Spain’s cuisine reflects a country that was both conquered and has a long history of colonization. Its many influences can be seen in the different regional cuisines.
The six traditional food regions of Spain are Aragon, Catalonia, Castile and León, Galicia, Andalusia, and Valencia. Each region has its own unique cuisine that is often influenced by the local ingredients and culture. Here are a few examples:
- Aragon: Aragonese cuisine is characterized by its use of lamb, pork, and veal. The region is also known for its sweet paella rice dish with chicken or seafood.
- Catalonia: Catalan cuisine reflects the region’s turbulent history. It features dishes such as squid ink risotto with bitter greens and braised beef cheeks.
- Castile and León: Castilian cuisine is heavy on rice with meats such as chicken or pork being an occasional addition to the meal.
- Galicia: This region is known for its large portion sizes, with its focus on boiled octopus, fresh seafood platters, and hearty stews.
- Andalucia: This region is famous for pescaito frito (deep fried fish), jamón ibérico (Iberian ham), oxtail soup, gazpacho, Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet) and delicious sherries like manzanilla and fino.
- Valencia: This region is the birthplace of Spanish paella. Enjoy various rice-based dishes like Arròs Negre (squid ink fish) and Conejo con Arroz (rice and rabbit).
Old World Influences
When North African Moors arrived in Spain in 711 CE, they shook things up on the culinary scene. Alcohol was banned for well over 345 years, meaning wine production halted. However, olive oil production exploded with innovative techniques and irrigation technology brought over by the Moors. Olives may have arrived in Spain thousands of years earlier, but the Moors introduced olive oil to cooking, a method that is a fixture in Spanish cuisine today.
New World Influences
It was 1492 CE that marked the end of Islamic rule on the Iberian peninsula, and it was also the year the Spanish made their foray into the New World. Their empire stretched from the Caribbean and parts of North America to Central, and South America. They discovered local crops, varieties of fruits and vegetables, and culinary methods that they later brought back to Spain.
By the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries, Mesoamerican crops like pumpkin, chilis, tomatoes, cacao, papaya, and avocado had been incorporated into Spanish cuisine.
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