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Everything that Spain does, it does with passion. The flamenco dancing, the soaring architecture, old traditions, and new habits. Spanish food is no exception, so let's get started with our itinerary for eating your way through Spain.
The energy of Barcelona is undeniable, but the quality and abundance of food options in the Catalonian capital are second to none. Just say yes to the food, and the food will be your guide.
What to eat: Seafood. It's impossible to pick one single dish, but if you're in Barcelona, make sure you don't miss the fish. From a starter of calamares (fried squid) to a seafood fideuà (similar to paella but with small noodles instead of rice), it's very hard to go wrong. Pair it with a glass of sparkling cava from the hills surrounding the city, and you're good to go.
Local tip: If you're trying to stick to a budget, tapas bars and markets will be your constant companions. Head to La Boquería Market for a dizzying variety of simple and tasty local foods.
Valencia is a gem on Spain's west coast. Often overlooked as an alternative to Barcelona, this seaside city holds its own very special place in the gastronomic traditions of Spain.
What to eat: Paella. One of the first dishes that comes to mind when you think of Spain is the ubiquitous paella. Valencia is actually the birthplace of this rice-based dish, which is colored by saffron and contains chicken and rabbit in addition to different types of beans in the original version. Since its creation, endless varieties have surfanced including seafood paella, mixed paella, and even black paella colored by squid ink.
The local cocktail of choice is agua de Valencia, a fresh, lightly sparkling blend of cava, vodka, gin, and the freshly squeezed juice of Valencia oranges.
Local tip: Cool off on hot days with a glass of horchata in one of the city's horchaterías dedicated to selling this cool, milky beverage made from tiger nuts. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the pastries known as fartons that are the Valencian drink's constant companion.
Seville sometimes feels like stepping back in time. The capital of Andalusia has a unique ambience that comes along with the blending of cultural and artistic influences over the course of centuries. It's also a central hub for the region's many culinary specialties, some of which are deeply ingrained in the Spanish culture.
What to eat: Fried fish. The Andalusia region of Spain has a coastline long enough to rival its maritime history, so it stands to reason you'll inevitably find yourself at a freiduría (fried fish shop) enjoying some pescaíto frito during your time in Seville. On top of the ubiquitous anchovies, you'll also find gambas (shrimp), calamares (squid rings), and puntillitas (baby squid), among others on offer all around the city.
One item that comes from the area around Seville that cannot escape mention is the infamous jamón ibérico. Loved all across Spain, this premium cured ham is a must when traveling through Spain.
If you're visiting in the summertime, then make sure to try the summer wine! Tinto de verano, which literally means "red wine of summer," is a refreshing combination of red wine and soda to keep you cool when the temperatures are hot.
Local tip: Make a day trip south to the coastal city of Cádiz for even more delicious seafood. Tortillitas de camarones (shrimp fritters) are the local specialty. On the way back, you can stop in Jerez de la Frontera for a sherry tasting.
On your way to Madrid, the next stop on our route, you can opt to stop in Córdoba to grab a lunch of salmorejo (a cold purée of tomatoes, garlic, bread, and olive oil) and flamenquín (a fried roll of ham and pork loin not too unlike a cordon bleu) and visit the famous Mezquita of Córdoba before continuing on your way.
The Madrid restaurant scene comes alive at night, bringing an energetic vibe to evenings in the heart of the Spain. Madrileños like to eat late, and a dinner can stretch late into the night. Take your time and enjoy every minute.
What to eat: Tapas. Situated the geographical and political center of the country, Madrid has access to the best recipes of all corners of Spain. Don't settle for a single dish when you can hop from restaurant to restaurant sampling different specialties from each one. Tortilla de patata (potato omelette), manchego cheese, patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy sauce), conservas (canned fish and other specialties preserved in oil), and the list goes on and on.
Vermouth is a common accompaniment to any meal in Madrid, but you can also enjoy cañas, beers served in small glasses, at every bar and restaurant.
Local tip: Visit the San Miguel Market, a unique glass-walled building in the city center dedicated to vendors selling the freshest and finest of Spain's regional products. If you're feeling fancy, you can check out the cochinillo (suckling pig) at the world's oldest restaurant, Sobrino de Botín.
San Sebastián, or Donostia as it's known in Basque language, is a culinary mecca situated on Spain's northern coast. With Michelin stars and a dazzling variety of of local specialties all around you, gastronomic greatness is never far away.
What to eat: Pintxos. When you walk into a buzzing bar in San Sebastián, you'll likely be greeted by a sea of toothpicks cautiously holding together an artful array of ingredients balanced atop small slices of bread. Each one of these pintxos will take you on a flavorful journey that represents the best of the region's cuisine. Take what you desire and keep your toothpicks as a way to keep track of how much you owe at the end. The Basque region's dry, acidic txakoli wine is a perfect pairing for these savory treats.
Local tip: If you have the time, check out a Baque cider house in the hills outside of the city. They keep the cider and food flowing liberally throughout the night, making for a great outing with friends. Txuleta, a bone-in steak, is a cider house favorite.
You could spend a lifetime uncovering the great culinary secrets of Europe, so now is as good a time to start dreaming. Check out our Ultimate Foodie Itinerary as a solid foundation for foodie must-eats. As they say in Spain, ¡Provecho!