popular food in spain

Popular Food in Spain: 10 Mouthwatering Dishes You Have to Try

Spanish cuisine is a colorful arrangement of seafood, rice and combinations that aren’t often seen elsewhere. 

You might know about paella and tapas, but have you heard of escalivada?

This post will introduce you to some of the most common dishes you will see in Spain, so you know what to order to fit in with the locals!


1. Pulpo a la gallega 

Where to Try: Galicia

Pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus) is, as the name suggests, from Galicia (and in Galician is known as polbo á feira. Lucky for us though, it’s found in restaurants all over the country.

Octopus can be quite tough if it’s not cooked just right, thus Galicians’ near-religious obsession with giving it two shocks to “acclimate” to the boiling water before leaving it in the third time to cook.

The octopus then remains for about 30 minutes, or until se lo puede pinchar fácilmente (it can be easily stabbed). The octopus’s legs are cut up with scissors and served with potatoes.

2. Paella


Where to Try: Valencia

This is a Valencian rice dish cooked in a wide, shallow pan. Paella is the Valencian word for a pan; in Castilian Spanish it’s a sartén.

One of the most popular types of paella is the paella de marisco (seafood paella), and for some it’s also the most “authentic.”

You’ll also come across lots of paella mixta (mixed paella), which has seafood, conejo (rabbit),  pollo (chicken) and/or other types of meat.

Paella de verdura (vegetable paella) is sometimes offered to accommodate vegetarians.

3. Gazpacho


Where to Try: Andalusia

This Andalusian cold tomato soup comes in a variety of forms, but the important ingredients are fresh, ripe, preferably locally grown tomates (tomatoes), as well as pepinos (cucumbers) and a rich, fruity aceite de oliva (olive oil).

Cold soup may sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually rather refreshing.

4. Calamares en su tinta

Calamares en su tinta

Where to Try: Anywhere in Spain

This dish consists of small pieces of squid legs cooked in their tinta (ink). It can be made fresh, but is also available in any Spanish supermarket en conserva (canned).

While it may not seem too appetizing to a foreigner, this is an incredibly popular dish in Spain, and I’d encourage you to try it at least once for an authentic local experience!

5. Escalivada


Where to Try: Catalonia

This is a roasted vegetable (often red peppers) dish from eastern Spain (Murica, Valencia and Catalonia). The word comes from the Catalan escalivar, which in Spanish translates to asar a la brasa (to roast on embers).

It can be served by itself (often next to a main meat dish) or on toasted bread with anchoas (anchovies).

6. Calçots


Where to Try: Catalonia

In the city of Tarragona, calçotadas are held: a gastronomic party in which calçots (sometimes also spelled calsots in Spanish—it’s a large variety of mild green onion) are grilled and eaten with salsa romesco (garlicky tomato sauce) or salvitxada (a slightly thicker tomato sauce specifically for calçots).

7. Tortilla


Where to Try: Valencia

Not to be confused with the Mexican corn wrap, the Spanish tortilla is an omelet, typically made with scrambled eggs and pre-fried potatoes stirred together and then allowed to set and cook on both sides.

It can be eaten cold, and is often served in small bars as a snack. You can order una ración (a big piece), una tapa or un pincho (a smaller piece), or un bocadillo (sandwich).

The tortilla de patatas (potato tortilla) is the most common version, but you will also encounter tortilla de espinacas (spinach tortilla) and lots of other vegetables.

8. Tapas


Where to Try: Anywhere in Spain

You’ve surely heard of these little snacks that make up a huge part of Spanish social eating culture. 

The conventional home for tapas is northern Spain, particularly País Vasco (Basque Country; Euskadi in the local language), where lovely little piles of mariscos (seafood), queso de cabra (goat’s milk cheese), tortilla, chorizo and other toppings grace small slices of baguette and are held in place by a palillo (oversized toothpick).

In other parts of Spain, tapas are not necessarily these bread-topping pinchos, but rather small snacks composed of similar ingredients, and bread is served on the side.

In Andalusia especially, bars offer you a free tapa with each caña (small draft beer) or copa de vino (glass of wine) that you order. One gets drunk in order to eat well, or vice versa.

9. Croquetas

Where to Try: Anywhere in Spain

These delicious fried bites are a great snack or tapas to have when in Spain.

They are little rolls often filled with cheese, ham and other ingredients then fried to a perfect amount of crispiness. 

You will often see these on a tapas menu, but you may also see them rather frequently sold as street food or in grab-and-go shops along the streets. 

While ham and cheese croquetas are the most popular, you will also often see them made with chicken, mushrooms, spinach or cod.

10. Empanadas


Where to Try: Galicia

I know what you’re thinking… aren’t empanadas a South American thing? Well, they are, but empanadas actually originated from Spain and were brought to Latin America by immigrants.

While you will definitely see these cheese, bean and meat-filled pastries across Latin America, you will also see them quite frequently in Spain!

This food is more of a snack, so you will see it most at street-food stands and quick deli-type establishments. They can be sweet or savory, and you will find all varieties of fillings to try!


Now that you know what traditional Spanish food looks like, don’t be afraid to try something new the next time you’re in Spain!

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