If I wrote about every amazing thing there is to eat and drink in Spain, this would be ONE very long article...
... so I'm going to focus on some of the classics that will have you feasting as the Spaniards do. I'm fortunate enough to have family in Madrid and Illescas, thus I've gotten some great tips from the locals.
Tapas are small plates usually served alongside drinks at a bar, although you can order multiple dishes to enjoy as a full meal.
My personal favorite tapas dish is croquetas de pollo, which are bite-sized chicken fritters. Careful with these as they're rather addicting and you'll quickly find yourself snacking on them as if you're eating an extra large popcorn at the move theatre. Speaking from experience here. Other typical tapas dishes include patatas bravas (fried diced potatoes), tortilla (chopped potato pancake), aceitunas (olives), calamares (calamari) and queso (cheese).
Bocadillos are basically sandwiches made of Spanish bread and any number of meats, cheeses... you name it.
I'm not talking your Subway sub here. The bread is always freshly baked, light and airy, and the choices are endless. My personal favorite is the tortilla bocadillo, which is a potato pancake on Spanish bread. Take a look here at some of the many types of bocadillos.
Bocadillos can be hot or cold, and you can usually order them half-sized if you're looking for a lighter snack.
Bocadillo de Pollo con Queso
Spain produces and exports more olives than any other country in the world. Over 20% of Spain's olives are exported to the United States, and they account for over 50% of olives consumed by Americans. I probably account for half of that 50% myself...
If you've taken road trips throughout Spain, you've no doubt seen the many olive trees blanketing the landscape (side note, the drive from Madrid to Barcelona with a pitstop in Zaragoza is well worth it). I'm a huge fan of olives, so this is probably my favorite part of Spanish cuisine. Olives, olive oil, olive oil caviar... if it comes from an olive tree, Spain has it.
Shoutout to the Iberian Peninsula for long sunny days, relatively mild winters and suitable winds!
Manchego, Mahón, Idiazábal, Zamorano, Torta del Cesar... the list goes on and on. My personal favorite is Manchego semicurado. This cheese has a smooth texture, and it packs one rich, delightful bite. It pairs well with a glass of wine, although you can't go wrong enjoying it solo.
I won't go into a ton of detail about the different types of cheese here as I'm no cheese expert, but my fellow blogger Spanish Sabores certainly has a great article about 7 types of cheese to discover in Spain.
Tip: Spanish cheese makes one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had.
Spain is known for it's ham, specifically Jamón ibérico, or "Iberian ham", which is a type of ham cured for up to 4 years giving it a unique richness and nutty flavor. This type of ham comes from an ancient breed of pig found on the Iberian Peninsula. It's impossible to miss the hundreds of small shops & stands that sell this Spanish delicacy; making it a must-try if you want to live as the Spaniards do.
Another delicacy in this category is chorizo, which is a pork sausage. Spanish chorizo is typically made from smoked pork which differs from other types of chorizo made with fresh pork.
I always say try something once, so I took my own advice and tried Rabbit for the first time in Madrid. Paella Valenciana is a nice go-to if you're looking to try this Spanish delicacy.
Hands down one of the most classic Spanish dishes. You absolutely cannot leave Spain without trying paella. There are many variations ranging from just vegetables to seafood, chicken, rabbit, snail, duck, or any combination of these.
Because Spain lacked sufficient timber for slow burning fires, the paella pan grew in width and became more shallow so smaller branches could be used to cook the contents. It is said that paella originates from the Arab term, "baqiya" or "remaining" as Moorish servants would mix leftovers from royal banquets. Read more about the history of paella here.
Tip: Paella can take a while to cook, as it's best made-to-order. Enjoy a glass (or pitcher) of sangria while you wait for this dish, and then order another while you enjoy it!
Many Spaniards enjoy a glass of vermouth before a meal to "open the appetite," although I've personally never had trouble opening mine especially in Spain. You definitely won't look like a tourist if you ask for vermouth before your meal.
Mama mia sangria... what we call "sangria" today has been popular in the Spanish region for thousands of years. Until more modern times, alcoholic beverages were the only safe liquids to consume as water was ridden with bacteria. Vineyards were initially introduced by the Romans, and the rest is history.
Then there's coffee, which everyone enjoys after nearly ever meal. Order a "cafe con leche" or "cappucino" and you'll fit right in.
TAKEAWAY Tip: when you go the marketplace to buy fresh meat, fruits or vegetables, don't touch the items yourself! The attendant will do it for you.