The food map

From the tomato fight to tapas, Spanish food is more than just a meal - it's a cultural phenomenon.

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

elBulli & Ferran Adrià: The history of a restaurant that started life as a beach bar and ended up gracing the front covers of international publications. And a chef regarded by many as the best chef in the world.

Thirty years ago, Ruscalleda managed to place Sant Pol de Mar, the small coastal town in Barcelona, ​​where she was born and where the restaurant Sant Pau was located on the international gastronomic map. She is the only female chef to have been awarded seven Michelin stars.

If there's one typical dish that Basque cuisine is known for internationally, it's the "pintxo." "Pintxos" are small, creative snacks that combine 2 of the region's greatest values: good food, and the art of "txikiteo"—going from bar to bar drinking small glasses of wine, called "txikitos."

Juan Mari Arzak was one of the driving forces behind the New Basque Cuisine, which put the Basque Country on the international gastronomic map during the 1980s. Now 75, he remains at the helm of the family business, along with his daughter, Elena.

One of the best known dishes in Spanish cuisine began its life in rural Valencia. Authentic Valencian paella, which is so widely exported and popular, is a rice dish prepared with the best ingredients from the Albufera area: It typically includes lima beans, green beans, paprika, tomato, saffron, chicken, rabbit, and even snails. The white cereal known as rice was introduced by the Arabs in the 8th century, and is the region's star product.

It is impossible to understand Spanish confectionery without also understanding the legacy left by the Arabs in Spain. Almonds, which are used in many traditional sweets such as “turrón” or nougat, the crème de la crème of sweets in the region of Valencia, was introduced and became popular after the Muslim conquest of Spain. Nougats from Xixona and Alicante, which are also made exclusively with almonds: in the first case, ground, and in the second, whole.

All Galician ingredients have a place in one of the most deeply rooted local recipes: the "empanada." They have their origins in popular festivals and pilgrimages. All kinds of fillings can be used to make these traditional pastries—from scallops, octopus, tuna, or cockles to veal and vegetables—and they can be eaten hot or cold.

Galicia's 745 miles of coastline is bathed by the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Ocean, making fishing an incredibly important resource in the region. The two "kings" of Galician cuisine come from the sea: octopus and mussels. In fact, Galician estuaries produce the largest number of mussels in the world.

Gastronomic historians claim that gazpacho originated as a mixture of oil, vinegar, garlic, and bread that Roman soldiers used to make. It was a refreshing concoction that revived those working in the countryside during long days under the sun. With the discovery of America came the tomato, an ingredient that brought a new color and flavor to this summer soup, and it began to appear on the menus of the aristocracy and middle classes.

With its unique production and aging system, sherry has an authentic, singular character that is the result of a privileged geographical setting and the diverse cultures that have inhabited Andalusia over the centuries. The habit of the Crawley family—protagonists of the successful English TV series Downton Abbey—of having a glass of sherry before dinner has led to a considerable increase in the consumption of sherry in bars and restaurants, as well as in sales of bottles in shops, in the United Kingdom.

A Millennia-Old Tradition: The olive tree was first cultivated on a regular basis about 6,000 years ago. The olive tree and its oil have played an integral part in every Mediterranean culture and religion: as a symbol of peace and an element of purification, and also in more practical ways.

The rich produce of Spain's coasts, and the variety and quality of its fruit and vegetables, can reach anywhere in the world inside a can. Canning industry date back to the 19th century and today it is a booming sector with high export figures. With tuna alone, Spain produces 70% of the canned goods in the European Union!

If there is a region where the scent of wine hangs in the air, it's La Rioja. With its historical wineries and classical methods that arrived from France and took root, the region has plenty of Tempranillo grapes, oak barrels, and a hallmark of distinction.

Navarre is considered to be one of the greatest vegetable-growing regions in Spain, Navarre supplies the country with vegetables such as tomatoes, peas, cardoon, and chard. But its 3 products "par excellence," all boasting quality seals, are piquillo peppers from Lodosa, artichokes from Tudela, and Navarre asparagus.

These wrinkled potatoes, grown in the Canary Islands, are small but full of flavor, and can be served as an appetizer or accompaniment to a main course. They arrived in the Canary Islands from the Americas, and from there it was transferred to the peninsula.

The cuisine of the Balearic Islands is influenced by the different occupations that they have experienced throughout history. The Phoenicians, Greeks, English, and French have all left their mark on the islands' recipes and produce. Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, is renowned for its intense "sobrasada" and its sweet "ensaimada" pastries. Both products are certified with quality seals.

Alambique, the first cooking school and kitchenware store of Spain opened in Madrid in 1975. Kitchenware and cooking methods that had never been seen before in Spain! Forty years later, Alambique remains in the same location, very close to the Royal Palace. The woman behind the idea was Clara María González de Amezúa.

Markets have always been a meeting place for people from all echelons of society, from homemakers and chefs to tourists and families. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Spanish markets as culinary, cultural and touristic centers. Traditional stallholders now stand side by side with small-scale producers and artisans, all sharing the space with culinary offerings in the form of casual, quick-and-easy street food. The Vallehermoso and San Antón markets in Madrid are examples of this interesting model.

A slice of Jamón Ibérico is a welcome treat no matter what time of day! In Spain, Jamón Ibérico is eaten on all sorts of occasions and in a variety of ways: as an appetizer or starter with breadsticks, on toast with tomato for breakfast, or as an accompaniment to particular dishes. It is their diet of acorns, as well as the breed itself, that make Iberian pigs so unique.

In the heart of Ribera del Duero is Bodegas Portia, a winery designed by the prestigious British architect Norman Foster and described as "the heart of a flower with 3 petals." The Bodegas Portia's wine cellar, also designed by Foster & Partners, sees each bottle placed individually by hand, just like in a classical old library.

Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa explains why Spain reminds him of home: “Among the many countries of Europe, I feel Spain in particular has much in common with Japan. I’ve visited a number of different countries in the past, but there’s just something about Spain. (...) I believe it is the diverse sense of similarities between Spain and Japan that has allowed the cuisines to both stimulate and have a profound mutual effect on one another”.

Spanish desserts have become very popular in Latin America. There is a great churro tradition in Mexico. In fact, Mexico City has a legendary 24-hour churro store, El Moro, which was founded in 1935. But, what are churros? Churros are a kind of long, thin donut shaped like a flute, sometimes with grooves all along the sides. There are two things that make them irresistible: the fact that they are fried, and how crispy they are when freshly made. It's almost impossible to just have one!

The food mapReal Academia de Gastronomía

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