Spanish cuisine consists of a variety of dishes influenced by their geography, the culture and the climate. Abundant with seafood there is much of the Mediterranean feel including olives, olive oil, fruits, vegetables and fish.
The two basic ingredients you will find in almost every dish are olive oil and garlic. Spain is one of the leading producers of olive oil with olives grown across southern Spain.
Ham is also a popular and prized food in Spain. The hams are often dried and cured and can vary in price. There are two main types of ham being Jamon iberico (Iberian ham) and jamon serreno (mountain ham).
Jamon Iberico is made from the Iberian pig found only in an area in south western Spain and in south eastern Portugal. The pigs roam the land feeding on acorns which gives the ham some of it's flavours.
Jamon Serreno or mountain ham comes from white pigs bred in the mountains. It is the Iberico ham which is the premium.
Sausages or chorizo is also very popular in Spain. This is a pork sausage made with paprika. There is a wide variety of types of chorizo from smoked to soft and fresh. You can often find chorizo hanging and drying in family cellars during the winter.
Cheese is also found in abundance in Spain. Made from sheep, cow or goat milk. One of the most well known is the manchego cheese, made from sheep milk. Known as the cheese of Don Quixote as it was mentioned by Cervantes in his novel it has a strong flavour.
Spain is also know for a number of dishes. Some of the most well known and popular include -
Paella is a rice dish very popular around the world. It originated in the Valencia region in eastern Spain where Valencian people prepared the dish with whatever ingredients they had on hand which was usually meat and vegetables. Today paella has spread to every region of Spain, using just about any kind of ingredient that goes well with rice! Particularly popular overseas as a variation of paella is with seafood, whole prawns and mussels decorating the plate.
A paella is traditionally cooked outside on an open wood fire in a large flat-bottomed pan called a paellera. The rice is not fried. The vegetables and meat are usually cooked first with water then being added and the rice. The dish is then stirred and simmered until cooked.
Tapas are snacks, canapés or finger food and can be any small snack from a toothpick collection of onions and olives to a small fried piece of fish or calamari (squid) or cheese.
Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. Tapas has become so much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go and eat tapas!
One of the most commonly served dishes in Spain is the Tortilla Espanola (Spanish omlette) which is also known as Tortilla de Patata (Potato omlette)
A very versatile dish, the tortilla espanola can be eaten as a tapa, as a snack, for dinner or even a slab between two slices of bread as a sandwich!
Often used as a tapa the calamari, or squid, is deep fried. The tentacles are used as well as the squid body cut into rings and of course cooked in olive oil. The calamari isn't cooked for very long (less than 2 minutes) to avoid it being tough and chewy.