Samui Wining & Dining
What makes it unique?

Discovering the secrets of Spanish cuisine.

 

16-01When thinking of Spanish food, the dish that most likely pops into your head is that rich and fragrant rice-based dish, paella. But there’s so much more to Spanish cuisine, which is as diverse as its regions. Spain’s food is as rich as its history, influenced by those who raided or conquered the country. Since before Roman times, the Iberian Peninsula has received influences from many cultures and regions, and its gastronomy has evolved over the centuries. Even today, Spanish cuisine is still evolving, and continues to be one of the forerunners in the promotion of the healthy Mediterranean diet.

      Each regional speciality is worth trying, and restaurants serving regional dishes can be found in most main cities within Spain. And outside of the country, a Spanish menu will showcase a selection of dishes from the various regions.

      Tapas is a great Spanish food tradition composed of small dishes of different types of food, like appetisers or snacks. The dishes may be cold such as jamón (cured ham), queso manchego (Spanish cheese), olives; or warm such as tortilla Española, meatballs or Spanish bravas (fried potato with spicy tomato sauce), and can be served as bar food or as complete meals.

In fact, many bars will serve complimentary tapas when drinks are ordered. It’s a great opportunity to sample an assortment of flavours and dishes, and get a taste of what the country has to offer.

      So delving a little deeper into Spanish food, we’ll highlight a few of the most common dishes, starting with that one we know all too well.

     Paella, the Valencian rice-based dish is well known internationally (although when reproduced outside of Spain, it’s often a ‘watered down’ version), and comes in many variations. The traditional version is a mixture of chicken or rabbit (or both), white and green beans and other vegetables. But mixed seafood is also common, where you will find an array of seafood surprises tossed in with the flavoursome rice – calamari, mussels, clams, prawns, scampi or fish, for example. The use of saffron gives it a yellow colour and unique flavour, and for the adventurous, black rice, stained by octopus ink, is a must try.

      A great starter, or meal in itself, is the tortilla Española, a staple food in the Spanish diet. The best ones are made from slow-cooked potato in olive oil, which make a soft centre once egg is added to create an omelette cake; even tastier when onions are added to the slow-frying process for a sweet underlying flavour. It’s a filling and flavourful dish, and can be served in slices, warm or cold, and you'll even find wedges squeezed between a bocadilla (baguette) for a tasty sandwich snack. The tortilla is probably the most common dish in the country.

       Nothing cools you down better on a hot Mediterranean summer’s day, than a bowl of the chilled soup, gazpacho, which explains why this dish hails from mainland Spain's hottest and most southerly region, Andalucia. Made by combining pestle-and-mortar crushed cucumber, garlic, onion, pepper, and tomato with olive oil, salt, water and wine vinegar, this cold tomato soup is usually eaten as an appetiser – and sometimes drunk straight from a bowl or glass. Salmorejo is a similar Andalucian version combining pureed bread, tomatoes, garlic, and vinegar – also served cold, and sometimes with ham or egg.

         Seafood lovers will enjoy a plate of rustic ‘pulpo a la gallega’. This octopus dish is marinated with paprika (pimento), crusty rock salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It's a signature Galician dish, and you'll find it on the menu in many restaurants around Spain. It's usually served with a potato or two on a wooden platter.

         Cured meats – jamón, chorizo, salchichón, are common ‘foodie photo shots’, from those that have visited Spain, and you’ll see cured legs of pork hanging in most bars and restaurants, ready to be thinly sliced on request. Jamón is a serious business and an art in Spain, with many factors that determine quality, such as what the pigs are fed as well as the curing process. Jamón ibérico de bellota is the top category, where the pigs are free-range and acorn-fed. Chorizo is identified by its red smoked-pepper colouring, and is a dried sausage with sweet and spicy hints. You'll also see the softer-flavoured salchichón served on mixed charcuterie platters.

         Another traditional Spanish food, queso manchego, is typically eaten together with jamón. It is a sheep’s milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain. It is firm and buttery, and a wonderful complement to many Spanish dishes, either cold in salads or melted on hot dishes.

         Pisto, a Spanish version of ratatouille, is a great vegetarian option, and can be enjoyed as tapas, starter, a side dish to meats, or even with a fried egg on top. Consisting of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, garlic, and of course, olive oil, the intense roasted flavours make this a tasty dish.

         Spain is home to a wide variety of interesting beans and legumes, and certain regions are famous for particular types, for example the dried large white beans of the region La Granja, an hour from Madrid. The Basque town of Tolosa even holds a week-long festival in November in honour of the locally renowned bean, alubias de Tolosa. Around the country you can find different regional bean stews known as fabada, that involve cooking the beans slowly with a mixture of meats – such as chorizo pancetta, black sausage and so on – depending on the region. The hearty Asturian version, fabada asturiana, is widely available in restaurants across Spain and commonly eaten in winter. Madrid's cocido adds vegetables and cabbage to a tasty mix of sausages and chickpeas.

         And last, but most certainly not least, we’ll finish off with a favourite Spanish dessert, which, for those with a sweet tooth, can also be eaten for breakfast. Sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, a churro is a fried choux pastry, which can either be thin, and sometimes knotted, or long and thick. Either version can be eaten for breakfast, dipped in hot chocolate or café con leche (milky coffee). Churros are regularly sold by street vendors, who will often fry them freshly on the street stand and sell them hot.

         So whether you’re a meat lover, a vegetarian, prefer your seafood or have a sweet tooth, you’ll find something to satisfy your taste buds with Spanish cuisine.

         

Rosanne Turner


 


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