10 Spanish Dishes that Influenced Global Cuisine
Spanish dishes are made of a splendid mix of cultural influences!
You can taste the Greek and Mediterranean heritage in its use of olive oil and spices and the Venician flavor in its sauces. Arabic cuisine influenced many Spanish dishes, and prehispanic American contributions include tomatoes, vanilla, chocolate, and potatoes.
Read on to learn about 10 incredible Spanish dishes and how they’ve spread internationally to impact thousands of palates worldwide.
Let’s try this!
10 Influential Spanish Dishes
Spanish cuisine has influenced culinary traditions in many countries worldwide. Its unique style has traveled to America, Asia, Oceania, and Africa, finding a place at faraway tables. Check out these 10 globally influential—and delicious—Spanish dishes.
1. Paella Valenciana – Valencian Paella
This world-famous Spanish dish includes arroz (rice), garrofón seeds, aceite de oliva (olive oil), jitomate (tomato), ajo (garlic), sal (salt), judías verdes (green beans), agua (water), pollo (chicken), and azafrán (saffron). This unique spice is responsible for the yellow color of the rice and gives it a unique taste.
Other common ingredients include caracoles (snails), conejo (rabbit), romero (rosemary), pimentón (paprika), pato (duck), costillas de cerdo (pork ribs), and albóndigas (meatballs). Paella ingredients vary from town to town, region to region and country to country.
In Mexico, we eat paella with tocino (bacon), chorizo, salchicha de coctel (cocktail sausage), carne de res (beef), carne de puerco (pork), camarones (shrimp), calamares (squid), pulpo (octopus), mejillones (mussels), almejas (clams), pimientos verdes, amarillos y rojos (green, yellow and red peppers), chícharos (peas), and alcachofas (artichokes).
See also: Origin and History of Spanish Paella
2. Tapas y Pintxos – Tapas and Skewers
Nothing compares to eating tapas at the Barcelona Ramblas during sunset. Or having pinchos. These Spanish dishes are famous for their variety and practicality.
Tapas are small rations of a main course, such as jamón serrano (Serrano ham) to caviar and salmon over a goat cheese bedding with a bread base. You need to use cutlery to eat them.
Pintxos is Catalan for the Spanish word pinchos. It comes from the verb pinchar, which means “to skewer.” Pintxos are smaller than tapas and have few ingredients. They are served as snacks and side dishes.
You can find tapas and pintxos in the U.S., Peru, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, and Argentina, and other countries.
3. Tortilla Española – Spanish Omelette
This delicious Spanish dish is a mix of eggs, starched potatoes, olive oil, and onions. It actually doesn’t look like an omelette at all; it looks more like a cake. It is pan-fried on both sides.
The tortilla española is served in almost all Spanish-speaking countries but is often eaten as a breakfast in Latin America. A Mexican variant is to put it inside a bolillo (a large bread roll or small baguette) with jalapeño chiles and to make a torta (Mexican sandwich). It is delicious!
4. Jamón serrano – Iberian ham / Serrano ham
Many Spanish dishes are cooked or baked with Iberian ham. Whether you have it as a snack or entree, you will experience an incomparable flavor representative of this Mediterranean country.
Iberian pork legs are sliced, salted and left to dry before getting to your table. It is a long process but it is worth it for two reasons:
- This procedure modifies proteins and lipids, making it lighter and healthier than its fresh version.
- It’s delicious! After being salted to perfection, they package it carefully so the slices won’t harden.
Pro-tip: If you go to a carnicería (butcher shop), ask the butcher for extra thin slices so you can make ham rolls. If you like, you can add melon pieces to the plate. It is surprising how well they go together. This snack will give your social gatherings a special touch!
5. Albóndigas – Meatballs
Albóndiga comes from the Arab term, “al-bunduqa,” which means “ball.” As you may remember from history class, Arabs besieged Spain for 800 years. So, many Spanish dishes were influenced by Arabic cuisine.
According to the traditional recipe, you need ajo (garlic), perejil (parsley), zanahorias (carrots), huevos (eggs), pan molido (bread powder), aceite (oil), sal (salt), pimienta (pepper), harina (flour), carne de puerco (pork meat), carne de ternera (veal), leche (milk), and nuez moscada (nutmeg) to make the meatballs. You can either bake them for 10 minutes or fry them until they are crujiente (crunchy).
To make the sauce, you mix cebolla (onion), ajo (garlic), aceite (oil), harina (flour), tomates fritos (fried tomatoes), vino blanco (white wine), agua (water), nuez moscada (nutmeg), and concentrado de carne (meat concentrate).
To get an idea of how much this Spanish food has influenced the world, see how people from around the world cook them:
- Italians: albahaca (basil), bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, ground beef and salchicha italiana (Italian sausage).
- Australians: Curry powder, clavo (cloves), italian seasoning, margarine, ketchup, white vinegar, café (coffee), jugo de limón (lemon juice), and azúcar morena (brown sugar).
- Germans: with sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and Worcestershire sauce.
- Mexicans: with chipotle, jugo de carne (beef stock), tomato puree and boiled eggs as stuffing.
- Americans: oregano, tomillo (thyme), vinagre balsámico (balsamic vinegar), tocino (bacon), brown sugar, mozzarella.
- French: mantequilla (butter), sausage, thyme, and hojas de perejil (parsley leaves).
- Chinese: green onions, soy sauce, water chestnuts, pineapple juice, cornstarch, and jengibre (ginger).
- Japanese: Miso paste, grated, ginger, cebollín (scallions), maicena (cornstarch), limes, mirin seasoning.
- Egyptians: Basmati rice, kale, yellow onion, cúrcuma (turmeric), comino (cumin), aleppo pepper, cilantro (coriander), star anise.
Hand-picked for you: 200+ Vocabulary Words of Herbs and Spices.
6. Gazpacho – Tomato Cold Soup
Of all the Spanish dishes, this is by far the most controversial. People either love or hate it. While not everyone is into cold soup, I have to say, it is enjoyable in warm weather.
Ingredients include pepino (cucumber), tomato, onion, black pepper, green pepper, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, pan (bread), and salt. The hot summers of Andalucia—gazpacho’s birthplace—explain the temperature of the soup.
Variations of this Spanish recipe include jamón (ham) in Cuba, aguacate (avocado) in Colombia, and fruits like piña (pineapple), mango, and jicama in Mexico.
7. Pulpos a la Gallega – Galician Octopus
Octopus, salt, paprika, and olive oil—this Spanish dish’s perfection relies on simplicity. After boiling the octopus, slice it in chunks and serve it over a wood plank. Add olive oil and sprinkle salt and paprika to taste.
Pulpos a la gallega (Galician octopus) has a Mediterranean flavor. The tradition of desalinating the octopus comes from the Greeks.
The rest of the recipe and process was created to accommodate societies that didn’t have refrigeration. People from León used to dry the octopus from Galicia to conserve it. They would rehydrate it with olive oil and season it with paprika and coarse salt.
8. Rabo de Toro – Bull Tail
This Spanish delicacy is known for its unique flavor. It has been eaten since ancient Roman times, but the modern recipe was born in Cordoba, Spain.
Traditionally served with onions, carrots, laurel (bay leaves), tomato, garlic, saffron, olive oil, vino tinto (red wine), black pepper, and salt, this tender bull meat is a favorite Spanish dish.
9. Fabada Asturiana – White Fava Bean Stew
This hot stew is perfect for winter weather. It has blood sausage, chorizo, bacon, and pork. Of course, white fava beans are the signature ingredient in a traditional fabada Asturiana.
Pro-Tip: White beans are frijoles blancos in Spanish, but if you want to sound like a local, try saying judías blancas.
10. Bacalao a la Vizcaína – Biscayne Cod
This Spanish dish was originally cooked with manteca (lard), fried garlic, citroned purple onion, choricero pepper, and bread or galletas (crackers). The cod was easy to conserve and transport on Transatlantic expeditions.
As soon as it arrived in Mexico (New Spain back then), natives began serving it with a tomato and chili sauce. It went back to Europe, where olive oil, thyme, bay-leaves, aceitunas (olives) and alcaparras (capers) were added.
My mom adds potatoes to it so they mediate the salt. She uses chile güero to spice up the bacalao. It is eaten during cuaresma (Lent), and it’s a special dish on Christmas in Mexico. Of all Spanish dishes, this is my personal favorite because it tastes like home.
Spanish Dishes and Ingredients Glossary
Use this glossary as a cheat sheet to practice each term. Consider making flashcards to learn these Spanish words.
- La tortilla española – spanish omelette
- Las albóndigas – meatballs
- Los pulpos a la gallega – galician octopus
- El rabo de toro – bull’s tail
- El conejo – rabbit
- El pollo – chicken
- Los caracoles – snails
- El pato – duck
- Las costillas de cerdo – pork ribs
- Las albóndigas – meatballs
- El tocino – bacon
- La salchicha de coctel – cocktail sausage
- La carne de res – beef
- La carne de puerco – pork
- El jamón serrano – serrano ham
- Los huevos – eggs
- Las salchichas italianas – italian sausage
- El jugo de carne – beef stock
- Los camarones – shrimp
- Los calamares – squid
- El pulpo – octopus
- Los mejillones – mussels
- Las almejas – clams
- El salmón – salmon
- El caviar – caviar
- El queso de cabra – goat cheese
- El concentrado de carne – meat concentrate
- El queso parmesano – parmesan cheese
- La mantequilla – butter
- El jamón – ham
- La manteca – lard
Condiments, Herbs and Spices
- El aceite de oliva – olive oil
- El ajo – garlic
- La sal – salt
- El azafrán – saffron
- El romero – rosemary
- El pimentón – paprika
- El perejil – parsley
- El pimienta – pepper
- La nuez moscada – nutmeg
- El albahaca – basil
- El clavo – clove
- El tomillo – thyme
- El cilantro – coriander
- La cúrcuma – turmeric
- El comino – cumin
- El jengibre – ginger
- El laurel – bay leaves
- Las alcaparras – capers
Vegetables and Fruits
- El jitomate – tomato
- Las judías verdes – green beans
- Los pimientos verdes – green peppers
- Los pimientos amarillos – yellow peppers
- Los pimientos rojos – red peppers
- Los chícharos – peas
- Las alcachofas – artichokes
- Las zanahorias – carrots
- La cebolla – onions
- El perejil – parsley
- El cebollín – scallions
- El pepino – cucumber
- El aguacate – avocado
- La piña – pineapple
- El mango – mango
- La jícama – jicama
- Las aceitunas – olives
Cereals Grains and Others
- El arroz – rice
- El agua – water
- La harina – flour
- El vino blanco – white wine
- El vino tinto – red wine
- El café – coffee
- El jugo de limón – lemon juice
- El azúcar morena – brown sugar
- El vinagre balsámico – balsamic vinegar
- El vinagre blanco – white vinegar
- La maizena – cornstarch
- El pan – bread
- Las galletas – crackers
What Do You Think?
I hope you enjoyed this article on Spanish dishes and the culinary tour through Castilla y León, País Vasco, Andalucía, Cataluña, Extremadura, Cádiz, Asturias and Galicia provinces.
If you try or cook these fantastic platillos, you won’t regret it! What do you think about how classic Spanish and Mediterranean flavors have influenced global cuisine? What other Spanish dishes should be added to this list? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation!
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