Historic and Culinary Traditions of Spain

The following is a guest post by Janet Monroe, proprietor of The Portland Ale House in Valencia.

Spanish cuisine is dominated by fresh produce, light seasonings, and seafood from the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and fresh water mountain rivers.

For culinary purposes, Spain can be divided into seven regions: the North Coast, North Interior, Central Plains,

Basque seafood stew

Basque seafood stew

Northeast, Southeast Coast, South, and the Canary Islands. The North Coast, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is cool, wet, and lush. Known for its famous Basque culinary traditions, cuisine is highly revered. Men’s cooking societies are common place and several world renowned chefs call this region home. Basque culinary techniques include slow simmering in olive oil and subtle green and red sauces. Fish dishes abound, with the northernmost region, Galicia, famous for its diverse and superior seafood. Vast tracks of grazing grounds support herds of lamb and veal. Fish and meat pies, probably of Celtic origin, are popular.

The North Interior

The landlocked North Interior is adjacent to France and thus is heavily influenced by peasant French cooking techniques. Desolate in the mountains, the land is fertile around its many streams and rivers. Local trout is popular and is shipped all over Spain. White asparagus, baby artichokes, peas, beans, potatoes, wheat, and sweet red peppers are grown along the rivers. Known for its simple cooking techniques, a popular dish includes torn bread sautéed with meats, vegetables, or eggs.

The Central Plains

The vast plains of the Central region are home to the cosmopolitan capitol: Madrid. This city boasts an international culinary scene with Arabian, Japanese, and American restaurants lining the streets. Given the distance from the sea, seafood is either flown in or, more commonly, seafood gives way to fresh meat, beans, and sausage. Grazing lands sustain Spain’s famous baby lamb and also the production of manchego, a slightly nutty hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. These plains are also the home of the rich saffron crops brought to Spain by the conquering Moors. This slightly bitter spice is the hand-picked pistils of saffron crocuses and is the most expensive spice in the world.

Catalonia

The Northeast region of Spain contains the state of Catalonia. This state houses one of the world’s most unique and prized cuisines in Europe. Taking influences from the Romans, the Visigoths (a Germanic tribe), the Moors, the French, and the Italians, this region is known for surprising and unique culinary combinations. Examples include squid with pork and rabbit with raisins. Ground nuts are used to thicken sauces (as in Romesco sauce) and sweet seasonings are used to flavor savory dishes.

The Spanish Levant

The Southeast Coast is known as the Spanish Levant. This semi-tropical and fertile region supports huge groves of citrus fruit, grape vineyards, and vegetable farms. The famous Valencia oranges are grown in this region and exported all over the world. Bomba, a type of short-grain rice also brought over by the Moors, is popular and is used in the well known seafood dish: Paella.

The Moorish Influence

The South region borders the Mediterranean Sea and is the leading producer of olive oil in the nation. Many dishes include seafood from the rich seas fried in the deep flavor of the local olive oil. The Moors, who ruled this area of Spain for 800 years, greatly influenced the cuisine. Typical flavors include rich savory lamb dishes with dried fruit or honey. The Moors also introduced two dishes now popular all over Spain: tapas and gazpacho. Tapas, loosely translated “little dishes”, have come to represent hundreds of different appetizers. Originally, these dishes were simply thinly shaved ham or sausage covering a glass of sherry. Gazpacho, either white from almonds or green from herbs, is simply a traditional soup served cold.

New World Crops

The Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and a leftover from the Spanish Empire, support many crops brought over from the New World, such as tomatoes, avocados, corn, papaya, and pineapples. Bananas, sugarcane, and grapes, introduced by Spain, are also grown here. Traditional flavorings include mojos, a spiced rub that is either green from herbs or red from sweet or hot chilies.

The culinary traditions of Spain are a result of a vast historic empire that stretched around the globe, conquering armies, Mediterranean climate that supports a wide variety crops, and long coastline that provides a rich amount of seafood. These factors have combined to create a unique and versatile cuisine.

About The Author

Amancay Diaz

Born in the UK to an English mother and Spanish father, Amancay relocated to her father's home town of Alboraya in 2010. She moved to the centre of Valencia in 2012, where she works as a real estate agent selling properties to expats from the Northern European countries.

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