Spanish cuisine is becoming more and more trendy with the successful launch of tapas bars and lounges around the country. However, there is much more to Spanish cuisine than just tapas; each geographical region brings something special to the table.
Classic Castilian cuisine hails from the Castile-León region, which is located northwest of Madrid and characterized by dry plains, mountains and valleys.
Many say that Castile-León is the birthplace of modern Spanish culture and cuisine. Smoky charcuterie, beans, chickpeas, garlic and paprika dominate Castilian cuisine.
Traditional dishes include Lechazo, roast suckling lamb; cochinillo asado, roast suckling pig; gallina en pepitoria, hen in almond sauce; and bean and sausage stews, called potajes.
Castilian wines from the Rueda DO (denomination of origin) are frequently made from the verdejo grape, which produces crisp whites. Bierzo is an emerging wine region that produces aromatic reds from the mencía grape.
La Mancha, in Spain's central meseta, is a drought-stricken, rural area populated by vineyards, olive groves, poppy fields and sheep farms. La Mancha is best known for its use of saffron, a regional spice used in paella and other specialties. Food from La Mancha is also dominated by paprika and garlic. Traditional dishes include pisto manchego, a tomato stew; sopa de ajo, garlic and bread soup; migas, fried bread; and bacalao al ajo arriero, a salt cod dish. La Mancha is currently in the midst of a viticultural revolution. Red varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah are now popular, but the traditional favorite is airén. La Mancha is Europe's largest distinguished wine region.
Extremadura is the region of Spain that border Portugal - frequently referred to as Spain's "wild west." The terrain is quite harsh, but La Vera valley's lush landscape is one of the most beautiful spots in Spain. The cuisine of Extremadura is quite similar to La Mancha and Castile in its smoky nature. Pork, lamb and other game with plenty of dried peppers and crusty bread dominate extremeño, the peasant cuisine. Extremadura's most famous product is pimentón de la Vera, Spain's very own smoked paprika. Some extremeño specialties include a tomato and fig soup; caldereta de cordero, paprika-seasoned lamb casserole; and frite, lamb stews. Extremadura is a slowly growing wine region, but the fruity reds are growing favor with Spanish wine aficionados.
The Basque Country, or País Vasco, is located on the northern coast of Spain and is replete with rolling green hills and sandy beaches along the Bay of Biscay. With ample access to seaports and farming, the Basques enjoy one of Europe's highest standards of living and spend every spare euro on food and wine. Basque dishes are classically hearty and simple, featuring amazingly fresh seafood and fish, wild mushrooms and high-quality bacalao. Some traditional Basque specialties include bacalao a la vizcaína, cod in red pepper sauce; chipirón encebollado, squid in onion sauce; and grilled turbot. The traditional wine is Txakolí, a simple white that pairs well with local seafood and pintxos, or tapas.
Galicia occupies Spain's northwestern, rainy corner. Galicia has a rich Celtic heritage and excels in agriculture, including excellent dairy products, eggs, potatoes and Spain's most exquisite beef. Seafood is the foundation of Galician cuisine, and common specialties include seafood and meat empanadas; caldo gallego, a white bean and smoked meat stew; lacon con grelos, cured ham with turnip greens; and tarta de Santiago, an almond cake. Albarino is a popular Galician white, and it tends to be fresh and flowery, pairing well with seafood.
Catalonia falls on Spain's northeastern side and shares many similarities with France. Food from Catalonia blends Roman, Arabic and Italian influences into a Mediterranean feast of seafood, rice dishes, grilled dishes topped off with garlicky allioli, fisherman's stews, and unique casseroles. Traditional Catalan dishes include samfaina, a ratatouille; rabbit with allioli; mar i muntanya, chicken and shellfish; romesco, red pepper sauce with nuts; and suquet, seafood in a tomato sauce. Catalonia is a big name in Spanish wine. Penedés is one of Spain's oldest wine regions and is famous for cava, a bubbly blend of three native grapes.
Many people associate Andalusia with bullfighting, tapas, flamenco and the Costa del Sol. Besides being a great cultural center, Andalusia provides a rustic cuisine rooted in Arabic flavors like cumin, honey and nuts. Tapas, gazpachos, fried fish, Jabugo ham, olive oil, and saffron seafood stews truly define Andalusian cuisine. Other traditional dishes include caracoles en salsa, spicy snails; oxtail stew; papas aliñas, marinated potatoes; and pestiños, sweet fried pastries. Sherry is the primary wine in Andalusia.
Other regions of Spain with their own unique selections of food and wine include Asturias and Cantabria, La Rioja and Navarra, El Levante, Aragon, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. Spanish cuisine is a rich tapestry woven from the many regional spices, flavors and specialties. Those seeking a gastronomical adventure may look to Spanish foods and wines for an experience unparalleled by any other cuisine.