The essence of Spanish cuisine is fresh seafood, abundant on a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Spain's location made it a crossroads for different cultures, therefore many ingredients made their way into Spanish cooking from other lands. The Moors arrived bearing rice, saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and ships from the New World docked carrying potatoes, tomatoes, new types of beans and chocolate. The fusion of imported foods and products native to Spain has created a distinctive national cuisine.
Going from bar to bar to savour tapas, small plates of freshly made appetizers, with a glass of wine is a Spanish tradition. You're likely to find succulent gambas (garlicky prawns cooked in olive oil), tender fried squid (calamares), cod fritters, slices of spicy chorizo sausage, and other bite-sized dishes.
Tortilla espanola is a thick omelette resembling a quiche without the pastry crust. The Spanish toritilla is made with eggs and precooked, thinly-sliced potatoes (and sometimes onion) fried in olive oil. The tortilla is browned on one side then flipped and cooked to a toasty brown on the other. It comes out of the pan looking like a firm, round cake. The dish can be served hot or cold, as a main course or a tapa.
Every Spanish cook has a recipe for paella, but two well-known versions that originated in the city of Valencia are considered classics. Paella valenciana is a delicious concoction of chicken, rabbit, green beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and sometimes artichokes and peas cooked with saffron-infused rice. Paella marinera combines seafood, such as mussels, calamares, shrimp, lobster, and clams, with garlic-, tomato-, and saffron-flavoured rice. Paella is often served in restaurants in large portions that are meant for two.
Spain has a number of flavourful regional specialities, such as gazpacho, a cold soup from Andalucia made with fresh tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and bread. When cooks serve the refreshing soup, they place dishes of finely chopped fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, and hard-boiled eggs on the table for diners to use as garnishes.
Churros are the Spanish equivalent to doughnuts, although they're long and skinny instead of round. These crusty treats, sold in shops called churrerias or by street vendors, consist of dough fried until the outside is crisp then sprinkled with sugar (or cinnamon and sugar). The Spanish eat churros for breakfast or as a snack and sometimes dunk them in their coffee or hot chocolate.