Spain can be divided into six culinary regions and the local dishes vary considerably between each. Here we look at each of the regions and discover what you can expect to eat in each one.
In the north of Spain you will find lots of sauces and seafood, in the region of Galicia, with its strong Portuguese influence, the Atlantic coast and Asturias. Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, so fresh seafood is plentiful and eaten often in the north. You will find octopus and baby eels, sardines, halibut and shrimp. In Galicia look out for `vieira`s (scallops), `percebes`, which are a type of barnacle, `ostras` (oysters), `mejillones` (mussels) and `almejas` (clams). Rioja is produced in this region. You will find it fuller than French red. The Spanish don`t drink red in the summer, preferring Ross, or `rosado`.
The Pyrenees, with its lush meadows and dairy herds, is the only place you will find butter served with bread in Spain. Every other region is too dry to raise cattle and olive oil is served with bread instead. This mountainous region is where you will find the homely `chilindrones`, a dish of tomatoes, onions and sautted peppers, served as an accompaniment.
Cataluua is one of the most sophisticated regions in culinary terms. The cuisine centres around four sauces: sofrito, samfaina, picada and ali-oli. Sofrito is not Catalan in origin but you will certainly find it there. It is a sauce of tomato, garlic, onions and green peppers. Samfaina is a traditional Catalan sauce made with sautted tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. Picada is a very traditional sauce specific to the region and made from garlic, parsley, pine nuts and roasted almonds. It forms the base of both fish and meat dishes. Ali-oli is a very simple sauce consisting of olive oil, egg yolks and lots of garlic, not unlike mayonnaise. Cataluua offers a wide variety of rice, meat, poultry and fish dishes. Also, with its milder climate and sea breezes, it produces the best white wine in Spain and is where Cava was first created in the 1870s.
The eastern region, which includes Valencia, mainly offers rice dishes, such as the world-famous Paella Valenciana. You will see this served from giant pans as you walk through the city. The dish may include chicken, pork, shellfish, eel, squid, beans, artichokes, peppers and peas. The ingredient that gives it the distinctive yellow colour is saffron.
Seafood is also popular in the eastern region, seasoned with a simple olive oil, garlic and paprika sauce called `ali-ipebre`. You may find this served with grilled seafood, particularly eels. Also, look out for a traditional old Valencia dish called `el pato a la naranja`, which is duck and orange.
Andalucca produces the best ham in Spain. It is found in the Jabuago in Huelva and is quite delicious, served in thin slices. CCdiz and MMlaga are the best purveyors of the region`s speciality `pescaato frito` (fried fish). In CCdiz, one particular favourite is `mojarras`, a mixture of many types of fish, such as sole, red mullet and whiting, all fried together. In MMlaga there is more emphasis on anchovies, particularly fresh baby anchovies known as `el boquerrn`. It is prepared in large quantities and piled high when served. In Seville you will find larger pieces of fish served, wrapped in `adobo` pastry. Don`t forget to try traditional Andalucsian `el gazpacho`, the cold soup you may be familiar with.
Finally, tapas is never far away in Andalucca. `Tapas` means `lid` and bar owners used to display small samples of their food in dish lids on the bar for people to try. Now they are an attraction in their own right and must be sampled.
Central Spain and in particular the old Medieval capital of Castile-Leen, is famous for its roast meat, particularly lamb and suckling pig. Castilian lamb is prepared simply, with a sprinkling of salt water and lard. It is then roasted in a clay dish. The suckling pig is roasted in an oven with thyme and should be so tender that it falls off the bone. Chickpeas were brought to Spain by the Carthaginians and are a staple in all Castilian `cocidos ` or stews. Large white beans and lentils are another mainstay, served with chorizo or other meats.
Whichever region of Spain you visit, you won`t want to leave if you enjoy varied and exciting cuisine. It is understandable that so many companies sell timeshare in Spain and it remains as popular as ever as a holiday and second home destination.