When it comes to cuisine, Spain has much more to offer than seafood paella and sangria. It’s packed with rich food and drinks that vary from region to region. In the south, drinking a tinto de verano at midday is totally acceptable. And if you order a drink in Madrid, you’ll get free tapas.
Next time you’re trying to decipher a Spanish menu, hit up some of these options below, all of which are endorsed by my Spanish friends.
#1 Tinto de verano
You can’t go to the south of Spain without ordering tapas and a tinto de verano. This delicious summery drink is a great substitute for the classic sangria.
Tinto de verano literally translates to “summer red”. The sweet beverage is made from red wine combined with lemonade and cooled with ice cubes. The result is a fruity mix that’ll become your go-to bevvy Spanish bevvy – the kind of drink you’ll be ordering in a jarra (jar) rather than a copa (cup).
#2 Churros con chocolate
You’ve probably tried churros in Australia, but did they cost less than $3 (€2) and come with a giant mug of chocolate syrup? Didn’t think so.
Churros con chocolate is a must and, in Madrid, you can find plenty of shops offering them as a snack for before or after meals. You’ll often see Spaniards eating the left over mug of chocolate with a spoon because the taste isn’t as sweet as it is in other countries, so there’s no sickly sugar rush.
Gazpacho is one of those things that you probably won’t like but you should try anyway if you’re keen on having an authentic Spanish experience.
The cold soup kind of tastes like a tomato juice that’s be seasoned with a heavy hand. It’s an orangey-red drink served in the hotter months and is most popular in the south of Spain.
Most non-Spanish people who try the drink for the first time say the same thing: “It’d probably be lovely if it was warm.” The tragic thing is that they’re right, Gazpacho is only awful because it’s served cold — but drinking it sure will make your Spanish mates happy.
#4 Pintxos (Basque tapas)
When people talk about “typical Spanish food”, they often go straight to paella, forgetting to mention the delectable comida (food) served in the north of Spain. But ask a local and they’ll tell you that the Basque region is famous for their rich cuisine, including their pintxo.
Pintxos are similar to tapas but are skewered to pieces of bread using toothpicks. The beautiful San Sebastian is where you’ll find the most delicious pintxos in the Basque Country, with toppings like fresh hake and cod, tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette,) stuffed peppers and croquettes.
As with most things, the fancier the place the more expensive and sophisticated the pintxos. They’re an art form in the Basque Country and that’s probably why they’re more often costly than your average tapa.
#5 Jamón Ibérico
Spaniards are crazy about their jamón (ham) and so it’s no surprise to see a jamonería every few hundred metres, even around Spain’s most bustling cities.
Home to the finest ham in the world, most Spaniards take a lot of pride in telling tourists that their Jamón Ibérico (Iberian ham) is the best. Often, you’ll find it served with small pieces of bread as tapas but you can also have it on a sandwich for just a few euro. Alternatively, the quality of the meat is so high that you can order a platter of it alone at many tapas bars and restaurants.
#6 Tortilla Española
Non-Spanish speakers call this dish the “Spanish omelette” and generally serve it as a savoury breakfast food with onion, herbs and tomatoes inside.
But the real deal is quite different from what we’re used to back home. Tortilla Española is thicker, like a quiche, and is stuffed with potatoes, making it a quite hearty dish. On top of that, it’s often served inside sandwiches or on bread as tapas.
(Lead images: Katina Rogers / Flickr)
Eden Gillespie is a freelance journalist who's learning Spanish and will be based in Madrid starting 2017. Siesta, fiesta, repeat.