Made in Spain: 15 authentic Spanish dishes you must try

Picture a table at any authentic Spanish restaurant and you’ll likely see it laid out large with shared centrepieces of seafood paella and smoked meats, accompanied by paprika-infused small plates and the obligatory sangria jug flowing freely off to the side. Now add to this a multitude of new flavours and samples you’ve never tried before, from cold soups to frittered fish and all of the patatas in between, and Spain is sure to leave you 100% satiated. Discover our list of the 15 most authentic Spanish dishes and promise not to leave until you’ve tried them all.

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A colder weather dish warming travellers with the aroma of stewing meat is cocido madrileño, served up in the capital across two to three courses or in bitesize form as some of the best tapas in Madrid

1. Croquetas

A classic and unassuming tapas choice, croquetas are made of a thick béchamel sauce mixed with ground meat, fish or vegetables, then breaded and deep-fried to crispy perfection. Originating from France where they use creamy potatoes, croquetas developed across the border as a tasty way to ensure no meat goes to waste, often using off-cuts of jamón Iberico, chicken or oxtail. Fancy restaurants might even tempt you with their own vegetarian versions, such as wild mushroom and truffle or spinach and manchego.

Croquetas, La Burlona Bar | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

Taberna Elisa, Madrid | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

2. Gazpacho

The dish to enjoy on sweltering summer days, gazpacho is a tomato soup which usually comes chilled and served as an appetizer. The ingredients of tomato, cucumber, garlic and peppers are as fresh as they come, all blended down with day-old bread as the key giver of texture, as in the Andalusian dish salmorejo. As well as being low calorie and cooling, gazpacho can often pack a punch thanks to extra pimiento and chilli.

3. Gambas al Ajillo

Spaniards know how to prep a good shrimp and gambas al ajillo is a prime example of this. Spain tapas at its best, gambas al ajillo is served in a clay pot, fried up with garlic, spices and oil to complement the tender texture of the shrimp. As well as unpeeling the most succulent of Spanish seafood, be sure to soak up the tangy oil leftover in the dish with a side of crusty bread.

Madrid | Photo: Victor Garcia

Gazpacho | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

4. Cocido Madrileño

A colder weather dish warming travellers with the aroma of stewing meat is cocido madrileño, served up in the capital across two to three courses or in bitesize form as some of the best tapas in Madrid. A traditional stew combining local Spanish meats of chorizo and pork with a broth of vegetables and chickpeas, the cocido madrileño is a comfort food elevated through its day-long simmer time and step-by-step dining method. To serve, the soup is usually served first, while the veggies come second place followed by the meat as the finale.

Cocido madrileño | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

5. Pisto Manchego

Riffing on the French recipe for ratatouille, Pisto Manchego is a classic tomato dish from Castilla La Mancha, specifically the small towns south of Madrid. Spanish foodies go wild for this dish which includes the freshest ingredients of tomato, pepper, garlic and zucchini chopped down into salsa-like splendour and served as a side dish or appetizer, or even as a main with fried egg, bread and local Spanish wine to wash everything down.

6. Jamón Ibérico

The main feature in any self-respecting Spanish delicatessen is the jamón ibérico which usually hangs above the counter in cured repose, waiting to be sliced and added in sandwiches, on eggs, or simply eaten alone as a salty snack. The marbled ibérico ham typically comes from black pigs raised in western Spain among holm oak woods, earning the meat a nutty flavour thanks to the pigs’ acorn diet. One of the best dishes to try the ham is in pan tumaca (or pan con tomate) – especially while in Catalonia – for a humble yet delicious breakfast or lunch.

Jamón Ibérico | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

Photo: Olya Kobruseva

7. Fabada

Named after its primary ingredient, the white fabe bean, the fabada is a hearty bean stew for any occasion. Served up in one pot with a smoky mix of chorizo, pork belly pancetta and morcilla, the fabada is a favourite in the northwest Asturias region where the weather comes a little cooler. As well as the original fabada asturiana, there are a number of fabe-ulous variations, such as Catalonia’s mongete stylings or Basque Country’s addition of ‘black pearls’ (alubias de Tolosa), turning a steaming pot of beans into something wholly memorable.

8. Pescadito Frito

Rock up on any section of Spain’s vast coastline and you’re likely to be in store for some great seafood. Though good grilled, roasted or buttered, ‘pescadito frito’ embraces indulgence by deep frying the best seasonal catch. An umbrella term for all fried fish, there’s a number of different names you’ll also want to look out for, particularly calamares a la Andaluza (fried squid), boquerones fritos (fried anchovies), tortillitas de camarones (fried shrimp fritters), puntillitas or chopitos (fried baby squid) and chocos fritos (fried cuttlefish).

Pescadito frito | Photo: Viktor Ritsvall

Photo: Antonio Mendes

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Pulpo a la gallega is one such dish putting Galician food on the map, directing visitors to the region north of Portugal on the Atlantic coast.

9. Pulpo a la Gallega

Pulpo a la gallega (Galician octopus) is one such dish putting Galician food on the map, directing visitors to the region north of Portugal on the Atlantic coast. Galician food is a mix of two high-yielding local harvests; seafood and potatoes. Simple and authentic, the pulpo a la gallega or “á feira” combines octopus, olive oil, paprika and salt, cooked to perfection in a copper cauldron for over an hour and served on wooden plates with bread, potatoes and, of course, wine.

Pulpo a la gallega | Photo: Luis Fernando Talavera

Galicia, Spain| Photo: Pedro Sanz

10. Migas

One of the most humble of traditional dishes in Spanish restaurants is the Migas, sometimes named ‘the Migas of the shepherd’. Most popular in rural parts and eaten daily by peasants and workers for centuries, Migas makes use of day-old bread that would otherwise go to waste. To do so, the bread is torn up into breadcrumbs and combined with anything at hand such as chorizo, pancetta and egg, along with a generous glug of olive oil and as much garlic as you dare. All of this is fried up in a skillet as the tastiest – and possibly cheapest – breakfast you’ll ever have!

11. Patatas Bravas

A dish that’s as fun to say as it is to eat, patatas bravas can certainly be called a national dish of Spain, served on almost every tapas menu in Spain and as a side for countless other dishes. Anglicised as ‘brave potatoes’, the dish is a spicy one made from cubed potatoes that are first shallow fried then doused in either a hot tomato sauce or aioli (garlic mayonnaise), enjoyed at any bar or restaurant around the country.

Sevilla, Andalucía, Spain | Photo: Joan Oger

12. Rabo de Toro

Getting its name from the tail of the bull of which it comes, rabo de toro is a working-class dish turned delicacy hailing from Andalucía. This bull’s tail stew has been a home-cooked recipe for centuries, made with love and extended periods of simmering. The base of the dish is red wine, garlic and thyme, adding tonnes of flavour to the oh-so-tender oxtail that falls off the bone as soon as you look at it. Eat with potatoes and ask for seconds, also looking out for the carrilleras or carrillada variation which instead uses braised pork or beef cheeks.

13. Cochinillo Asado

The cuisine in Segovia is centred around roast meats, notably suckling pig or lamb cooked on a spit over huge wood-fired ovens for that fall-off-the-bone effect. The cochinillo asado is a favourite in Segovia and across the Castile region, made legendary by the skilful chefs who take their roasting very seriously. The dish is most often served on special occasions and festivals, and – to brag about how tender their meat is – they’ll cut it with a plate instead of a knife!

Segovia | Photo: António Cascalheira

Cochinillo | Photo: Jason Goh

14. Tortilla de Patata

Commonly known as a Spanish tortilla, the tortilla de patata is a humble art form made from eggs, potatoes and sometimes onions. Different from the Latin American staple of the same name, this tortilla is usually served by the slice and resembles a thick potato omelette, made all the better with added chorizo, cheese or peppers depending on the palette.

15. Paella

Die-hard foodies or not, you can’t escape the omnipresence of paella while in Spain and nor should you! This is real-deal Spanish cuisine, originally from Valencia and a Mallorca food staple which has spread out across the world as one of the peoples’ most loved rice dishes. The Valencian classic comes with rabbit and chicken while the seafood version is equally worthy, tinted with saffron and socarrat (the fancy name for the delectable crispy bits). For the more adventurous among us, arroz negro paella is a darker one (courtesy of squid ink) while fideuà comes instead with pasta-like ‘fideos’ instead of rice.

Paella, Valencia | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

Arroz Negro, Menorca | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

Bonus: Tapas, Pinchos and Montaditos

If you don’t yet know what are tapas, pinchos and montaditos, then Spain has a lot to teach you, no doubt. In fact, there’s no one definition and the presentation differs throughout the country. In the south, within cities like Granada, tapas often comes free with your drink – from olives and other snacks to stews – while up north instead of tapas to graze on, you’ll likely be served pinchos (or pintxos), which are rather more elaborate (and not always free), featuring a bread base and topped like a canapé. As well as tapas and pinchos, one more snack to get your mouth around is the montadito; ostensibly a tapas-sized baguette sliced and topped with any of the flavours listed above, from jamón ibérico to gambas al ajillo.

For more world cuisine try the best Panama foods.

Pinchos | Photo: Alexandre Trouve

Madrid | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

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Cocido madrileño, Madrid | Photo: Yasmina Rodríguez

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