When you think of Spain and Spanish cuisine, what are the first thoughts that come to mind? Paella? Tapas? Sangria? Me too, but Spanish cuisine consists of so much more than just paella and tapas (although they can never be ignored), and in recent years people have come to celebrate the extraordinary flavours and variety of produce that the cuisine has to offer.
Did you know that Spain makes 44% of the world’s olive oil – more than twice that of Italy and four times that of Greece? So, if you’re in the mood for a Spanish feast, expect this ingredient to be heavily used. As you may or may not know, olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives, a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin.
Interestingly, although the country is almost entirely surrounded by water (meaning seafood forms one of the pillars of Spanish cuisine), the original paella recipe was not a seafood dish. Paella originated in Valencia and is one of the most popular and famous global dishes to originate in Spain, but there are different varieties from all over the country, which use various local ingredients. With Valencia sitting on the East coast, it’s no surprise that different types of seafood crept into the recipes over time. Paella was originally a farmer’s and labourer’s food, cooked by workers over a wood fire as a lunchtime dish. They would use whatever ingredients were available to them around the rice fields – usually (and unsurprisingly) rice, tomatoes, onions, and snails (yum…). Sometimes rabbit or duck may have been added, as well as chicken. As time went on, paella recipes were continuously adapted, and new variations created. There are even paella competitions held all over Spain, celebrating this classic Spanish dish.
Another interesting fact about Spanish cuisine is that tapas is not so much a type of food, but rather a way of eating it. The art of tapas in Spain involves going out to a crowded bar with a big group of family or friends and ordering several plates to share. Tapas is a huge part of Spanish culture, where Spaniards combine delicious food and spending time together. Traditionally tapas consisted of small savoury dishes, snacks, or appetisers of Spanish cuisine such as breads and meat, or a selection of dishes from ham, stuffed muscles, fried squid, olives, and other vegetables. Over time, tapas evolved from its origins to include more international flavours, such as spices and almonds. Next time you’re out and fancy indulging in Spanish food, hit up Ibérica, a restaurant that can be found in London, Manchester and Leeds and flies the flag for Spanish food across the UK!
I’ll leave you with one last interesting fact…if you love tomatoes and fancy a tomato fight (!?), La Tomatina is the place you should be. La Tomatina is a festival that is held in a town in Valencia, whereby participants throw tomatoes and get involved in a tomato fight purely for entertainment purposes. The festival is held on the last Wednesday in August and is known as the ‘world’s biggest food fight’ where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Sounds messy but something that will definitely be added to my bucket list!