Spain Food and Drink

Spain's eating and drinking culture is one of its greatest attractions, and a very sociable one, with people rubbing shoulders in tapas bars and café. The Spaniards take their food seriously – be it diner-style menus del dia or elaborate, nouveau cuisine in gourmet restaurants. Food is generally good whichever corner of Spain you go to.

An excellent way to understand different facets of Spanish cuisine is to sample tapas (pintxos in the Basque Country): small snacks served with drinks in local bars across the country. They can range from gourmet canapés to simple plates of olives, and may be charged or given free. Some of the best cities in Spain to try tapas are Barcelona, Granada and Madrid. You can also sign up on tapas tours to get a crash course on the culinary delight and sample tapas in the best places in Spain.

Spanish drinks have also brewed up quite a storm worldwide – from the thirst-quenching sangria to the sophisticated Rioja wine. Certain parts of Spain are best known for their locally produced drink – head to La Rioja for a taste of the most famous Spanish wine in the world, Jerez for the sweet juicy dessert wine of the same name and Valencia for a taste of the Agua de Valencia (cava with orange juice).

It is common to head out for tapas after a day of work on weekdays, and it is just as common to have a feast for lunch on Sundays with the whole family. The best way to get acquainted with a country’s gastronomy is through its locals – so be sure to make friends with some Spaniards and get an invitation into the country’s culinary offerings.

Specialities

Paella and other rice dishes, especially along the eastern coast (especially Valencia).
Cocido, fabada, butifarra amb mongetes (delicious hearty regional stews of beans or chickpeas and meat) – popular in Central and Northern Spain, especially in Asturias. 
Tortilla ( a rich, chunky potato omelette) - a staple throughout Spain.
• Gazpacho (a delicious cold tomato-based soup from Andalucía).
Jamón (ham), chorizo, longaniza, lomo and salchichón are just a few of the wonderful cured pork products available all over Spain.
• Seafood: Fresh and easily available. Look out for bacalao al pil-pil (a Basque cod dish), pulpo (octopus), pescaito frito (mixed fried fish), navajas (razor shells), arroz con bogavante (rice with lobster), and boquerones (fresh marinated anchovies).

Things to know

Most restaurants serve a menú del día at lunchtime; this is a three-course meal including drinks that generally costs from €10 to €20 and can be very good value.

Tipping

Spanish VAT (IVA) of 7% is included in most menu prices and 5% is customary.

Regional drinks

• Sherry: fino and manzanilla (very pale and dry), amontillado (dry, richer in body and darker in colour), oloroso (medium, full-bodied, fragrant and golden) and various sweet sherries such as Pedro Ximénez or Cream.
• Wine - the national drink and produced throughout the nation. There are numerous excellent denominations, including the well-known reds of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, the classy Albariño whites of Galicia, and the sparkling cava of Catalonia.
Cerveza (beer): Common brands include Cruzcampo, San Miguel, Mahou, Damm, and Estrella Galicia.
• Spanish brandy such as Carlos I, Osborne and Fundador.

Drinking age

16 for wine and beer, 18 for spirits.

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