Five Foods to Avoid in Spain

Eiffel Bridge in Girona, Spain

Today I’m thrilled to share a guest post by the travel blogger Liz Carlson. Drawing on her time living in Spain, she shares with us today her top tips for eating in Spain.

Liz Carlson called Spain home for three years, always on the hunt for the best tapa and glass of red wine. Temporarily back in the US and suffering from Spanish cured ham withdrawals, she runs Young Adventuress travel blog about life abroad and roaming around the world.

 

What do you think of when you think of Spanish cuisine? Paella, cured ham and chorizo, red wine, Spanish omelets, churros, or heaven forbid, tacos and burritos?

Mexican food aside, Spain has so much more to offer in terms of food and drink. Forget what you think you know about Spanish food and start from scratch when you arrive. Spain is such a culturally diverse country, with 17 distinct regions, each with their own history, foods, and even their own languages. There are few staple dishes to be found in Spain; rather each region has their own specialty, demanding to be tasted. It’s important to familiarize yourself with local staples and ask around for suggestions of traditional dishes to try.

Is there anything worse than sitting down to a meal when traveling and being disappointed? With all this variety, deciding what to eat in Spain can be daunting to say the least. But with these tips in mind when ordering, you should be able to avoid dissatisfaction and have much more enjoyable meals.

 

1. Paella

Unless you are in Valencia or at a Valencian restaurant, don’t order the famous yellow paella valenciana. You may think you are getting a truly unique dining experience when in fact, nine times out of ten, it was probably frozen in a bag before it found itself on your plate. Paella is a regional dish originally from the coastal city of Valencia. It has evolved and become symbolic of Spanish cuisine around the world, though for Spaniards it represents something quite different. In fact, you run the risk of offending people by ordering saffron paella outside of Valencia. Every region is immensely proud of their local dishes, and ordering paella in the Basque Country is equivalent to ordering a burger in Mexico.

Paella and most Spanish rice dishes are also festival or picnic foods, usually cooked on enormous skillets over an open flame outside with friends and family in the countryside.

Local alternatives: There are many other enjoyable rice dishes to be found in Spain such as arroz con pollo, chicken and rice. In northern Spain, instead of rice you will find more stew and heavy soup dishes on the menu.

 Porro

2. Sangria

There is a joke in Spain about how to spot a tourist, they’ll be the only ones in the bar drinking sangria. Sangria is a drink for fiestas, for teenagers to buy and drink cheaply; it is not the traditional drink in Spain nor is it very common. The only time I have seen Spaniards drink it is when they buy a box of Don Simón sangria for 1 euro to drink in the streets during local festivals.

Local alternatives: In northern Spain locals drink calimocho, a mixture of red wine and coke while in the south the popular drinks are tinto de verano, red wine and sparkling water or even lemon Fanta or rebujito during the festivals, white wine and 7-Up or sprite. Stick with one of these choices and you’ll fit right in.

Photo credit: souhaites

3. Gazpacho

I’ve only tried gazpacho once in a restaurant as an appetizer in Seville. Traditionally served only in southern Spain in the hot summer months, gazpacho, a cold tomato soup, is not really a staple dish in the Spanish diet nowadays, at least outside Seville. Most people buy it in cartons at the local grocery store as an easy alternative to dinner but it’s probably not worth whatever price you find for it on a restaurant menu, not to mention it probably came from the local supermarket.

Local alternatives: Salmorejo is a thicker version of gazpacho, originally from Cordoba in the south. Heavier, with more substance and flavor, it’s making its way onto menus around the rest of Spain, served in a variety of ways. I even tried it served in various layers in a shot glass in Logroño.

 Spanish food

4. Expensive tapas

Tapas should never cost more than 3 euros unless it’s served at a fancy gastronomic style bistro bar or you are in San Sebastián; same goes for a glass of wine. Costly tapas or pinchos/pintxos, as they are dubbed in the north, are geared straight for tourists and are not only overpriced but probably bulk cooked and not great quality. Usually tapas cost 1-2 euros or come free with a drink, for example in Granada or Madrid. The whole concept of tapas or pinchos evolved from cheap eats and great variety meaning you should probably be able to down at least 4 or 5 for dinner for 10-15 euros with drinks. Tapas are made to be eaten while standing and chatting, never sitting down in a restaurant. Avoid tapas at lunch, it’s more of a dinner dish eaten out with friends while having a glass of wine or two.

Local alternatives: my best advice for finding good tapas is to ask a local. Usually tapas or pincho bars are grouped together along one street or two in the old quarter of any given city, easily spotted by wine barrels outside the doors for eating, drinking and smoking outside.

 Pa Amb Tomaquet

5. Hot breakfasts

It’s important to remember the layout of daily meals in Spain. Usually breakfasts are small and simple, lunches are large and extravagant, several courses, and dinners are short and light. The standard breakfast in Spain ranges from toast to healthy cookies to a quick café con leche (espresso and milk) to fruit or mini baguette sandwiches. Rarely are breakfasts served warm and almost never include heavy foods like fried eggs, bacon, potatoes or beans. Because lunch is served later, usually from 2-3 in the afternoon, many people skip breakfast altogether, have a quick noon snack and then tuck in for a big family lunch.

Local alternatives: my favorite breakfast meal in Spain is tomato and olive oil toast (tostada con aceite y tomate), served mostly in the south and on the coast. Fresh bread is toasted then topped with olive oil and tomato that has been peeled and ground with a cheese grater, sprinkle it with salt or the famous Spanish cured ham and you will fit right in with the locals. If you need something heavier, order a pincho de tortilla, a slice of the famous Spanish potato omelet.

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By: Matt Long

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45 Responses

  1. Paul

    Great post. I pretty much agree with all of what you have said. I do have to single out las cuevas in Madrid though for year round Sangria. Top quality, and always frequented by locals.

    Reply
  2. Jesus

    Hi, is not a bad post but not really accurate. I’m Spaniard and I would say that even Valencian Paella is typical from Valencia, yo have many other types of paellas that are typical from other areas, like “Paella marinera” etc, and you can eat a good paella almost everywhere in the mediterranean coast. Anyway is true that is better just for ask to the local food instead just ask for what is the “typical” you can think.

    About Sangria I would totally disagree. Of course if you drink a “Don Simon Sangria” it wont be really tasty… and will be something that teenage buy because is cheap. But a good sangria with natural food, wine, orange juice OR orange fanta :p is always more than welcome. Me, my friends or even in my family meetings is reaaally common at summer meetings.

    And about Gazpacho, there are several types, and you have the typical one from the south of Spain but also there is typical one, thicker, from the north of Spain. I would say that gazpacho is common dish.

    I should say that if you go a restaurant and you order a Sangria or a good local food you won’t have any problem and I don’t think there is any food that you need to avoid in Spain hehehe I love all of it.

    BTW I don’t pretend to criticize you, it was a good post, just wanted to add another point of view from the inside of the Spanish culture.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Sofie

      I’m defenitely no expert, but having been to Spain several times, I wanted to chip in…
      I’ve had some amazing paella in Hondarribia (Basque Country). When we ordered it, the waitress warned us that we would have to wait quite a bit and when we got our meal, after having waited for over half an hour, it was delicious. Maybe it wasn’t super fresh. I guess you can never tell. But it was great, so no reason to complain.

      As far as sangria goes, I thnk you should drink whatever you like :D

      Hmmm, feeling for soem tapas now!

      Reply
      • Eduardo Alonso

        You are most likely right about your paella in Hondarribia. I’m Spanish and have only once been to that nice town, and the gastronomical level I saw there was impresive. Half an hour is more or less what it takes for the rice to cook in a paella, so it’s pretty sure yours was made to order. The most obvious thing to avoid when it comes to paella is the one that is already cooked before you order it. Most paellas served in Spain are a complete disaster, but you definitely can have the real thing outside Valencia (and you can get a crappy paella in Valencia, too).

    • Kaley [Y Mucho Más]

      I agree. I think what tourists see a lot of time is that paella menu that is in seemingly ALL the cheap, touristy restaurants, and you definitely want to avoid that one.

      In Zamora, where my husband’s from, they make a paella-like dish, which isn’t called paella, but “arroz a la zamorana,” and if made well it’s delicious. :)

      Reply
  3. Liz

    Thanks matt! This came out great!

    Thanks for your input Jesus. Where do you live in Spain? I’ve never seen sangria on bar menus unless its for a feria or fiesta or by the liter for partying cheaply or for tourists. I can’t imagine walking into a bar or restaurant in Logroño where I lived and ordering a sangria. I love all the alternatives though, calimocho, tinto de verano and rebujito or claras. Same goes with paella valenciana or gazpacho, they are region and city specific though luckily Spain has so much variety in their cuisine you can find really amazing local alternatives wherever you are. It’s one thing I love a lot about Spain, which is why I try to encourage people to think outside the box with Spanish food :)

    Reply
    • Ha Spain

      I live in Valencia, one of my local restaurants which is very popular for lunch and dinners with the locals.. they make up the “spirits” part of Sangria in a huge barrel, then as it is ordered they just need to pour this base into the jug and add the wine, fanta and fresh fruit, so it would seem it is a popular drink there, and definitly on the menu.
      It was amazing watching him make it up.. he practically went along the top shelf of “spirits” putting about half a bottle of each in! a real powerful drink, not for teenagers in the streets! Not a patch on the stuff that is served up to tourists by their reps at their welcome meets! That is a real no no!

      Reply
    • José Manuel

      Liz, Logroño, as you know, is the capital city of La Rioja, our top producer of wine… as you can imagine, it is not the place to order a sangría, which to wine-savvy people is somehow a big “sin”… but when it comes to, for instance, friends gatherings, sangría is quite traditional, I have prepared and enjoyed sangría with family, work colleagues, summer friends, school friends,etc, for many years now. This said, do not order sangría in a bar, not until that bar is “your” bar, the place you know the barman and the regulars by name. Otherwise, you are up to a “don simon” disguised with some ice-cubes and lemmon slices.

      Reply
  4. Marije

    I agree with everything in your post, Matt! Any paella that is served after 16.00 you should also mistrust by the way as not a single Spanish person I know would eat Paella at night, so it will be a guarantee for the frozen version if you sit down for paella dinner.

    Reply
    • Eduardo Alonso

      Paella, and every other Spanish rice-based dish, must absolutely be cooked when ordered, but it obviouly doesn’t matter at what time it is cooked… Some places, like the restaurant Sept Portes in Barcelona, dare to defy the absurdity of Spanish meal times and will cook your paella after 16:00. And although many people share that notion about not eating paella for dinner, I will say I am Spanish and have nothing against a nice paella in the evening. There’s nothing wrong with paella for dinner, what’s insane is to stuff yourself with any heavy food after 21:00, which is what most Spaniards do everyday.

      Reply
  5. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    Hmmm I’ve been to spain several times and I’ve had all of these and LOVED this them! In fact one of the best meals of my life was paella in LA Barceloneta with 2 pitchers of sangria.

    Reply
  6. Trevor Huxham

    This is a great list, Liz!

    Re: sangría—I first tried it at a birthday party I went to in Spain…hosted by Spaniards :) It was basically their equivalent of fruit punch. But you’re right that people just don’t go out and drink it at restaurants since it’s really more of a drink for parties or get-togethers. I was SO embarrassed when I had dinner in Toledo with my Australian hostelmates a few weeks ago; they ordered sangría for the three of us while I tried to order in Spanish…I was mortified. Oh well. Bring on the tinto de verano!

    Reply
  7. Jordi C.

    Liz really has a point. I’m Spaniard and you can tell she spent long enough in the country to grasp the stereotypes and avoid them. I bet you can get a perfectly good paella in Bilbao, pa amb tomàquet in Sevilla and tapas in Girona, but we are then missing the culture that surrounds local and regional dishes. Give it 25 years and we’ll be talking about the amazing paella of a restaurant in KL or Toronto.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Excellent point Jordi. It’s not whether or not the food is actually available, it’s making the decision to eat the best foods in the appropriate regions. Here in the States, bagels outside of NYC aren’t worth eating, etc.

      Reply
  8. Josh

    Tostada con aceite y tomate is the absolute breakfast bomb, no argument! It’s super easy, tasty and quick.

    Stuffed aubergines, or (i’m guessing here) ‘berenjenas rellenas’ are one of my favourites too. It works with just about anything, though a vegetable medley with minced vacuna is pretty unbeatable.

    I’m off for a tapa now. Good tips!

    Reply
  9. Tami

    I love all these local suggestions, really good to keep on hand! I am absolutely dying to eat Paella in Valencia now.

    one tiny comment: there’s no shame in ordering a burger in Mexico, Mexicans love them, they’re common street food (though why bother when you could eat tacos?), and not terribly rare to find in restaurants, especially in cities. a better comparison would be trying to order a burrito or fajitas in central or southern Mexico. it could possibly work in the north, but otherwise, you’d only get strange looks.

    Reply
  10. Christina

    If we should avoid Paella in Spain where exactly should we attempt to have an encounter with Paella?

    Reply
    • Liz

      You should try paella in Valencia, where it is from, also why it’s called in Spanish, paella valenciana.

      There are a lot of other delicious rice dishes to be had around the rest of Spain, but for me, it’s best to try local dishes where they are from. Touchy subject, but paella isn’t a “spanish” dish per say, it’s a Valencian dish, where many people would argue, is not even Spain. So complicated.

      Reply
  11. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas

    Like Liz, I’m an American living in Seville. One of my favorite paella places is in the residential neighborhood of Los Bermejales, far from the center, at a small joint run by a family from Albufera, Valencia. Like Liz, I tend to stick to alternatives like arroz marinero, but sangria is always a no-joke for me. I’ll take a cold Cruzcampo beer any day!

    And the only time I give up my morning tostada with tomato and olive oil is for Sunday churros.

    Reply
  12. Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    The paella part made me laugh- I see so many tourists ooh and ahh over the “freshly made” paella as it comes to their table, when it was in a frozen package only hours before! I’ve had amazing paella in Spain but it has always been at Spanish friends’ houses. I can’t say I agree on the gazpacho comment though- both of the families I lived with in Spain (one Granada, one Mallorca) made fresh gazpacho daily in summer. The one from the south was a lot thicker, and the one in the north was thin enough to drink, so there was regional variety.

    Reply
  13. Kaley [Y Mucho Más]

    I’ve actually never drunk sangria at a restaurant in Spain. I do think it can be very touristy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good in some places. You just have to find those places! However, I’m not going to go out of my way, as it’s not my favorite thing to drink anyway.

    And salmorejo is way more delicious than gazpacho, in my opinion!

    Reply
    • Liz

      Agreed! I love Salmorejo more than Gazpacho. I have never tried sangria in a restaurant before either, unless you count 5 euro all you can drink sangria nights at the Irish Rover in Salamanca. Which I’m pretty sure came out of a box carton.

      Reply
  14. Kay

    Interesting post! I have only been in Spain for 6 months, but I do agree with most of these. I live in a very non-touristed area (Badajoz, Extremadura) and I can definitely agree that Paella and Sangria are not common food items if you go to a bar to eat or drink something! That said, you can sometimes get them. Tapas here, in my opinion, are all quite expensive and not because there are many tourists, but simply because there is not a good cheap, plentiful tapas culture here. At least that is what many people who live here have commented to me – they mentioned that other cities such as Madrid and Granada are notably much better for tapeo.

    At any rate, as someone who has lived in Argentina for 5 years and tried to “avoid looking like a tourist” like the plague for years, I’ve come to terms with looking like a strange outsider and being confused with a “tourist” when you are actually living in the country. At first it is natural to try to avoid it, but eventually you realize that it will never ever stop completely. As good as you speak Spanish and order as the locals do, they will always eventually ask you where you are from and then, many times, peg you as a foreigner or worse, a tourist, simply because you are not local.

    So I went to Madrid to visit a few months ago…and I had my paella with a glass of sangría in the Plaza Mayor with confidence. I’ll eat what I well please!

    Reply
  15. Anna

    I lived in Barcelona area for two years and I never tried their paella, but I must say that I found out some bars that offer different types of sangria or are specialized in different combinations. As a tourist, you may want to enjoy the best of local cuisine, so you can’t be limited to special fiestas or moments of the years. Drink sangria no matter of the time of the year, it’s better than tinto de verano – a sparkling wine, I prefer proseco instead. Or try some musto with ice for desert.

    And one other thing: clara it’s not every time beer with lemon(or fanta lemon), but beer with sparkling water sometimes, in Tarragona area ask for “champu” for the beer with lemon. The perfect bar is where clara is a combination between beer and natural lemon juice. Good luck with that!

    Don’t be afraid to act a little bit touresty, it’s enough that most Spanish people hardly know how to communicate in other language than Spanish! Enjoy your visit and try your best to avoid tourist’s traps. Tip: a good restaurant is always full with the locals.

    Reply
  16. Lindsay

    I do agree to an extent that there are some atrocious paella dishes out there from the “fast food” versions of the menu – if its served in an individual skillet and will be ready in 10 minutes avoid it! But even here in Andalucia there are some excellent places for a good authentic paella, whether it be Paella de marisco or Valenciana or whichever – if its priced slightly high and minimum 2 per order you are on the right track… and Gazpacho… nothing better than a cooling dish from a beach chiringuito down here on the coast, and not a carton in sight :)

    Reply
  17. Cecille

    This is really interesting. Thanks so much for the advice. I’ve been dying to go to Spain and try their dishes. Hopefully soon… Anyways, I was just told by my Spanish friend that paella is best served with sangria. That’s what I’m planning to have. But yea, better to avoid touristy places instead go to places with many locals. ☺

    Reply
  18. Jenna@Webjet

    The photos in this article made extremely hungry! Everything looks delicious; we wish we could take my lunch break in Spain! Thank you so much for the helpful tips, we thought it was great how Liz put in a local alternative to the five different foods that you shouldn’t order. Spain is such an amazing country to visit. It is so rich in culture and the food is a big part of that so to gain the best experience of the Spanish lifestyle is would be best to eat like the Spaniards do!

    Reply
  19. azahar

    It’s not a bad list, but the main downfall with this sort of thing is trying to encompass the whole of Spain from one’s experience in a small part of it.

    I’ve lived in Sevilla for 20 years, before that one year in Salamanca. Very different in terms of food customs. Andalucia has its own regional cuisine and both gazpacho and salmorejo, which originated here, are very popular. You may find a good paella here and there, but mostly you get “arroz del día” which is only served at lunchtime. Tinto de verano (red wine mixed with lemonade) is generally more popular than sangria.

    As for hot breakfasts, when I lived in Canada and the UK those were reserved for weekends and holidays. Coffe and toast (or a muffin, etc) was the norm during the week. Just like here.

    Tapas prices vary. Did you really find tapas for 1 euro in Madrid? With a free drink? In Sevilla tapas prices range from 2 – 6 euros, and vary greatly in terms of size and quality. It’s very hard to judge a book by its cover. Some of the most attractive and trendy gastrobars serve crap food at outrageous prices, while there are modest traditional bars cooking up some of the best food in town. And then there is everything in between.

    I honestly don’t think I could come up with a list of Spanish food to avoid.

    Reply
    • Liz

      I have actually lived all over Spain, from Malaga to Cordoba to Madrid to Logroño to Salamanca, and spent significant amounts of time in other regions which is why I felt qualified to write this.

      You are completely right, which was my whole point of this article, that the food in Spain varies so widely, which is why it’s important to think outside the box when it comes to visiting. Would you order paella in the basque country? Probably not. That isn’t to say you can’t find it there, I’m sure there are some places that serve great paella up there, but that’s not what it’s known for.

      I know places in Madrid that give free tapas, and where in Seville can you find tapas for 6 euros at a normal bar? that’s outrageous. that’s a media ración of something. Expensive tapas bars anywhere in Spain, from my experience, are reserved for gastrobars and tourist hubs.

      My goal is to get tourists to THINK when visiting Spain, and realize that there is so much more to this beautiful diverse country than paella and sangria, plain and simple.

      Reply
    • Kaley [Y Mucho Más]

      In my barrio in Madrid (Arganzuela), there are definitely free (and good!) tapas. Now if you go to the center, perhaps not. But I’ve gotten really good empanada, croquetas, chichas … all gratis here in Madrid!

      Reply
  20. Matt Long

    I love the paella discussion going on here

    Reply
  21. Ricardo

    Antes de nada, disculpen que no escriba en inglés, pero prefiero no meter la pata. Además, aunque no sea correcta la traducción automática de chrome u otros, creo que les será más fácil entenderlo.

    He vivido en Andalucía y la Comunidad Valenciana y he viajado por bastantes sitios en España.

    1. Ciertamente hay que pedir lo típico de cada sitio y la paella más famosa es la paella valenciana, pero no es la única. En toda la costa de Andalucía, y sobre todo en verano, hacen muy buenas paellas marineras, de marisco, de verduras e incluso de monte (la de conejo me encanta). Y no estoy hablando de otros platos de arroz igualmente sabrosos como el “arroz con conejo”, el “arroz negro”, el “arroz caldoso”… sino paellas.

    Las variantes de la paella son muchas, y en la propia comunidad Valenciana hay muchas variantes. Sólo tienes que ir a Alicante o Elche y probarlas.

    2. La sangría no la pido nunca en bares y restaurantes de zonas turísticas a no ser que sepa de una buena. Aún así, no es un problema de zonas o regiones de España, sino de temporada, pues suelen pedirse más en los meses de verano, aunque ciertamente se toma más tinto de verano que sangría ya que una sangría bien hecha es más difícil de encontrarla y el tinto de verano es más “seguro”.

    3. Gazpachos hay dos grandes tipos, el gazpacho andaluz-extremeño, que se bebe nunca se come ya que su variante “sólida” es el salmorejo cordobés y la porra antequerana (son parecidos pero no iguales ni mucho menos). El otro gazpacho es el que suelen llamar gazpacho manchego, que no tiene nada que ver con el andaluz ya que se usan otro tipo de ingredientes. El conocido fuera de España es el andaluz, y al ser un consomé frío o incluso bebida fría, es raro que se tome en invierno, pero en cuanto la temperatura es agradable, desde primavera hasta otoño lo tomo con regularidad y en verano es lo mejor para quitar la sed. Es más, en Andalucía, en muchas ocasiones hacemos una buena jarra de gazpacho con sus hielos picados al modo de la sangría y lo bebemos en las comidas, fundamentalmente de carnes.

    Sólo donde el gazpacho andaluz es caro será de botella, pues lo normal es que sea natural y del día. No conozco en Andalucía un solo restaurante que sirva gazpacho de bote.

    4. Las tapas, fuera de Granada, Almería, ciertas zonas de Jaén y Málaga, y puntualmente en algunos bares de el resto de España, comparativamente, son caras, sí. Pero eso de que sólo se tomen por la noche… va a ser que no. Antes del almuerzo (que aquí suele ser entre las 14.00 y las 15.00), en Granada, región del tapeo por excelencia) es normal tomarse dos o tres tapas y más aún si se va a comer fuera. Trabajé algunos años en un par de restaurantes y allí, los del lugar, antes de almorzar solían tomarse un par de cervezas o tintos con su correspondiente tapa a modo de entrante, eso sí, en la barra, justo antes de ir a las mesas para almorzar.

    Por las noches sí es más normal sólo tapear o sólo cenar.

    En la Comunidad Valenciana, por contra, no hay cultura de tapa y aunque no sean caras las raciones, comparativamente con las de las regiones con tapa sí lo son… a excepción de Sevilla. Siempre me ha parecido caro ir a tapear en Sevilla por regla general.

    Eso sí, lo mejor, la paella, la porra antequerana, el gazpacho andaluz y el tapeo en casa con buenos amigos, que también se da y mucho más de lo que se piensa.

    Creo que eso es todo.
    Perdón por lo largo del texto pero es que quería aclarar unas cuantas cosas que desde mi punto de vista eran necesarias.

    Gracias

    Reply
    • Liz

      Gracias por tu comentario Ricardo y para clarificar todo. Estos son temas que he tratado mucho en mi blog, sobre todo el tema de tapear, que llevo un año en Logroño donde se come muchos pinchos y hay una gran cultura de comer afuera. Pero por temas de espacio, tiempo, y la meta de no aburrir mi audiencia (algo que siempre hago), tenia que eliminarlo de aqui.

      Me parece que sabes mucho del gazpacho andaluz y la paella, me invitas a tomarlos la proxima vez que paso por tu pais? :P

      Reply
  22. José Manuel

    Great post, most of the information is very accurate, maybe except the sangría part, as I said in a reply above. I endorse the advice to stick to local food, it is the best way to improve your chances to enjoy a fresh and proper meal, while avoiding pre-cooked or frozen dishes. Also, if you spend time in Madrid, don’t hesitate to give a try to international cuisine, there are some excellent japanese, brazilian and latin-american restaurants here (in general, stay away from the chinese restaurants). Also, there are some websites you can trust, with restaurants rated and commented by users (real users, actually), like 11870.com.

    Reply
  23. Angel

    Hello there!

    I really enjoy your article but I have to say something about the Gazpacho.

    I’m Spanish and I have never seen Gazpacho in a restaurant that have not been made by them. During summer, you can have Gazpacho almost everywhere, and you will find a good Gazpacho. Think that Gazpacho is made with very simple and cheap ingredients so it doesn’t need to be bought already done in the supermarket.

    You can find very natural ones in a lot of places, at it only needs tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, salt and vinager. Cheap ingredients that are even cheeper during summer.

    I hope it could help

    Reply
  24. Ilse

    I´m Belgian, but have been living in Spain for over 6 years now, and my husband is Spanish from near Bilbao…just to let you know that I´m not only “discovering” things on my own ;-)

    I´m not saying it ´s a bad post, but as other – especially Spanish – comments say, I´ve never ever seen a restaurant where the gazpacho they serve is from a tetrabrick or similar; indeed, as the ingredients are cheap, it would not only be worse to serve bought gazpacho, but also a lot more expensive. And as with other dishes, there are restaurants where the gazpacho is “just the way you like it” and others where it isn´t…honestly, I can say the same about places in Italy with an ossobucco, or in France with a poule au pot, or in my country with mussles.
    About the sangría, I would say that out of season, it´s mainly drunk by foreigners, and I really think bars take advantage of this fact, but good sangría can be found in some bars (also look for other names in other regions, for instance limonada in León)…I´m not into these drinks (only calimocho years ago when celebrating fiestas in Basque Country – Spanish and French), as they more often make me sick…

    The paella, it´s an old point of discussion…when will people start to realize that rice dishes (like paella, but also la caldereta murciana, arroz a la zamorana etc) are typical regional versions of one pan/pot meals and are very common all over Europe, cf. risottos in Italy. So, maybe the Valencian paella can be considered as the original paella…so what? One likes rabbit and prepares paella with rabbit, someone else doen´t and then it´s a paella with chicken, I think paella can be considered Spanish, as all over Spain it´s being prepared by normal families, but everywhere there will be things changed-added…as long as it´s nice, it´s alright by me. Indeed, when going to a restaurant and they serve you the paella right away, there´s something wrong…a good sign will always be that you need to reserve in advance or wait a while. And combining with your issue about the tapas : in typical (as in places that have been around for a long time, not as in pretty places for tourists) bars in Madrid the sunday free tapa is very often paella, and some places have really brilliant paella!

    Free tapas are a regional thing : common in Madrid and other places like Granada, or Salamanca. In other places like Melilla (and very often also in Granada, and in places like Bejar – in the province of Salamanca) you pay a little extra (20 to 80 cents) to choose your tapa from a list. In typical neighbourhood bars, the free tapa will more likely be a montadito (a piece of bread with something on top) or a bit of a preparation they have just made : ear, patatoes with some sausage, a bit of liver etc…but in other bars they just might give you some olives or patato chips. But let´s be clear about it : what most of the foreigners call tapas are in fact raciones and Spanish do sometimes eat ordering a number of different raciones in bars, especially when they go out in groups of friends. In Basque Country, raciones are common, but the pintxos are generally more elaborated and therefore you need to pay for them…consider it their local way to make tapear a more “beautiful” experience ;-) And apart from the 7 calles of Bilbao and the old centre of Donostia they will be available ONLY at lunch time.

    Finally, about hot breakfasts…well yes, let´s not exagerate this : in UK (and I´ve lived there for over 4 years as well), they only eat English-Scottish-Welsh breakfasts at weekends, although most B&B serve it to their guest at a daily basis. In Spain, a hot breakfast might be chocolate con churros or porras, and I know of people who have this almost every day, but at the same time, I know of people who have a “liquid” breakfast consisting of coffee and orange juice. And by the way, the bread with olive oil and tomato is mediterranean, not exactly from the south of Spain!

    I think there are no rules, but people should use a bit of common sense : outside of season, outside of normal Spanish eating hours, outside of places where also locals go and eat, you´ll know you most likely won´t be getting the “real stuff”,… and please, do an effort and try things that might not look interesting at first (like callos, ear, pig tail). My experience with a lot of foreign visitors to Spain is that they stick to the main “typicals” like paella and sangría and don´t discover other “spoon dishes” (platos de cucharra) like a cocido madrileño, and Spain has a large variety of them…for a “foodie” these will make you want to return to Spain, not the paella!

    Regards,
    Ilse

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  25. Xabi

    Are you sure that Calimocho is better than sangria? I think that both are the same in meaning of alcohol. Possible you have a bad experience here, but around the world happens the same thing: in the touristic places, all is expensive. I think that there is only one good tip in all those blog: ask to a local. All the other tips are subjective to who write this text and his/her experience. To another visitor, possible are good as his point of view.

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  26. Laura

    As a Spaniard, I agree with some of these facts but I have to disagree with some others.
    First of all, paella. The typical and the best paella is the one in Valencia: it’s made with some vegetables and chicken and/or rabbit and the rice is quite dry. But it is also true that there are different types of rice that I would not call paella throughout Spain, for example, with clams or lobster (these two are a bit more watery and delicious!) But arrox con pollo, as I read on the post, is definitely not a typical Spanish dish. I think you’re mistaken by some South American dishes (like those who say that burritos or tacos are typical Spanish. Well, they aren’t, they are from Mexico, a country located in America, not in Europe).

    Secondly, we do drink sangria, but mainly in Summer, in bbq’s… but not for going out.

    Furthermore… Do you honestly think gazpacho is not a typical Spanish dish? I have to disagree with that. It may be original from the south of Spain but I can tell you I am from the North and we do drink gazpacho here! You can order it almost everywhere (and it will be homemade), we do buy it in supermarkets sometimes, yes, but we also prepare it at home. I mean, gazpacho is our main meal during Summer!

    And finally, about the tapas. The way that tapas are eaten is different throughout the country. Some cities give them for free when you order a drink (such as Granada and some places in Madrid, but also in Salamanca and León). But in many others you have to pay for them and it’s not touristy at all to do so. That is the case of Sevilla, for example, the Basque Country, Castilla y León (Valladolid, Burgos…), La Rioja and Aragón (Zaragoza for example). You just have to ask locals! The common thought that you can only eat ‘pinchos’ in País Vasco is not right. You can also do it in these cities and they are amazing.
    What is right is that it’s not common to go for tapas in cities such as Valencia or Barcelona. So ordering ‘patatas bravas’ in Barcelona is indeed quite touristy and they probably serve you bad quality ones…

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  27. Fred Shively

    Red wine and Coke!? You have got to be joking. What a travesty.

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  28. Diego Pastor

    Hi Liz, writing from Madrid, at this time of the day when I had my light breakfast with tostadas, and I still have two good hours to go before lunch. I think I will go for a pincho de tortilla before I fall on the floor.
    I write you to defend your article as accurate. And the reason for that is in the first few lines of your article: Spain is very varied and so are our habits.
    And a distinctive attitude of Spaniards is to attach to you local customs, whilst stressing the differences of their habits from those of their provincial or regional neighbors. So that are we.
    I have seen after lunch fairly strong discussions on whether PATATAS A LA RIOJANA included a certain ingredient or not, and fighting for what is the authentic version. Seriously.
    That’s true that Sangría in a bar is a tourist thing, but home made Sangría is always welcomed. I would say Spaniards would drink -occasionally- at home, and tourist on the go.
    Paella, whatever the Valencians think, is now a SPANISH dish. That’s true that the Valencia version is unique and different to what you see in the rest of the country, and I admit what Valencians think: same word for two different/ similar ways of cooking rice.
    The point of asking for a Paella in Asturias is not that they will look bad to you: is that you are going to miss out the opportunity to taste the local specialities, hard to find out of Asturias (or anywhere else)
    We Spaniards, when we do travel within the country, we hunt for the local food. We take the opportunity to play the stereotype, and do what is supposed to do when you travel to that place. But definitively I think this is a human thing that happens everywhere.
    I have an American friend that has the fortune to visit Spain at least twice a year, for the last 30 years, always to different parts of the Country. She always discovers new things, and discovers TO ME new things. When she asks me about things we as Spaniards do, or eat, I am always surprised about her fresh comments and say :”come on, you already know Spain better than me!”

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  29. Pam

    Interesting post Liz and very passionate comments – as is always the case with food in Spain! We organise tours into Spain and when we don’t pre-book for clients we recommend they look around at restaurants to see what their fellow diners are eating rather than having a fixed-idea before they arrive of what they will order.

    Having said that, we’d hate for anybody to think that they might travel to Spain and not be able to sample the classics. We agree with another comment above suggesting that you seek out personal recommendations – whether that’s from your hotel, or a place you stop for coffee, a guide, or simply a passer-by.

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  30. Jeff

    If someone wants to order Sangria in Spain then let them. Who says you have to drink what the locals drink? Sometimes the locals drink crap. I love Sangria. And if Sangria is made well, with decent red wine and fresh fruit, it’s delicious. If Spaniards are unable to provide good Sangria for themselves or tourists in restaurants and/or pubs, then FAIL on the Spaniards.

    Paella – A delicious dish, when prepared well. Shame on the Spaniards for not being able to cook it properly ANYWHERE in Spain. For crying out loud! I love Paella. And if the Spaniards are incapable of making a great Paella then I won’t order and instead enjoy the great Paella I know I’m capable of finding here in San Francisco. I just find this list to be a bit ridiculous. Yes, when in Rome but still. You’re a tourist no matter where you go in this world. I remember visiting New Orleans, the home of the Ramiz Gin Fizz. I coudn’t find one restaurant that would make for me. I always got the same response: “We’ve got no eggs.” Talk about embarassing! I do agree with your NO on expensive tapas. I remember when I was in Madrid and ate some fabulous tapas at several Pinchos bars. Not too expensive and tasted exquisite. Overall, Spaniards need to start giving a damn about the tourists who visit their country. Making delicious Paella should be mandatory all throughout the country!

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  31. Chris

    4 reasons to ignore this article and a great truth:

    1. Paella.

    Paella is a typical dish from Valencia, but is also very well cooked, sometimes better, on the south coast (Murcia and Andalucía). The north of Spain is a very good place to eat, but Paella is a more popular food in the south. In large cities, sometimes, frozen paella is served to tourists, and so it is best to test it in other smaller cities.

    My mother cooks a very good Paella, and she is not from Valencia.

    2. Sangría.

    Sangría is not a drink for students. Normally, students don’t have too much money, and they drink the most cheaper drinks, like a box of Sangría Don Simón. Like Paella, Sangría is more popular in the south and in the coast. It’s because normally the weather is hot. Normally, the Spaniards drink Sangría with friends and family.

    My mother prepares a very good Sangría.

    3. Gazpacho.

    Gazpacho is a mix of vegetables, olive oil and chef’s secrets of the restaurant where you eat this. Like Paella and Sangría, is a popular first plate in the south. It’s a very refreshing cold soup to hot days. The bottled gazpacho is expensive. Is possible that in some restaurants serve this type of Gazpacho, but is not common. If this happens, you are eating in a restaurant with low quality.

    Also my mother prepares a very very good Gazpacho.

    4. Tapas.

    Tapas are the most popular food in Spain. These are a many types of food, I don’t explain it correctly because really these are a many types of food, but all of tapas are a small portions. If you visit Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia and you want to eat Tapas, it’s probably that you pay too much. The best Tapas are in the south or the north (called Pinchos), and these are cheaper. In my town, Águilas, Region of Murcia, you can eat a mix plate of Tapas with drink for 3€. Really 3€. Tapas are more popular in the lunch, because the Spaniards eat late (14:00). Like Paella, I recomend eat this in a small cities.

    5. Hot breakfasts.

    Of course, the Spaniards do not know how prepare a good hot breakfast or a English breakfast. Here we have a Mediterranean diet, which is why we prefer breakfast foods like olive oil, toast bread, sweets, milk, fruit juice or coffee.

    The problem is that tourists know which is the best place to eat. They should ask people on the street, and also visit the small towns because the best of Spain is there.

    Sorry for my poor English.

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  32. Hugo Lindum

    “In northern Spain locals drink calimocho.”
    Only if the locals you are with are drunken teenagers. Calimocho was devised as the cheapest way for a teenager (generally under-age) to get drunk. I speak as one who has lived in N Spain for a decade.
    As for Gazpacho not being eaten much – that is just not true. It is pretty common to find freshly made any many family lunches at the weekends in the blistering summers. Indeed, like tortilla, every family seems to have a family recipe which is better than every other family recipe.

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  33. Bolo

    Sangria, (Italo) proseco and tinto de verano are not at all to my taste as I prefer straight-up wine. Could any Spaniards reading this kindly recommend some readily available wines you can find anywhere in Spain?

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