Traditional Spanish Foods

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Spain's moderate climate and proximity to the sea are reflected in many traditional Spanish foods, which rely on fresh ingredients for strong flavors. Although different regions of Spain have a variety of traditional foods within their cultures, some dishes are common across the country. These traditional foods include a variety of meats, seafood, lentils, vegetables and desserts, many of which are easily found at ethnic specialty restaurants in the United States.


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Tapas are small servings of a food, which are often served en masse at a party or large gathering of people. Tapas might include a portion of tortilla Española, which is an omelet of potatoes, onions and eggs cooked with olive oil. According to Food by, a favorite holiday tapas is Crema de Cabrales, which is a spread of blue cheese, apples, walnuts and raisins soaked in cider, served at room temperature with dry crackers or toasted bread. Gazpacho, served cold as a tapas or meal on a hot summer day combines fresh tomatoes, pepper, onion, cucumber and garlic with spices and water; traditionalists pound the ingredients by hand while modernists might use a blender for mixing (Food by Country). Other simple traditional tapas include marinated olives, fresh greens drizzled with olive oil; fritters made of shellfish, potato and breadcrumbs; and cheese tortillas with or without sausage.

Main Dishes

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Traditional Spanish main dishes include filling, hearty ingredients harvested or raised locally. According to Food by Country, the best known Spanish main dish is paella, which originates from Valencia. This rice stew combines locally grown rice with vegetables such as tomato or asparagus, along with meats or seafood such as fresh shellfish, chorizo (sausage), or chicken or rabbit; flavorings such as wine, onion, garlic, saffron and pimiento (sweet red pepper) add depth to the stew (Food by Country). According to the Don Quijote Spanish School, stewed or sauteed meats such as rabbit or chicken combine with tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables and fresh bread as a traditional main dish. Baked shellfish or fresh fish such as sea bass served with vegetables make for another common traditional Spanish meal (Don Quijote Spanish School).


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Many traditional Spanish desserts have found their way into the American menu as well. The traditional cinnamon covered churros cook quickly and serve as a quick snack for those on the go. Puddings and custards such as flan and arroz con leche (rice pudding) require more preparation and cooking time, and the mild flavors compliment the more strongly seasoned tapas and main dishes. According to the Don Quijote Spanish School, tarts made of fresh fruits, including figs, are a traditional dessert that accentuate Spain's moderate climate (Don Quijote Spanish School). In addition, fresh fruits soaked in honey, wine or sherry accentuate Spain's wine making industry and agricultural production. Mazapanes, a traditional holiday dessert served on January 5 of each year to celebrate the arrival of the three wise men, combine almonds, sugar and water to form simple and sweet almond candies shared among family.