Spain is known to have one of the richest and most historical cuisines in the world. Since its birth (considered the time of the Roman Empire), Spain has adapted cooking techniques, flavors, and rituals that put itself in a league of its own.
It all began when Spain became a territory of the Roman Empire in 218 B.C., and in turn benefited from the Roman’s agricultural technology. Soon, Spanish citizens were growing their own grapes, making their own wine, and pressing olives to create olive oils. The Roman’s also introduced the custom of collecting and eating mushrooms, still a common custom in Spain today.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 711 A.D., The Moors crossed into Spain from Africa, bringing with them both Persian and Indian culinary influences. Ruling for many centuries, the Moors also introduced rich spices, new fruits, and vegetables. Many historians believe this is how Saffron, Cumin and Cinnamon have become staples in Spanish Cuisine.
The discovery of the “New World” in 1492 brought revolutionary changes to Spanish cuisine. Spanish explorers brought back with them exotic foods such as avocados, papayas, peppers, cacao (chocolate), and Paprika, one of the major spices in Spanish cuisine today.
Modern day Spain is separated by many regional cuisines, all with different cooking techniques and styles. Although they do vary, all of the regions have one thing in common: fresh local ingredients.
Grains like bread and rice have been enjoyed by Spaniards for centuries. Bread is commonly served with food, along with extra virgin olive oil for dipping of course! Rice, also rooted in Spanish tradition, is the main component in one of Spain’s most famous dishes – Valencian Paella. Cooked outside on an open fire in a large flat- bottomed pan, Paella can be cooked with many different ingredients including seafood, chicken, and rabbit. Paella’s prized attribute, however, comes from the slightly charred rice at the bottom of the pan.
Fruits and vegetables are also an integral part of Spanish cuisine. Since the discovery of the New World, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, artichokes, and asparagus are commonly enjoyed. Gazpacho, another renowned Spanish dish, is a cold-based tomato soup commonly served throughout the Andalusian region.
Since much of Spain is bordered by the the sea, fish and shellfish are abundant throughout coastal cities. Seafood including (but definitely not limited to) tuna, sea bass, anchovies, clams, mussels, and squid are either grilled over hot coals or fried in olive oil and served as tapas. Since Spain has the perfect climate for growing olives and therefore making olive oils, most seafood dishes are cooked with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Meat and poultry is also very common in Spanish cuisine. The rural Aragon region is known for its roasted lamb and cured meats, and most of Central Spain is known for hearty meat-based stews. Because many Spanish cities have the coast on one side and rural countryside on the other, Spain has developed a harmonious blend between sea and land.
Luckily, those visiting Spain do not need to travel the whole country to try a taste of every region. Madrid, Spain’s capital and considered a culinary hub of Europe, is littered with restaurants from every region along it’s streets. Visitors can try gazpacho in an Andalucian restaurant and then walk over for a bite of Paella in a Valencian restaurant down the block. Just remember to carve out some extra time for lunch – Spaniards typically spend two hours and go through six courses throughout the mid-day meal!