many spices or other condiments in their dishes, as they prefer the natural flavours of their ingredients.
The most famous delicacy of the region they call “Green Spain”, is cheese, and the area produces at least 30 different types, including a three-milk cheese made from cow, sheep and goats milk. Because Asturias is a coastal area, much like Galacia, seafood is also very popular too – in particular the local trout and wild salmon.
Alcohol is used a lot in much of Asturias cooking, and they especially like cider. Like its variety of cheeses, Asturias boasts being able to grow over 30 varieties of apple, and their cider is every bit as tasty as ones served in Normandy.
A typical dish is a platter of local ham, sausage, cheese, and bread, accompanied by a large cider. Another popular main course is hake or salmon in cider, the famous Fabada Asturiana bean stew, or huge slabs of Valdeon blue cheese.
Cantabria Region – A retreat when you’re in need of home cooked, comfort foods
The Cantabrians absolutely adore food, and it’s food as far removed from nouvelle cuisine as you could possibly imagine.
Hearty dishes, traditionally made, are what you’ll find in Cantabria. Dishes are rich, mouth watering and made from comfort food that’s hearty and warming. Another way to raise your body temperature is in the form of a herbal tea the Cantabrians serve with Orujo liquer.
Because the region has access to such bountiful rural and maritime ingredients, seafood, meat and cheeses make up the main part of the Cantabrian diet, so think high quality game, such as deer and wild boar, anchovies, lobster, and squid.
The most favourite of traditional dishes are Cocido Montanes (a stew made from pork, beans and collared greens), Cocido Lebaniego (made from chickpeas, potatoes, cabbage and pork or beef) and Sobao (a butter sponge cake made with lemon zest and rum).
Basque Country – A foodie’s paradise for Michelin Star food
The Basques aren’t just passionate about politics and sport, they’re also zealous about food.
In the seventies, a group of young Basque chefs, inspired by French cuisine, created New Basque Cuisine, a range of truly exquisite dishes that have become famous worldwide, and are synonymous with quality.
In fact, there are nearly 40 Michelin-starred restaurants in the Basque region, and there are ever increasing numbers of popular Gastronomic Societies to join, so you can experience and learn, first-hand, about authentic local culinary traditions.
No wonder then that the Basque region is known as the culinary capital of Spain, and the city of San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else on Earth.
Seafood is a staple, as the Bay of Biscay and the mountain streams supply ample amounts of fresh ingredients, including oysters, eels, and salmon. Meat is also popular, particularly wood pigeon.
Popular dishes include Elvers (young eels), Marmitako (a fish stew), Gooseneck barnacles, Tapas, Pinchos (little snacks), Piperade (made with ham, eggs, onions, green peppers and sauteed tomatoes), and Gateau Basque.
La Rioja Region – For the vegetarian and wine connoisseur’s delectation
The food in La Rioja is based on the Riojans’ agricultural heritage. Delicious fruits that are full of flavour, and heavenly vegetables grow in abundance here.
In particular the people of La Rioja enjoy using fresh red bell peppers, fava beans, artichokes, asparagus, chard, and lettuce in their dishes. Peaches and pears are enjoyed too, and you’ll find that grapes are turned into beautiful, full bodied red wines, and sloe berries are turned into Patxaran, a tasty form of sloe gin.
But don’t fret if you’re not a vegetarian and you prefer your meats to greens! The Muslim presence in La Rioja has left its mark, so the Riojans have a great taste for lamb, in particular, Lechal (suckling lamb), or Chuletas Riojana (grilled lamb chops over vine cuttings).
Favourite dishes include Piquillo Peppers stuffed with lamb, dipped in batter and fried, Esparragos Blancos (white asparagus), and Patatas a la Riojana, (potatoes roasted in smoky paprika and served with chorizo).
Navarre Region – A spectacular destination for adventerous foodies who love choice
The geography of the Navarre region is so diverse that its local gastronomy has become incredibly varied too.
Dishes are always created from fresh, local produce, and food is celebrated throughout the year at gastronomic events; a multitude of themed days which pay homage to traditional dishes of the regions, and conferences and workshops which teach people all about authentic Navarre cuisine.
The people of Navarre enjoy rich dairy products, spectacular game and lamb dishes, and tasty organic vegetables. They also take pleasure in sipping on the region’s beautiful rosé wines.
Navarre’s most imaginative and exclusive creations can be found in its capital, Pamplona, and popular dishes include Menestra de Verduras (sauteed vegetables), Trucha a la Navarre (a mild fish stuffed with him and fried in breadcrumbs), Estofado de Toro (bull stew served with potatoes), Chistorra (fried sausage served with a fried egg and potatoes), and Cogollos de Tudela (a salad served with salmon).
Castile-Leon Region – Ideal for meat lovers, and anyone with a sweet tooth
Enjoying food in this region has almost reached a cult-like status, as food in Castile-Leon is perpetually raved about, and visitors can witness countless food conferences or age-old rituals of home butchering, matanza.
Culinary delights are incredibly important in this region, and chefs always prepare their dishes with the utmost of care. Castile-Leon is nicknamed Land of the Roasts, and the people there adore game, including hare and rabbit, lamb, partridge, pork and trout. They also have a huge sweet tooth – there’s always room for dessert in Castile-Leon.
Typical dishes include Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup), Tostón Asado (suckling pig), Hornazo (a meat pie), Olla Podrida (a stew made from pork and beans), Yemas de Santa Teresa (pastries), and Bizcochos de San Lorenzo (sponge cakes).
Catalonia Region – The only place to be if you’re a carnivore
There is so much more to this region’s food than paellas and chorizo. In fact, it has a reputation for producing some of Spain’s finest cuisine, created by incredibly passionate chefs.
The foods they produce are gastronomically distinct from anywhere else in the country, and like many other regions, all the ingredients are harvested from a diverse geographical landscape.
There’s seafood, meat, poultry, game, fruit and vegetables to enjoy, and a good way to try a cornucopia of delectable delicacies is to order a mar i muntanya, a local surf ‘n’ turf, though it literally translates to Sea and Mountain!
If you want to eat like a local in Catalonia, you should try Fideuá (much like seafood paella, but made with noodles instead of rice), Escalivada (smoky grilled vegetables), Canelons d’ánec (duck cannelloni), Faves a la Catalana (fava bean, blood pudding and sausage stew), Fricandó (veal cooked in a rich sauce made with mushrooms), and Bacallá amb Samfaina (the Catalan version of ratatouille made with salted cod).
Aragon Region – The ideal place if you’ve got a sweet tooth and you adore wholesome cooking
Aragon is sometimes referred to as a region of Spain where the cooking is plain, but what you really get is honest, wholesome, hearty food, which is filling, warming, and has been inspired by French cuisine.
As it’s a region that borders France, game is very popular, as is ham, snails and mushrooms. The food is quite classical, and dishes are based on popular stews. The people of Aragon don’t just wolf down on meat though, they have a sweet tooth too, and the area is famous for its candied fruits, Frutas de Aragon.
If you’re looking for rich, hearty food with an air of France about it, you should definitely try Migas (breadcrumbs accompanied with, well, anything you want!), Huevos Rotos con Jamón (broken eggs with cured ham), Ternasco Asada (roast lamb – a protected regional variety), Churros (like donuts), and Almojábanas (ring shaped pastries).
Valencian Community – For those who enjoy rice dishes, and like frequenting bakeries
Valencia is extremely proud of its gastronomic delights, and its claim to fame is paella. With access to La Huerta, the most fertile greenbelt in all of Spain, as well as the ocean, it’s no wonder that Valencia is king of making incredibly tasty and diverse rice dishes from land and sea, because there is an abundance of fresh and flavourful ingredients to harvest.
What you might not know is Valencia is a land of tasty sweet treats and bakery products too. You’ll find toasted breads, Valencian donuts, and coconut cakes, just to name a few. Another claim to fame that Valencia has are its traditional soft drinks, such as Horchata de Chufa, tiger nut milk, and organic orange juice mixed with Cava.
Local dishes well worth a try are All i Pebre (a stew made from garlic and eels), Paella Valenciana (typically made with rabbit), Olleta (pork stew), Arrós a Banda (rice and fish), Arnadí (golden cakes decorated with almonds or sugar), Mona de Pascua (a round tart), and Bunyols (fritters).
Murcia Region – Ideal for foodies seeking authentic Mediterranean cooking
The region of Murcia serves up delicious and traditional Spanish foods, which have a taste and character all of their own.
Murcia is often referred to as Europe’s Vegetable Garden, and so, as you can imagine, vegetables and rice are the staple ingredient in any dish. Therefore it’s a wonderful place for vegetarians to visit.
Tapas are widely available across all of Spain, and they can get quite humdrum, but not in Murcia. It serves the most delectable snack foods around, including delicious Ensalada Rusa (tuna, potatoes and crispy vegetables mixed with mayonnaise), Cazo (little goujons of Arab-spiced hake), and fried quails’ egg canapes.
Traditional dishes to tuck into are Alcachofas de la Abuela (known locally as Grandmother’s Artichokes, and the recipes are well-kept secrets), Arroz Meloso (a creamy rice dish crossed between a paella and a stew), Pulpo a la Murciana (Murcian-style octopus), Hortalizas en Tempura (vegetable tempura), and Paparajote (battered and fried lemon leaves).
Andalucia Region – The best region for foodies who love to experience a melting pot of different dishes, which are just like Grandma used to make
Eating well is never ever an issue in Andalucia. Thanks to excellent local products, and a heritage of varied, rich and incomparable gastronomical delights, Andalucian cooking is traditional, and disparate, and dishes have been passed down from generation to generation.
The healthy Mediterranean diet and wonderful Anadalucian wines have been influenced throughout history by the Moors, Greeks, Carthaginians and the Visigoths.
Favourites of the Andalucian people, which will undoubtedly become yours too, include Gambas Pil Pil (prawns sizzling in chili oil), Salmorejo (tomato soup usually served with a boiled egg and ham), Coquinas (little clams), Berenjenas con miel de Cana (aubergines deep fried and drizzled with molasses), Tortilla Espanola (eggs, potatoes and onions), and Pringa (a slow-cooked stew).
Extremadura Region – Perfect for people seeking traditional, and simple food, with a bit of added spice
Extremadura has a long standing tradition of producing high quality meats and dairy products. The meticulous care taken in feeding animals has given rise to outstanding quality pork products, in particular the famous Ibérico ham, chorizo and Morcilla (black sausage).
This region is also known for its superb cheeses, such as Torta del Casar and Ibores. Paprika is grown widely across this region, which adds a warming touch to most dishes.
Because food here is considered so important, and as something to enjoy with friends, Extremadura is one of only three areas in Spain where you can get served tapas for free virtually everywhere. It’s a great way to sample the traditional delights of this region.
Hidden culinary gems of Extremadura include Cáceres (Ibérico pork fillet marinated in Paprika), La Caldereta (a stew made from kid, peppers, mashed liver, and garlic), Cachuela (a thick soup made from sweetbreads, liver and tripe), Las Mijas (bread soaked in water, then fried with bacon and peppers), El Bacalao del Convento (Cod served with potatoes, spinach and broth), and Escaldadillas (dough soaked in orange juice, then fried).
Madrid Region – The best place to try absolutely everything, from nueva cuisine to regional Spanish dishes
Food is taken extremely seriously in the region of Madrid, and it is strongly linked to social entertainment.
Madrid accepts all types of influences when it comes to food, and whilst it does have what it calls its own authentic dishes, they do not actually originate from this area. But don’t worry, authentic food is still plentiful, it just comes from other regions!
With one bar or restaurant for every 192 residents of Madrid, it’s no wonder that this city holds a treasure trove of possibilities for trying delicious food. Every region’s tastes are represented in restaurants here, so even though it can’t really produce traditional dishes of its own, you won’t miss out on all the authentic Spanish tastes and flavours.
Castile-La Mancha Region – A splendid sanctuary for wine and cheese lovers
The cuisine of this region can be classed as hearty and traditional, dishes are prepared using elementary ingredients such as bread, meat, cheese and wine, all of which, through their fabulous flavours, will transport you back to the era of Don Quixote.
Livestock in Castile-La Mancha focuses on pigs, but wild boar, stag, and rabbit are still enjoyed, as are a variety of poultry, and ewes milk is used to make the famous Manchego Cheese.
Castile-La Mancha is home to some of the world’s largest vineyards, and they produce some of the most delectable wines in Spain.
There are plenty of tasty foods you can eat, when you’re not sipping on wine or nibbling at cheese. Some great examples of local Castile-La Mancha food include Atascaburras (a cod and potato paste), Carcamusa (pork, vegetables and tomatoes stewed together), Gachas (a broth cooked with flour made from grass peas), and Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup).
The Balearic Islands – The absolute best place to experience authentic meals once considered as being poor man’s food
Dishes of the day on the Balearic Islands are often made up from what people can buy from the market that day, and local people have always known how to make the most out of what they had.
But this hasn’t stopped the gastronomy from Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera from being delectable and pleasurable. The cuisine has been shaped by the many cultures which have passed through the archipelago over the years.
Most of the dishes are based on seafood – two types you can enjoy, which you can’t get anywhere else, are the Mallorquin shrimp, and the Menorquin lobster.
Almond blossoms, native to the Balearic Islands, are an essential ingredient in traditional cooking, and so is mayonnaise – after all, it was invented there!
Must try dishes across the islands include Frit Mallorqui (pig liver fried with vegetables, sherry and fennel), Sopes Mallorquines (a cabbage stew), Sofrit Pagés (a lamb, sausage, potato and herb casserole), Tonyina a l’eivissenca (a traditional tuna stew made with pine nuts, raisins, eggs, spices, lemon juice and white wine), and Ray Borrida (ray is layered between potatoes and fried bread, placed in a casserole dish, then a garlic, saffron and toasted almond sauce is poured over it, and then cooked).
The Canary Islands – Ideal for the adventorous foodie, a sea of flavours from simple cooking that combines traditional Spanish dishes with African and Latin-American influences
Gastronomy on the Canary Islands is phenomenal – the key to the great food is simplicity. Dishes are so simple that one of the main ingredients found in most of its dishes is gofio, roasted maize or wheat meal.
The Canary Islands are famous for their mojos, they’re two different types of sauces, and they’re used extensively throughout the islands’ cuisine. The first is mojo picon, made from pepper, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt and paprika, and the second, mojo verde is based on parsley and coriander.
The basis of the local delicacies are a variety of vegetables, fruits and fish. You’ll find that most meat, which comes in the form of stew or steaks, are imported from mainland Spain or South America. However, thanks to Gran Canaria’s amazing climate, local markets can offer an abundance of seasonal ingredients, such as chorizo, goat’s cheese, and honey.
Dishes to get your taste buds tingling include Papas Arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), Sancocho Canario (salted fish in a mojo sauce), Potaje de Berros (a hot pot of chick peas), Beinmesabe (honey mixed with almond cream, eggs and rum), and Platanos Fritos (fried bananas).
Hopefully our guide to Spanish food has sufficiently whet your appetite, and your computer is free from drool! If our guide has also helped you decide on which region you’d like to live in, based on the cuisine, then don’t hesitate to contact us, and we can help transport your treasured belongings from the UK to Spain, quickly and efficiently, so that you can start enjoying these tasty treats in no time flat!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you may enjoy Moving to Spain … an Expat Guide, Easter in Spain – Fantastic festivities in the Sun, Essential Tips for moving to Spain with your Children, Gardening in Spain for Expats – What you need to know or Moving to Spain … Regions guide for expats.