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Spain is a culinary wonderland as diverse in tastes as it is in landscape and culture. From the hot, dry south of the Andalusia region to the hilly northern Basque country, Spain offers delicious delights at every turn. Here are some of the top tastes to try when visiting Spain.
Spain’s famous wine region is a can’t miss destination for any wine lover. There are over 500 wineries producing wine in the Rioja area of north central Spain, many of which open their doors to visitors for informative tours and in-depth tastings. Some are smaller, basic operations, while others are large-scale producers with state-of-the-art facilities and lavish tasting rooms. Base yourself in Logrono and be sure to explore the medieval walled town of Laguardia. If you visit on June 29th, you’ll be in for a special treat. In the city of Haro, this day marks the Batalla de Vino – a city-wide wine food fight!
The area just outside of Barcelona is home to several producers of cava – a sparkling white wine similar to champagne. You can taste cava at nearly every bar in Barcelona (and in Spain for that matter) but to learn more about the bubbly beverage, head to the source. Three major cava producers, Codorniu, Freixenet and Torres, are a short train ride away from the city and offer tours and tastings to the public.
Popular throughout Spain, paella originated in the Valencia area. Traditional Valencian paella is made from rice, meat, snails, beans, green vegetables, and seasoning like saffron. The most common variation is seafood paella, which omits the veggies, meat and beans, and adds a wide variety of seafood such as mussels, clams, shrimp and fish. In Barcelona, you can learn how to cook the Catalan version of seafood paella at Cook and Taste, a hands-on group cooking class.
While Tapas originated in Madrid, the Basque people claim to have perfected them. In the seaside Basque city of San Sebastian, they are called pinxtos and are often served skewered with a piece of bread. Pinxtos varieties include everything from basics like the potato and onion tortilla (omelet) to mini versions of haute cuisine dishes like grilled octopus and seared foie gras. Pinxtos bars here even have their own set of rules – simply grab what you want, keep the toothpick, and at the end of your meal your bill is calculated by the number of picks on your plate.
La Boqueria Market
The mother of all Spanish markets, Barcelona’s La Boqueria is a gourmet’s dream come true. Explore stall after stall of brightly colored spices, wander past countless varieties of fish, gawk at fruits you’ve never seen before, and ogle overflowing baskets of fresh vegetables. Vendors sell everything from ready to eat jamón slices and eggs ranging from small (quail) to large (ostrich) to fresh rabbit, tripe, and live lobster. If all the browsing makes you hungry, grab a bite to eat at one of the La Boqueria’s many tapas bars, most of which use ingredients purchased fresh from the market each day.
The Jerez area, in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, is the birthplace of sherry. Made from white grapes, the wine is fortified with brandy and then becomes sherry. The sherry can be found all over Spain (and is sold overseas as well) through true connoisseurs will want to taste it in its homeland. Base yourself in the town of Jerez de la Frontera and explore the nearly 50 sherry bodegas in the surrounding picturesque towns.
Just as cava rules in Barcelona, the drink of choice in the Basque region is Sidra, or cider. Made with several varieties of apples, cider has been produced in the region for nearly 1000 years. Try it at any bar in San Sebastian, or drink it straight from the barrel when you visit a cider house. Many cider houses are only open during cider “season”, which lasts from January to April, though some offer cider in bottles year round. Along with unlimited glasses of freshly-made cider, guests can also enjoy a traditional communal cider-house meal.
Jamón and Chorizo
Jamón (ham) and chorizo (sausage) are integral parts of the Spanish diet. Jamón Ibérico, made from the black Iberian pig, is a highly prized cured ham. Both Jamón Ibérico and Jamón Serrano (a less-expensive version made from a white pig) are used in many dishes, served in sandwiches, and even eaten alone with some bread or cheese. Walk into nearly any bar in Spain and you’ll likely see a full leg of jamón (which can be worth as much as $500) hanging from the ceiling. For a lesson in the art of jamón, head to Barcelona’s Jamonisimo, which offers a tasting of several varieties.
Chorizo is a sausage made from pork and pork fat, seasoned with paprika, and smoked, grilled or simmered in a sauce made with cider or wine. It can be spicy or sweet and is often served as a tapas dish.
Though outside of Spain Sangria is a considered a typical Spanish drink, most locals would never order a glass of sangria in a bar or restaurant. Why? The reason has a lot to do with what it’s made of – red wine, fresh fruit, and liquor like brandy or triple sec. Because you can use cheaper wine and mask the flavor when making sangria, it is considered a cheap party drink and a tasty inexpensive way to get a little tipsy. Most of the sangria served in bars and restaurants in Spain is ordered by tourists, and the price is often inflated accordingly. If you are in the mood for this refreshing drink, go ahead and order it, just know you may be paying a premium for it.
Written by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com