Foods from Spain
Foods from Spain. Here are some of the typical dishes that everyone will love, even vegetarians!
The whole Iberian Peninsula, holds a thing in common when it comes to cuisine: It’s extremely heavy in meat and fish. Vegetarians tend to struggle, but vegans, like me, can have it really hard in Spain.
Nevertheless, the foods from Spain , contrary to what a lot of people think, are very versatile and some of the most traditional dishes can be a delight for everyone.
Spain was the very first country I’ve traveled to, even before I was born! Yes, my mother still tells the story of how much I kicked in her belly when she was visiting Sevilla, in 1979.
My love for Spain couldn’t be any stronger and I came to the land of sunshine and the Flamenco basically every summer, while growing up in Lisbon. Till I moved to Barcelona.
The foods, the smells, the people, the music and the culture in Spain are fascinating and the reason why I’m so emotionally connected with mis hermanos (a warm slang we use in Portugal when referring to the Spanish).
Come on a tour of veggie Catalunyan and Andalucian foods with me and learn how the Moors, the Greeks and the Portuguese influenced the traditional Spanish cuisine.
VENTURE INTO THE LOCAL MARKETS
This was the most frequent activity I had for many years in Spain. My father, who was a fanatic for Spanish markets, used to drag me along, every morning, to check out the local fruits and vegetables available.
Back then, I hated it. I’d rather go to the beach or just sleep until late than look at vegetables, but a seed of curiosity stayed. And now I’m a food travel blogger (everything has a reason to be!)
The markets, have always been the center of the villages and cities throughout history. In times when TV and radio were existent, going to the market, didn’t only represent shopping for groceries, but also, a way to socialize and to gossip. That was, in a way, the local “newspaper”, the word of mouth of what was going on in town.
And in most Latin countries, it still is. Most people are loyal to their favorite vendors and actually get better deals and higher quality products than at many supermarkets.
I always visit the markets of every country I travel to. It gives me a sense of the culture, the vibe and… of what’s going on. So this is the first place you should visit in order to understand the foods from Spain.
FOODS FROM SPAIN THAT YOU HAVE TO TRY
Yes, it looks like the typical Paella we all know, but it’s not. In Catalunya, the typical paella, is not made with the “bomba” rice most of us as accustomed to, but with fideus: small, string like pieces of pasta.
It is usually a non-veggie dish, but it can easily be veganized and many veggie restaurants will cook it using substitutes.
The fideua has a long history in the cook books of Catalunya and is the result of a mix of influences, by the different trades and settlements in the area.
Some think that this fideus, might be an influence of the Italians, but studies reveal that the Moors, who occupied part of the Iberian Peninsula, were the responsible for the introduction of the itriyah (still known as aletria in Portugal) in Catalunya around the 8th or 9th century.
PAN AMB TOMAQUETE
One of the most typical Catalan treats, every vegan and vegetarian will fall in love with, when visiting Barcelona. But… how Catalan the bread with tomato really is?
Well, we all know tomatoes came from South America by the Spanish colonizers, but it took a while till our beloved tomatoes became part of our traditional cuisine.
It wasn’t until 1884 when we have the first mentions of the Bread with tomatoes, by the writer Pompeu Gener. This now famous snack, was actually invented by the Spanish workers form the region of Murcia, who came to Barcelona to help build the metro lines. It’s said, that they used olive oil and tomatoes, which they grew in near by lands, to soften the hard bread, they had to eat during the day.
Well, this is probably one of my favorite breakfast foods while in Barcelona and definitely a great choice for the plant based diet folks.
I had no idea of what calçots were, till my Catalan friends, arrived at my house, with 2 wood boxes filled with spring onions. They were extremely excited to show me the typical traditions of barbaqueing the Calçots, and promised me I would love it too!
The calçotada is a Catalonian tradition, and from December to early May the calçot fires and feasting, which date back 100 years, can be found in restaurants and homes across the region.
We brought the wood, made the fire and had a lot of fun cooking our calçots, all night long. To eat them, you pick up the calçot and pull off the burnt outer layer. Then you must dip the calçot in the romesco sauce, which is a creamy mix of roasted tomatoes, garlic, pepper, hazelnuts, almonds and olive oil.
I confess, I didn’t really fall in love for the calçots and my back yard turned into a total mess, but I had a blast celebrating such a catalan tradition with my friends.
I love Gazpaxto (in Catalan) or Gazpacho in Spanish. The most famous Spanish soup, that is 100% vegan and extremely refreshing during summer time.
Gazpatxo is not really a Catalan dish, but an Andaluz one, although we can find some interesting Catalan additions to this delicious soup, which can include white beans and allioli. The traditional Gazpacho Andaluz, inclues fresh tomatoes, white bread, olive oil, cucumber, green pepper, garlic and a bit of vinegar.
You can never go wrong with Gazpacho and if you find it hard to get vegetarian foods whole traveling in Spain, just ask for this soup.
TORTILLA DE BATATA
The first document mentioning the famous Tortilla de Batata, takes us back to 1817.
But legend says that the general Tomaz de Zumalacarregui (1788- 1885), tired and starving, knocked at the door of a local villager. The girl, when inquired if there was something she could space, she politely replied: ” I’m a poor girl, but I’ll make something quick and fulfiling for you”. She cut some potatoes, fried them and added some eggs. It is said, that’s how the tortillas were born, in the region of Navarra.
The general died later on in a batle in Bilbao, but it’s said he ate a piece of tortilla, right before he died. Nobody knows if this story is true or not, but one thing is clear: the tortilla de Batata is one of the iconic Spanish fast food items of our time.
It’s always vegetarian but not vegan, although some places might be able to replace the egg for chickpea flower with a similar effect.
PAPAS BRAVAS OR BATATAS BRAVAS
A simple portion of irregularly cut chunks of deep friend potatoes with a sauce and usually served as Tapas. Maybe one of the few tapas, we vegetarians can actually eat.
I’ve always ordered batatas Bravas as a snack when I went out with friends. In Barcelona, where I’ve lived, the sauce was usually composed by olive oil, red pepper, paprika, chili, and vinegar. But if I went to a bar whose owner was from another part of Spain, the sauce could be quite different.If you’re vegan, make sure there’s no mayonnaise on your potatoes.
Although an intrinsic part of Spanish food nowadays, the potatoes only made their way to our tables after the Spanish colonizers brought them from South America. The origin of the batatas Bravas is not totally certain, except that they were first served in Bars in Madrid, in 1960.
PEAS AND ARTICHOKES
On my last visit to Barcelona, I had a meal at a KM0 restaurant, in El Prat de Llobregat, very close to where I used to live.
The KM0 is a concept of using local and seasonal foods only, that are located no more than 100kms away. This is one of the best ways to support local agriculture and find extremely fresh ingredients.
It was artichokes and peas season, so I had an overdose of these 2 vegetables. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of artichokes, but they are an integral part of the vegetables people love in Spain, specially in Catalunya.
This is a traditional cold soup from Andalucia and Extremadura and is always vegan. It consists of bread, blended almonds, garlic, water, olive oil, salt and sometimes vinegar. It’s usually eaten with grapes, pieces of melon or a baked potato.
With a humble history, it was usually the soup of the poor. There isn’t a lot of information about the origins of this soup, but it’s believed to have Greek influences.
Pisto is a traditional vegetable preparation, which usually consists on fried pepper, tomato, onions, eggs.
According to some studies, seems like the Pisto and the French ratatouille, are cousin dishes, both featuring the refried vegetables.
While in Barcelona, I tried the French version with Eggplant and I was not impressed with it. Maybe the place where I’ve tried it wasn’t that good, because the ones I had tried before were very delicious.
Since the tomatoes and peppers only made their way to Europe around the XVII, the older Moorish version called Alboronia was the staple dish in old Andalucia.
Although the origins are unclear, it’s said to be brought to Europe by the Portuguese, after their adventures in China. One thing is clear, the Churros are a common snack both in Portugal and Spain and I love them!
This is a sweet that will fill your stomach easily, made of wheat flour and water, in a cylindrical shape and then fried in vegetable oil. It can be sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon and the smell of this snack will definitely make you want to try it.
In Catalunya, it’s often dipped into melted chocolate and to be honest, I can’t think of a better combination.
There are many other foods from Spain I didn’t include in this short guide. Spain is a big country, full of contrast and offering a great variety of traditional dishes. Most of them, very heavy in meat and fish. These are the foods from Spain that all of us can eat, both omnivore and vegetarians alike!