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Spanish food, good or bad?

I've had 2 different prop,e tell me how much they disliked the food in Spain. They loved Spain, especially Barcelona. So, ive googled this topic and it seems others have this opinion, too? Would you give me your thoughts and why is it getting such a bad rap?

Posted by
1787 posts

maybe they're fussy eaters and chose bad restaurants?

some of the world's finest dining experiences are in Spain

Posted by
4453 posts

We loved the food in Spain. Lots of grilled seafood, amazing salads, the jamón is amazing, especially the really good stuff - worth a splurge, if you can scrape up the extra euros. The only things we had that we were at all disappointed in were paella and the chocolate at a renowned shop in Madrid, San Gines, I think.

I'm not at home right now, so I don't have my trip notes with me, but I'll add another post later giving some specific food items we enjoyed. I know we loved the calamari sandwiches in Madrid, but there was one particular place, down in the museum district, that was better than the ones in the center of town.

Fresh fresh fresh - the only place we have been where we liked the food as well as Spain was Italy, and we might actually prefer the Spanish cuisine. And this was travelling on a budget! The only time, for example, that we got to try the jamón Ibérico was on our Final Dinner on the RS Barcelona/Madrid tour.

Posted by
3444 posts

Were they expecting Spanish food -- or Mexican food?

A couple of friends went to Spain and when they returned they complained they couldn't find tacos or guacamole anywhere!

I happen to really like real Spanish food. Especially the grilled seafood.

Posted by
16817 posts

In many countries of Europe, the traditional menus offered at affordable restaurants can get repetitive, despite some regional variation, and the same is true in Spain. For instance, expect the majority of desserts on offer to be a skip-able, outsourced flan or ice cream. Many cheap or tourist-oriented places display photos of different varieties of paella - these are frozen items that they reheat. As a single traveler, I found it hard to ever get a house-made paella, as they're often only made for a minimum of two people. I've also had some excellent meals in Spain, including when traveling with our tour group and when I had more money to spend.

Posted by
2446 posts

Good - but you have to go outside your comfort zone. The same basics are offered at every tourist restaurant and can get very repetitive and heavy. If you order patatas bravas, croquettes and jamon 3 times a day you will get sick of it. Go deeper on the menu and avoid paella except for at places where it is fresh and local. Go on a food tour early in your visit to see some variety and read up on menu terms.

Posted by
4453 posts

Okay, I'm back where my trip notes are. The restaurant (more of a bar, really) with the good calamari bocadillo (sandwich on a baguette) was El Brillante, near Reina Sofia museum. We split a sandwich and an order of patatas bravas, and had draft beer with it. Actually, we did this more than once.

My list of traditional foods or regional specialties we enjoyed include tortilla español (like a potato omelet); pa ab tomaquet, grilled bread with garlic and tomato; salsichon, salami type sausages; grilled lamb; grilled shrimp; grilled salmon; gazpacho; albóndingas, meatballs - could be wild game; tomates rellenos - stuffed tomatoes; cocido - a meat stew, the one we had was made with venison. Lots of imaginative salads: ensalada mixta; and lots of different bocadillos - sandwiches on baguettes. And good beer and good cheap wine. And freshly squeezed juice for breakfast, even in tiny corner bars.

Yep, the food is pretty darned good.

Posted by
18147 posts

One peculiarity I've encountered is the Spaniards' love for canned white asparagus. If you order it, you will likely be served something straight out of a jar even when the markets are full of the fresh stuff. It is a puzzlement.

Posted by
34 posts

I wouldn't say my problem is with the food, but the mealtime: some of us with time-sensitive digestion do not like to eat so late in the evening (and consider eating so late and then going to bed shortly after, because one has to wake up very early..it was a recipe for heartburn).
Spanish eating culture has meals quite late and so places (one could argue the better places) were not open in the early evening.
By 9:30pm the hunger pangs dissipated because the body has gone into starvation mode.

Just get prepared to adjust your eating "clock".

Posted by
29 posts

I would guess it is because eating tapas can become a bit repetitive, and some just were not all that great that we had. I personally felt like I had to do more research there to find good places versus other countries I have visited. That is not to say my dining experience was bad there, I just had to work a little harder to find the gems.

Posted by
2258 posts

Lulu, I was in Spain earlier this year for a month. Generally, the food was excellent, especially seafood and fish -- my best meal was Lubina (sea bass). I will say that I was sometimes disappointed with the pieces of meat (steaks, chops, etc.) EXCEPT when I went to a few restaurants that specialized in meats, then it was very good. Be sure to try some good chocolate con churros, hole-the-wall places specializing I. That can be great!

Posted by
18147 posts

The late meal hours are definitely a problem for those with digestive issues or sleep problems. I've been trying to get a full meal at lunchtime (that's usually between 2 and 4 PM). Then I sometimes grab a few tapas around 7 or 7:30 or--more often--buy fruit, cheese, tomato, etc. My usual emergency go-to, yogurt, is difficult here because most stores sell only 4-packs of small containers. I can't bring myself to buy one of those and throw half of it away. It's unfortunate that the pastry shops stay open till at least 8 PM; that makes for a tempting but very unhealthy "dinner".

Posted by
565 posts

They are probably picky eaters. I am NOT a picky eater, I live to eat, I rank the food in Spain among the best in Europe, BUT:

The food choices are definitely limited. After about 4 days of jámon I was ready to throw the next hock against a wall. Take a break every so often with other things. In the large cities, it is very, very easy to find pizza, pasta, vegetarian sandwiches, Middle Eastern food, and Asian noodles. I did this about every 3 days or so, then it was back to the fried mollusks and shaved ham.

I agree with Laura, dessert can be skipped, except for churros. I'm not really a dessert person so that didn't bother me. It's actually a good opportunity to eat some fresh fruit, because it's not as easy to find as you might think outside of supermarkets.

Posted by
260 posts

I guess I've been here too long. Saturday night we went out for tapas/dinner at 10:00. We made the rounds to some bars here and had fresh anchovies in olive with spicy green peppers, fried ear, and cabrales cheese.

About meal times, there is a saying that you should have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.

It is important to eat the "local" food. Last weekend we were in Granada, and they had a grilled meat dish which included chorizo and it was horrible. I am used to the chorizo and chistorra of Rioja and Navarra. On the other hand I never have gazpacho here, and there I had it several times. Or sometimes there are different styles of making the same thing. Sopa castellana, for example, seems to be made a bit differently in each place. And there are many different styles of morcilla. Some are good (I like. Like Burgos style or the sweet type from Rioja) and some are bad (I don't like. Like the Asturian style).

In the end I would say that if you treat the food like an adventure, and try different things and styles, you'll win a few, and lose a few, but you'll have enjoyed it.

Posted by
4522 posts

It certainly could be a matter of taste. Nothing wrong with that. But I agree with some of the other suggestions, it does take some ability and desire to experiment. Spanish food is one of less-common cuisines found in the US - especially outside major cities. Many Americans may not be familiar with jamon, Spanish chorizo, paella, tomato bread, tortilla, patatas bravas and so on. There are similar foods in other European cuisine, but mostly it is quite distinct. Even some things that Americans may think they know, like gazpacho, is likely very different there than anything they have ever had. And many might think - very wrongly - that it would be similar to Mexican food. Like most places, eating at tourist traps typically results in bad cuisine. And if a tourist wants to eat before 8:30 or 9:00, the only options are mostly tourist traps (or tapas). So it is very possible that many people never even experience good Spanish foods.

Posted by
14227 posts

Hmmm, everyone here complains about how bad the food is in America - and that includes the American expats, like me. Really, I think that too many Americans just haven't been exposed to good food and dislike what it different from the tasteless veggies, American cheese, and doughy white bread they grew up on.

Posted by
11232 posts

I've been to Spain three times. The first two times, I said it was "the wrong food at the wrong hours." The most recent time, I did much better.

It does help - a lot - if you eat ham and/or seafood (and I don't mean fish, but rather scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, octopus, and other non-kosherable sea creatures). My last trip was Madrid and Barcelona, and you can certainly get all kinds of foods there. One night in Madrid, I went to Mel's Diner, an American-style diner serving burgers and the like. Not only was it good, they actually had gluten-free options!

I found that the lunch menu del dia had not only a low price (about €10-12), but lots of variety. However, many of these are posted in Spanish only; it helps a lot if you know basic Spanish food words.

As for the hours, I found that by going to lunch at 1-1:30 and dinner at 9-9:30, restaurants were open, yet I beat the rush. However, if you want to dine much earlier than that, restaurants don't work well; you need to go to Pans and Co, or have tapas. And sometimes tapas really does seem like sea creatures and ham with a side of potatoes, and nothing else; of course there are other things, but they really take some searching in some places.

In Madrid, the Mercado de San Miguel was fantastic and sometimes a lifesaver, as they serve various foods all through the day (I even got a fruit salad my first morning, which was just what I wanted then). Even there, the tapas definitely lean toward ham and sea creatures. I know I keep emphasizing that phrase, but if you're looking for fish (tuna, salmon, and the like), it's definitely available, but also definitely not nearly as common.

Rick's recommendations were very helpful. Without him, I never would have found the fantastic and super cheap (under €3) bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) at Casa Rua.

Posted by
7821 posts

Had the best octopus in Melide. Was not expecting it to taste so delicious, but it was tender and very flavorful. Ended up getting it in 2 different places. Had a wonderful meal in Leon for 13 €. Everything was perfect and tasty. Great tapas in Burgos and Pamplona. We just walked around until we saw the ones that looked best.

Am a fan of the croquettes too. Had several different kinds, with mushrooms, ham, or chicken.

Posted by
4453 posts

Harold beat me to it: I was about to suggest, having remembered what we did, that getting a big meal for lunch, perhaps the menú del día, is a way to get good, authentic, not expensive food without having to wait until 10:00 p.m. Our best non-RS meals were lunches.

Posted by
260 posts

If you have a car, the best places for a BIG lunches and typical regional plates, are places like Casa Faustina or La Tenada.
No menus. Faustina, for example, has about ten different dishes that they bring out, plus dessert, for less than 20euros. They only open on the weekends, and usually you have to make a reservation a few weeks in advance.

Posted by
1536 posts

I am still trying to lose the weight that I gained in Catalunya during semana santa.

Dining hours are in line with the geography -- think of dinner as coming after the theater, not before. Some of my best meals were at tables I reserved for 10:30pm. Here at home, my usual weekend dinner time is more like 8:30pm

As I've mentioned before, I recall a negative Yelp review of a wonderful place in Sevilla where a Brit wondered why the place was mostly empty at 7:30pm and the paella was less than stellar. He didn't realize that it wasn't dinner time, it wasn't a paella restaurant, and Sevilla wasn't built for Brits on holiday.

This is why you have to read crowd-sourced reviews critically. I bet lots of people visiting the US have been disappointed by the lobster they had in Chicago and the deep-dish pizza they had in Boston. It doesn't follow that American food is bad, does it? After all, a really good Philly Cheesesteak is hard to come by in California, and great machaca isn't on the menu in Pennsylvania. It reminds me of seeing an episode of Cook's Country on PBS [waiting for RS to begin] (I think that's right) where some pasty New England WASPs are giving their recipe for the perfect nachos. Let's just say it included cheddar. Good for a laugh, no?

So, if you're going to be in Madrid, by all means try the callos a la madrilena and the sopa castellana. In Barcelona, you want the stuffed piquillo peppers and butifarra. Paella in Valencia. Pork and duck dishes abound. Near pasture land, you want beef and lamb; near the water, seafood. Not so hard to figure out.

Posted by
2530 posts

Small thinking I must say: global world, global everything... the best paellas are not necessarily in Valencia, neither the best gazpacho in Andalucia. Or do you think chefs don't move around for work? or that "non-locals" are not capable of cooking a local dish as good as, or better, than most locals? Talent has no borders. I've lived in quite a number of cities in Europe and I like eating out, and I can assure I've had many terrific "non-local" dishes in the most unlikely places so reducing the issue at advising to "eat local" it's rather limiting oneself. To me, it all boils down to choosing the right "eatery" instead. But hey, it's me.

As per the OPs initial question, I'm sorry to say that "Spanish food" is an inexistent concept as such, it's like asking about "European food"... that's a bit absurd as it embraces cuisines that are too different to be included under one concept. Due to many factors, geographical and climatological mostly but also historical and cultural, Spain is not a uniform entity and that shows in many aspects, not only different languages are spoken but different ways of life and also very different climates have produced a fantastic range of cuisines that have little to do with one another. The plains of Castille for example, with the historical legacy of vast landholdings owned by few landowners, has produced a cuisine with a more limited variety of ingredients than say for example the Mediterranean cuisines of the areas located in the Eastern coast line. Also the milder weather of the latter has historically introduced many more vegetables and fruits into the traditional cuisine than areas with harsher climates, like Extremadura for example, where more caloric dishes are king. In fact, for these and other reasons, a visit to different areas of "Spain" is like visiting different countries, each with its own cuisine. Thus, one is better off talking about Castillian, Andalucian, Basque or Catalan cuisines than referring to it as "Spanish". And in fact, if one tries to locate restaurants on a guide (any guide!), one will immediately notice that they're normally classified by regional cuisines as mentioned above.

As per good or bad... well that's obviously a very personal issue. Referring to any type of cuisine anywhere in the world as 'good' or 'bad' it always comes down to personal taste, the place you've chosen to try the food, the price you've paid and, yes, whether one has any interest whatsoever in food and has an 'educated palate' or not. Lacking a better way of measuring I'd like to point out that year after year for the past two decades, among the 50 best chefs and restaurants in the world (theworlds50best.com, the Michelin guide...) there are plenty of "Spanish" representatives. In fact, the top ten of theworldsbest50 has always included between two and four representatives of these cuisines mentioned above depending on the year and one, El Celler de Can Roca, located near Girona in Catalonia has been appearing in nbr 1, 2 or 3 for the past years. Obviously,these are "just" rankings and a few restaurants don't represent a whole cuisine indeed, but it might say something to some.

Posted by
1536 posts

Enric, I think you and I are mostly in agreement on this subject!

Heaven knows that 'eating local' doesn't always hold true, as you say -- we have some great Basque cooks here in the SF Bay Area, and many Korean eateries that knock Korea out of the park -- but before you can reach that kind of appreciation people have to gain some awareness that Chicago is not known for lobster and Boston is not known for deep-dish pizza, so don't think of cochinillo in Valencia first even if there are some fine versions to be found there.

Just as you say that talking about Spanish cuisine is like talking about European cuisine, so indeed the stuff you jokingly linked to about American cuisine is almost nowhere to be found here in northern CA unless you seek it out at a county fair or a chain supermarket.

I may have mentioned before that an Argentinian couple I met in Uruguay told me that they found American food bland and lacking in variety. When I talked with them some more, it was clear that they had only been to the franchise restaurants immediately around the convention centers of the meetings they had attended in midwestern cities that attract business symposia. No wonder they thought what they did about American food! Olive Garden and TGI Fridays are not the best ambassadors.

Posted by
2530 posts

I hope everybody understood my first post it was just a joke while the second one it was darn serious :))

Posted by
1878 posts

The food in Spain is o.k. to good, not great. For me tapas are way overrated, lots of deep fried stuff and often not the greatest value. I used to like paella a lot, but I can't eat that any more due to the heavy starch content (yeah, I guess it might have been frozen and popped in the microwave but the spices made it tasty). You can have a very good meal there of meat or fish, but it's probably going to cost you. On the plus side, if it costs you you will probably get what you paid for.

Posted by
14227 posts

Avi wrote: . . . they found American food bland and lacking in variety. . . it was clear that they had only been to the franchise restaurants immediately around the convention centers of the meetings they had attended in midwestern cities that attract business symposia. No wonder they thought what they did about American food! Olive Garden and TGI Fridays are not the best ambassadors.

That's the difference between food in the U.S. and food in Europe. In the U.S. most of the food that is readily available to tourists is the bland, banal food that is most prevalent - and presumably what most Americans eat most often. You can find better food in the U.S., but you have to look for it. And with few exceptions, those places are cooking with tasteless vegetables and insipid cheeses, but in huge portions. Not just in big cities, but in small towns and villages in Europe, the ingredients are better (maybe not the beef which it outside my experience) and often prepared with great care for the asthetic presentation as well as the taste. . . in just about any restaurant you go into. So maybe some Americans are so conditioned by their daily eating habits that they don't appreciate food that is different, especially if they're looking for food "like they eat at home."

So here I am, 3 weeks before my long trip to the U.S. and the only food I'm looking forward to is Chicago pizza. For the rest, I won't starve, but I won't enjoy it any more than I have on previous visits.

Posted by
4453 posts

Chani is right. There is good, interesting food in the US, but finding it generally means getting off the beaten path, something that can be difficult for tourists. This is especially true in those parts of the country, like mine, where public transportation is non-existent. In Europe, on the other hand, it seems there's almost always an interesting place with good food just around the corner - a block or two off the main street or main square. And I agree, as well, that the baseline is different. It is rare to run into frozen, microwaved food in European bars or cafés. Of course it does happen, but not as often as one might think. I can only think of one meal that we've had in Italy that tasted pre-packaged. (We were exhausted and ravenous at a major tourist site, and didn't bother to go look for an alternative.)

By the way, for our European friends visiting the US, check out "Road Food" by Jane and Michael Stern. Lots of small, off the beaten path places all over the US, including major cities. The Sterns overcame being over-educated and unemployed by driving around the country, eating and writing about it. Damn; why didn't we think of that???

Posted by
2353 posts

It works the same way on both sides of the pond - if one does not do their homework and seek out good restaurants then they will likely end up in the most convenient. In the US that is generally the chains - in Europe it is the pricey less than stellar restaurants nearest the tourist attractions.

Posted by
7311 posts

I think Jane missed the other posts about the food in bars and cafes. Most of it is from large distributors and comes frozen to be reheated in either a bain-marie or microwave. The quality is higher and it's different recipes from US food, so you don't realize it. Otherwise, you'll find a lot of quick grilled meat and duck confit, both quick to grill.

Posted by
1536 posts

Chani, it something that makes you wonder about Americans -- why do they go to Subway for sandwiches when they could go to a real delicatessen? Why do they eat at Sbarro or Olive Garden or Round Table when there are real family-owned Italian restaurants with a history available in the same neighborhood? Diners are all over the place, so what's with TGI Fridays and Dennys?

The rise of chains like Howard Johnson's and McDonalds was connected with increasing mobility, which I guess combined with a fear of depending on strangers to feed you? Standardization is seen as a good thing by many Americans when it comes to food?

Posted by
16817 posts

Chani's description of a "typical" American diet does not match any day of my lifetime in Seattle. So bland preferences, food ignorance, or lack of adventure have not informed my disappointment with Spanish food, but there have been disappointments along with great successes. On balance, and on the crucial point of counting varieties of cheese produced, I have to give preference to France and Italy over Spain.

Posted by
4522 posts

So here I am, 3 weeks before my long trip to the U.S. and the only food I'm looking forward to is *Chicago pizza*.

Now you're talking GOOD food!

Posted by
2530 posts

My my Laura.... next time you visit Catalonia -which as I said has a specific cuisine- drop me call and I'll show you what good food means :)))

PS. You're paying, of course, lol!

... and since you're mentioning cheese, here an answer I gave someone else in another forum:

As per cheese, here in Barcelona there are excellent 'xarcuteries' (half cold cut store half delicatessen) in the city which sell all sorts of them. Catalonia is a land with very good cheeses, far less variety than in France but equally good. Many come from the Pyrenees' counties. If you'd like to get acquainted with our cheeses the Catalan Association of Dairy Breeders and Artisans Cheeses Producers published this brochure sometime ago: https://goo.gl/AoMrBf Anyway, one of such shops -this one is very small, a hole in the wall, and sells only a handful of cheeses, but it's worth stopping by- is Formatgeria La Seu (yes, formatge means cheese in Catalan, sounds similar to French fromage, doesn't it? ;) It's located in the heart of the old city, very close to Plaça Sant Jaume, in a small back street called Carrer Dagueria, 16: http://www.formatgerialaseu.com/ You're bound to pass nearby if you visit Barri Gòtic. Its owner is a very vivacious Scottish -well, now she's already one of us Catalans, ha!- which will tell you all about her cheeses, their origins and if she's in the mood even down to the full story of each and every one of her suppliers.Here you have a poster (in Catalan only, sorry) on varieties of cheese produced in Catalonia: https://goo.gl/uZUlxE

Posted by
4453 posts

Thanks, Bets. I did see those posts, but obviously didn't assimilate them.

Posted by
14227 posts

Laura - could that be because you aren't typical? Maybe in Seattle it's different, but even in the SF Bay Area, in the major supermarket chains, the shelves and cold/frozen food cases, are filled with the unappetizing (to me) foods I mentioned. Presumably that's what the vast majority of locals are buying and eating on a regular basis.

Posted by
14227 posts

What I was trying to impart is that it's not that easy for someone visiting to find decent food in America. You need to know where to go and it isn't always easy to get there if you're a tourist. In the places I've been in Europe, I've almost always had good to excellent food wherever I happened to go for a meal, though I do try to avoid the restaurants with multi-language menus opposite main tourist sites.

Since I eat mainly vegetarian food, I have trouble getting along in the U.S., never in Europe. Maybe it's because (most) Americans are used to eating large quantities of meat. At least, that's what's on the menus. And lots of carb-laden foods.

Posted by
7311 posts

Good or Bad-- what a black or white generalization of the whole Iberian penninsula. Could you formulate your question in a more specific manner?

Posted by
9363 posts

I agree, Bets, but this thread died a month ago. No reason to revisit it now.