The 10 Best Spanish Foods – my favorites from Spanish cuisine

April 7, 2012

Looking for the best Spanish foods to try on your next trip?

Well, look no further… I’ve tried it all. (Basically.)

Thing is, I came to Spanish food a little bit late.

My first surprise on arriving in Madrid nearly 15 years ago was that no, they don’t eat Mexican food here.

I was 21 and suffering from the All-American ailment of total ignorance of everything outside your dismal suburb, and really didn’t know any better.

In addition, I was a vegetarian at the time.

While vegetarianism is an interesting experience, I wouldn’t really recommend it at this point: either way, it was totally impractical for me to integrate into Spanish food culture if I wasn’t eating animals. Over here, it’s tuna on salads, ham on asparagus – a meat fest.

So after a couple of years, I gave up on vegetarianism.

Sorry, animals.

Anyway, a lot of Spanish food is not exactly politically correct by American standards – blood sausage, anyone? – so I have the feeling that many tourists come here and don’t have any idea what to try…

So after being puzzled by a few menus at restaurants, they end up at McDonalds.

Bad idea.

Because Spanish food is great. Here we’ll see my own personal ten best Spanish foods… Of course, I’m not a gourmet.

I like cheap stuff from old man bars with shrimp heads on the floor. And I could care less about haute cuisine. 

Give me something with protein and cholesterol, chase it with some reasonably priced wine, and I’m good to go.

So here you have it…

The 10 Best Spanish Foods

Without further ado, here are my top 10 Spanish foods (in no particular order).

Keep in mind that this is all my opinion, and I’m not working for the Michelin guides or anything – I was working for Lonely Planet for a while, but that’s another story.


1. Pulpo a la Gallega

That’s Galician-style octopus.

Yep, the tentacles. It’s purple on the outside, white on the inside, an delicious all over.

In Galicia (a region in the north of Spain), they serve it with cloudy home-made white wine, sometimes in little ceramic bowls like in the photo. It’s not exactly cheap, but you should try it.

Yolo, bro.

(Yeah… I went there.)

10 best spanish foods – best spanish cuisine
Pulpo a la gallega and red wine from ceramic bowls, in a little place in Vigo. Or maybe it was A Coruña.


2. Tortilla de patatas

Otherwise known as Spanish omelette, this one is pretty simple (most Spanish food is pretty simple, actually.)

It’s potato and eggs. Sometimes onion. Sometimes a few bits of chorizo or ham mixed in. Sometimes a little bit runny on the inside. Great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Quick tip: actually, don’t add chorizo, unless you’re from Asturias. They’ll tear you a new one.

3. Paella

I’m not actually a huge fan of paella, but it seems to be pretty popular, and I guess I can’t leave it out.

Rice and various kinds of seafood (mussels, prawns, squid) are the usual ingredients.

The yellow colour comes from saffron. You can also get it with pork, rabbit, chicken or other meats. There are a lot of regional variations, and tons of Spanish people eat it as a sort of family tradition every Sunday.

Personally, I prefer arroz negro, which is made with squid, and colored black with the squid ink. A good place to eat it here in Madrid is El Pato Mudo close to Ópera.

My personal favorite type of paella is the typical Valencian one, with chicken, rabbit and big white beans. Although here in Madrid, shellfish paella (paella de marisco) seems to be more popular.

I really recommend El Pato Mudo for this – whatever you do, don’t go to some super-touristy place with a big poster outside displaying pictures of different types of microwave paella.

Moving on…

4. Fabada Asturiana – possibly my favorite Spanish food

Also from the rainy north, in the region of Asturias – this is one of my all-time favorites.

Fabada is a white bean stew with bacon and sausage. Thick and wintry and delicious.

Also, try the version from Cantabria, called Cocido Montañés. It’s not “lite” in any way, but it is awesome. Anyway, now that you’re in Spain, forget about light. It’s not the fat that’ll kill you.

It’s the high fructose corn syrup.

Don’t trust me, trust Mark.

And also…

5. Morcilla (black pudding)

Technically I guess it should be called black pudding; however, the name black pudding is somewhat misleading. Let’s call it blood sausage.

Now don’t be a whiny baby, I told you some of this wasn’t going to be politically correct. Yes, it’s made out of blood. Pig blood.

Lots of cultures eat or drink blood in some form. When in Rome…

Try the one with rice, it’s good for beginners. If you like that, move on to the one with onion. Just fry it a little bit and serve with (for example) scrambled eggs. Or you can just have it on a piece of bread.

Either way, it’s amazing!

6. Jamón Ibérico (Spanish ham)

Next up on the list of best Spanish foods – jamón!

Spanish people think that Jamón Ibérico is the best food on the planet.

They feel bad for the rest of us poor bastards who live in countries without it. Here’s the scoop: they cut off a pig’s leg, cure it (in salt, I believe) for a couple of years, and then hang it on the wall, hoof and all.

That’s it.

When they want to eat some, they cut it off in thin slices. No cooking, no preparation. They actually have ham slicing contests here in Madrid. It really is good!

It’s similar to Italian Prosciutto, but better!

(Don’t tell the Italians, they might get offended…)

Edit:  A bunch of people on reddit tore me a new one for confusing “serrano” with “ibérico” here. I guess I was wrong. Oh well. They’re both damn good ham. And actually, I have a jamón de bodega that I get for 24 euros a kilo these days that’s amazing. Of course, the ibérico de bellota is better, but that’ll cost you 70 euros or more for a kilo. And although 24 euros a kilo sounds expensive, you can make some pretty sweet sandwiches for about 3 euros each.

best spanish foods calamares plaza mayor madrid
These sandwiches have tentacles. Plaza Mayor, Madrid.

Moving on…

7. Calamares a la Romana or Bocadillo de Calamares:

Most people probably wouldn’t put fried squid on their list of the best Spanish foods.

But I love ’em.

Very typical in Madrid, these are rings of squid battered and fried. You can get them on a sandwich or just by themselves.

There are several places around Plaza Mayor that make them for around 3 euros. My favorite is just called Plaza Mayor Dos. It’s a tiny bar with some tables outside and not much room inside. I love it.

Anyway, if you live in Spain, you’d better get used to hooves and tentacles.

8. Tarta de Santiago

This is a sort of juicy and delicious almond cake.

Get one of the authentic ones in Galicia, with just almond flour and no wheat flour. It’s a very simple cake, flourless, just sugar, eggs, almond flour and a little bit of lemon zest.

I make the best Tarta de Santiago in the world here at home, actually, and here’s the recipe (in Spanish).

Come on over, I’ll let you have some.

9. Bacalao a la Riojana

Cod with a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, red peppers and garlic.

Really amazing.

The salted cod they use is soaked in water for 24 hours before cooking, and has hundreds of recipes built around it in Spain, and in Portugal, where it’s the national dish.

Go get it at Casa Labra, which specializes in cod.

Or any number of other places. If you’re making it at home, don’t skimp on the soaking. It’ll end up really salty if you do.

10. Rabo de Toro

Bull’s tail. Or maybe oxtail stew would be a better word.

Rabo de toro is usually served with fried potatoes. It’s not the most widely-eaten food around, but they tend to serve it in places close to bull rings. Or really typical Spanish bars. It seems to be more common in fancier restaurants in Andalucía if you’re down there.

Rabo de toro is fatty and delicious. Eat the cartilage. Suck the bones. Wash it down with red wine.

I love it.

More of the best Spanish foods?

Of course, I could go on and on with this list. Selecting just 10 of the best Spanish foods is totally arbitrary, and there are easy 20 other things I could put on here.

Oh well, maybe another time. For now, you could check out my article about how I fell in love with Spanish cuisine. Or maybe how to order Spanish wine. That’s a pretty good one.

Those are my favorite Spanish foods, anyway. What are yours? Hit me up in the comments!


Mr Chorizo.

P.S. Thanks to 100 Foods to Eat Before You Die (explained in this article, for example) and the related facebook quiz for the inspiration to make a list of the best Spanish foods. I’ve eaten just under 50 of the 100 foods on the list. The whole subtext of such things, of course, is HAVE YOU REALLY LIVED? Which is kind of a silly thing to go to a facebook app to answer. Anyway, I just figured, if these people can make lists, then dammit, so can I!

P.P.S. Spam and Hostess fruit pies are really on a list of foods to eat before I die? WTF, people?

P.P.P.S. I think I actually have eaten spam, once, when my parents made some kind of spam and potato chip casserole. I think the idea was to explain how life was different in the 50s than it was in the 90s, and how we had it really easy because we didn’t have to eat spam every Wednesday like they did. Or whatever. Baby boomers… 

P.P.P.P.S. I’ve also eaten snake, because I’m from Arizona, and that’s how we roll in Arizona.

P.P.P.P.P.S. I have lived. Have you?

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. There is something about a croqueta that makes me happy inside. Croquetas of all types (spinach/ham/cheese) get my mouth watering although circa 2009 I had a Croqueta de Idiazabal at Mercado de San Miguel that knocked my socks off (they have since stopped making that variety). Albondigas (although you can kind of get that in other countries, as soup etc) with tomato sauce (and plenty of oil I presume) is another go to of mine. I heart meat obviously.

    Empanada is also a favorite with love for all kinds but I lean towards Empanada de Atun (Tuna).

    Side note: I´m also from AZ 🙂

    1. Oh wow, another Arizonian on here? Are you living in Spain?

      I recently had some croquetas de bacalao that made me dizzy they were so good. Up till that point I never liked them much. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I’ll be moving to Madrid in a couple of months. I’m enjoying your blog! Although my strict vegetarian lifestyle might not last over there by the sounds of things!

    1. I was a vegetarian when I arrived, and yeah, it was hard. I think there are more options now, though. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I am from Spain, and really surprised that you missed the Patatas Bravas and the Montaditos de gambas alioli. Go to Sevilla, there is a lot of good places to eat really good and cheap.
    Thank you for this article, it is really tasty 😉

    1. I haven’t had montaditos de gambas alioli, but after writing this article I had tortilla de camarones and it totally rocked my world!

    1. Yeah, the thing about a top 10 list is it necessarily leaves out a ton of things. I should write a part two. Thanks for commenting!

  4. You left out the ultimate seafood delicacy of Galicia. This is Percebes (Gooseneck Barnacles) which are expensive but worth the price.
    As an aside, I took my 3 oldest sons to Spain in the 70’s and the loved the Pulpo. This past summer, I went with my oldest son and his 3 children and they could not get enough. My other children have also learned to love pulpo either as made in Galicia or in tins in the U. S.

  5. One of my favorites in the early morning hours of fiesta week is chocolate con churros. So yummy!! My family being from Spain and having visited several times it is the best. The food is amazing. Another favorite is Zarzuela. So yummy with shellfish and a good baguette for dipping.

  6. Ahhhh!!!!! Morcilla, chorizo, jamon, bacalao, croquetas, tortilla de patatas empanadas, churros y chocolate, flan y natillas, even zarzuela, which being a type of opera, it is also a delicious seafood stew (with a baguette to dip), best one ever in a shack at El Barrio de Pescadores en Barcelona. Pulpos y gambas a la plancha right before lunch is the wonderful smell by bars where Los Espanoles stop for their aperitivo on their way home for luch. My favorite tapas bars are around La Puerta Del Sol in Madrid, which my husband loved when we visited in 1971. In August of1974, my son was 4 & my daughters 5 & 6 when I took them for 4 weeks to my province of Almeria to La Feria & some towns to visit relatives & they still love every food from Spain, even arroz con pollo, conejo or bacalao.

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