Many people associate Spanish cuisine with paella, tapas, and Spanish omelettes (tortillas), but the diversity of dishes throughout the regions of Spain offers far more than what we immediately consider to be authentic cuisine. As you explore each region for its culinary delights this instantly becomes noticeable; Basque country in the North West has a reputation of having the most fertile agricultural lands in Europe represented by its vegetables and meats of the highest quality; Catalonia in the North East is heavily influenced by its bordering neighbours of France and Italy; and Valencia has gastronomy like no other, inspired by the Mediterranean Sea and fresh produce.
Basque country is signified by its notorious steaks and salads, where the richness of the meat is comparable to Argentina, and the simplest of salads can be the stand out flavours to any dish; coated in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and vinegar is the traditional dressing. An area abound in culture and food is San Sebastian, the second city of the Basque region, but first choice for a culinary experience. Fresh fish and seafood are continuously supplied to the city, situated on the Bay of Biscay, but the meats are the main attraction. Traditionally served rare as a reflection of the excellent cattle and grazing grounds of the Basque region.
Moving east into the Catalonian region, French and Italian inspirations are visible in the food, most famous are ‘Crema Catalana’ and ‘Canelones’. Crema Catalana is distinguished from French Crème Brulee and British burnt cream by its citrus infuses and cinnamon spices, and predates both by emerging in 17th century literature. This is the favoured desert in the province of Barcelona. Canelones is the equivalent of the British Boxing Day dinner usually prepared by the oldest lady in the family not willing to surrender her special recipe. Pasta tubes filled with minced meat or vegetarian alternatives, smothered in a rich cheese sauce and garnished with more cheese. Catalonia is also home to one of the first fast food chains, Vienna. Symbolised by traditional Viennese decorations including authentic tunics and beer mugs, Vienna serves a great selection of sandwiches, salads, and alcoholic beverages with the first restaurant opened in Sabadell (20km North or Barcelona) in 1969.
Travel along the coast, in a Southerly direction away from Barcelona and Valencia arises as the next significant coastal city that boasts an impressive variety of gastronomy. The local produce here is symbolised by the sun kissed tomatoes that are a popular theme in Valencia’s cuisine and traditions. Gazpacho originates from Valencia; a chilled soup with a tomato base, and a medley of Mediterranean vegetables finished off with a few cloves of locally produced garlic. An immaculate vegetarian dish is not often associated with Spanish cuisine, but this is what gazpacho represents involving only locally sourced ingredients ideal for a summers day, served in a bowl, or more elegantly in a glass. Just outside Valencia, in the dainty town of Bunol the annual tomato festival (Tomatina) takes center stage on the last Wednesday in August to show off their mastery as the most prolific tomato growing region in Europe.