In 2017 online catering marketplace Caterwings released the Best Food Destinations in the world. Of the top 10, three were in Spain: Barcelona, Madrid and San Sebastián.
San Sebastian and the Basque Country
San Sebastian is a city that is thoroughly in love with quality cuisine, from the humble little pintxo to three-star Michelin fare. It often tops best food destination lists and is possibly the ultimate foodie destination in Spain. Often dubbed “haute cuisine in miniature” pintxos are a delicious morsel of food that perfectly showcase local produce, from spicy guindilla peppers to fresh local seafood. For a treat, visit one of the city’s three restaurants to hold three Michelin stars. Local Basque favourites to try include salt cod, hearty stews, Idiazabal cheese and Txakoli wine.
The dramatic, wind and rain-swept north-west coast of Spain produces some of the country’s finest seafood and one of its weirdest – and most expensive – delicacies: percebes, or goose barnacles. These ugly-looking things cling to the side of the sea-battered cliffs, meaning collecting them is a difficult – and sometimes perilous – job. It’s no coincidence that Galician cuisine can be found throughout Spain, the combination of quality local dishes like Galician-style octopus, served with paprika, or juicy padrón peppers, washed down with a glass of crisp Albariño wine, is a major crowd pleaser.
From local bodegas serving cheese, ham and wine straight from the barrel to the very best Michelin star restaurants, Barcelona really has it all. Don’t miss its markets, where you can pick up fresh local produce and pull up a stool at a tapas bar stall for some freshly made treats. The city is also a haven for chocoholics; its many chocolate shops and granjas (dairy shops) are a must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth. Barcelona is a great place to explore Catalan cuisine; in February and March don’t miss calçots, a kind of green onion served with romesco sauce, while summer means kicking back at one of the city’s beachside restaurants and digging into some quality seafood.
Madrid has the advantage, as Spain’s capital, of being home to cuisine from all around Spain, so if you’re eager to eat your way around the Iberian Peninsula while visiting just one city, make it the Spanish capital. Local classics – if you’re feeling adventurous – include callos (tripe) or caracoles a la Madrileña (Madrid-style snails). Neighbourhood markets like Mercado Antón Martín have excellent local produce and are a good place to stock up for a picnic in Retiro Park. Madrid is also home to some great international cuisine – it’s the only place in Europe home to a Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant and has great variety of South American offerings. Weirdly for a city 300km (186 miles) from the nearest coast, Madrid is one of the best places for fish and seafood in Spain and home to the world’s biggest fish market after Tokyo.
Girona, north-east Spain is home to El Celler de Can Roca, a three-star Michelin restaurant that was ranked as the best restaurant in the world in 2013 and 2015 by Restaurant magazine. The restaurant was opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, and serves traditional Catalan cuisine with a creative twist and avant-garde presentation. When you’ve had your fill of Michelin star food, head into the city’s tapas restaurants, where you can try specialities such as pollastre amb escamarlans (a delicious stew of chicken, shellfish and chocolate – yes, chocolate), sweet botifarra sausage and cream-filled pastries called xuixos.
The birthplace of paella should be on any foodie’s radar if only to try Spain’s most famous dish in the place it was actually created. A typical Valencian paella includes green and white beans, meat (chicken and/or rabbit), snails and saffron, which gives the rice a golden colour. Other varieties, including seafood, meat and vegetable, are also available widely throughout the city. Don’t miss a visit to the city’s Mercado Central to pick up some great local ingredients and sample the city’s drink, Agua de Valencia, a potent mixture of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin.
Granada was ruled by the Moors until 1492, giving the city a rich and multicultural food tradition that continues to this day. The narrow streets of the Albayzin are home to tea houses where you can have spiced tagines, sweet green tea and typical Arab sweets, while many of the city’s tapas dishes have a Moorish influence.
Granada is also famous for its free tapas; buy a drink and you’ll receive a plate of something delicious for free. Don’t miss trying the local cured ham, Jamón de Trevelez, as well as fried fish and migas, a breadcrumb dish topped with a fried egg and local sausages.