Surprise: Spain’s Most Popular Dish Isn’t Paella

And while we’re at it, the most popular drink certainly isn’t sangría.

Paella Sign

Source: No Hurries, No Worries

Go to any touristy town in Spain, and you’ll inevitably see them—the signs outside restaurants offering different types of paella. Yellow, black, with seafood, without seafood, authentic, decidedly inauthentic—you’ll see it all. After all, all Spaniards love paella and it eat it all the time, right? It could even be called Spain’s national dish, no? And if you have it alongside a pitcher of sangría, all the better.

Source: The Food Network

Uh, not exactly.

Let’s not even get into what an “authentic” paella is, because the last thing I want are some angry Valencianos (or adopted Valencianos) leaving comments about how ignorant I am about paella. The truth is, though, they’d be right. Even after having lived in Spain on and off since 2008, I can count the number of times I’ve eaten paella on one hand.

Eating Paella

Photographic evidence

But people do eat paella in Spain, there’s no denying that. Obviously the idea came from somewhere. According to Saveur Magazine, the original paella “probably dates to the early 1800s and consists of saffron-scented rice cooked with rabbit, chicken, local snails called vaquetes, and three types of beans.” Rice itself has a long history in Valencia, as the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago! And it thus became a ritual there, cooking rice-based dishes in the countryside over an open fire. It took a while for it to become the popular tourist dish it is today.

But I heartily believe that paella, as good as it has the potential to be, is not the dish Spaniards eat the most often, nor is it the most-consumed dish. What is? you ask. Good question. I have a theory:


Tortilla española. This egg-and-potato omelet (with or without onions) is, in my experience, the most commonly-served dish in Spain. It’s ubiquitous in bars and on tapas menus, and the truth is that it has the potential to be truly delightful, although it’s easy to screw up. It’s also—and this is key!—easy to transport, and Spaniards often make a bocadillo with it, something I at first found strange but now find genius.

There could be other contenders for the crown (jamón, cocido, gazpacho, chorizo), but I think that they are not eaten quite as often. Good jamón is expensive, cocido requires a lot of prep, gazpacho is more of a summer dish, etc. The thing about tortilla is that it’s inexpensive (potatoes, eggs, onion, olive oil, and salt are not pricey ingredients), filling, and—if made right—delicious. It meets all the requirements. (Okay, my requirements.)

But what about sangría? Do I mean to tell you that most Spaniards don’t order it when they go out to dinner with friends?

They might. I’m not saying it never happens, because I too have partaken in a jarra with friends. But honestly, I think cañas are the most popular drink to order at bars. (Or as those Sevillanos would say, cervecitas.) Wine is popular too, and gin and tonics are the thing to order at a bar de copas, but the most popular by far is the caña, a small glass of beer from the tap, generally around 200 centiliters.

Caña   tortilla

Tortilla + una caña + croquetas

So the next time you visit that tapas bar in the US, think twice about what is, as they say, “typical Spanish.”

What do you think Spain’s national food is? Drink?

No, Gracias—Spanish Foods I Dislike

Guys, I’m pretty obsessed with Spanish cuisine. Nothing gets my goat more than when guiris come here and declare the food to be bland. Oh no you didn’t, I want to shout at them while doing a dramatic z with my pointer finger. Insulting Spanish food is like insulting my suegra: I’m having none of it.

There are so many delicious things here, and they are not all terrible for you (another stupid myth!):


  • lentejas (lentil stew, a.k.a. the bomb)


  • cocido (healthy if you stay away from the tocino, a.k.a. fat)

By Valdavia (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

And of course my favorites: cheese, wine (remind me to tell you my favorite wines from Toro later!), chorizo, and salchichón! My in-laws make the last two, and if you haven’t had them … well, you haven’t had good chorizo or salchichón! It’s just the facts.

Buuuuut, let’s be real, there are some foods I don’t like. Yeah. It’s true. It’s true, and I said it. Not all Spanish food is to my liking. What are these foods, you ask? Why, let me tell you.

By Tamorlan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Pulpo. Nope, I don’t like octopus and don’t tell me that I should, because the chewy texture just skeeves me out.

By Tamorlan (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Morro, oreja, callos. Not into organ meat, and I’m even less into eating pig’s snout. Oreja is really chewy and just thinking about it can give me the heebie jeebies. (I hope all Spaniards reading this are learning some new “words” today.)

By Tamorlan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Torreznos. What are they? They’re pieces of pig fat cut into strips and fried. Yum? Add to this varied fritanga, because it is way too fatty for my liking. Eating probably takes five days off my life.

By Javier Lastras from España/Spain (Flan de Turrón) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Flan. Not into that jiggling mess of a dessert.

By Lucía Domínguez (UED77)Lucía Domínguez (Own workOwn work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Aceitadas. Sadly, this is a typical dessert in Zamora, my favorite city in Spain, but I just don’t dig anise.


  • Aguardiente. Not a food, but this liquor sets my insides on fire and tastes vile.

Which foods do you dislike in Spain? And if you say salchichón, I may cry. Tears of happiness. Because there’s more for me!

How to Host Thanksgiving in Spain

Having hosted two Thanksgivings in Spain, I now consider myself an expert, obviously. That’s just how these things go.


  • Buy a female turkey, una pavita. I had no idea before 2010, but smaller turkeys are tastier



Mario helped too!

  • Have a pinche, a sous chef. Mario’s father, Jesús, was my sous chef, and the best one there could possibly be. He spent the whole morning chopping, cutting, and just generally being helpful. Also, he is totally relaxed. Find one of those.
  • There will be bread. This is Spain, how could there not be?
  • Stand up to the idea of primer plato, segundo plato. Stay steadfast in your American-type meal and have your guests eat everything off the same plate. The horror!



  • Let someone else make the dessert, even if they make it differently than you would. This year, we didn’t have the traditional pumpkin pie; rather, we had a sort of pumpkin cake. No big deal. We ate some pumpkin, okay?!


  • Drink local wine. Better yet, have another person bring that local wine, especially someone from Toro!

There you go, my recommendations for a Spanish-American Thanksgiving. Go forth, and roast yourself a turkey!

Everyone’s Favorite Subject—FOOD!

If you’re like many people from Middle America, you might be a bit confused about what, exactly, Spanish food is. My friend asked me the other day, “Is guacamole Spanish? Or Mexican?” She was about to prepare guacamole from a packet, you see, and thought I might be offended by this. As it is, I don’t get offended by such things. I mean, the guacamole was pretty damn good. Plus, guacamole is pretty labor intensive and she was throwing a bridal shower. There are more important things to think about in such situations.

Well, friends, I’m here to help you. I will now introduce you to my favorite Spanish foods, or at least the foods that made a big impression on me during my time in Spain. Keep in mind, I was usually in Castilla and the food there is, of course, different than the food in Galicia, Basque country, or Cataluña. So, without further ado:

Iberian Ham (Jamón Ibérico)

Would you believe me if I said that many families keep a leg of ham in their homes? Would you believe that they value this pata, or leg, of ham more than a juicy steak. But it’s true. And they won’t accept that you think otherwise. This type of ham is sold by the leg in many butcher shops. In fact, in Salamanca, on a major street there is a shop for this type of meat. My brother said it smelled like leather. I tend to agree, but it tastes good. To each his/her own.

Spanish Omelet (Tortilla Española)

This is a crowd pleaser. You see, it’s not weirdjust potato, eggs, onions, salt, and olive oil. When I say olive oil, I mean LOTS of it. My mother and I attempted this, using what we considered to be an adequate amount. Mario, our resident Spanish expert, poured about, oh, half a bottle in the pan to fry the potatoes until soft. I saw our mistake then, although ours didn’t turn out so bad, really.

Bread (Pan)

Bread is the life of Spain. It is utterly common, unremarkable, to see almost every old man and woman carrying a loaf under their arm around 1 PM, carrying it home for la comida, lunch, at 2:30. (Yes, they eat late.) When you eat soup, what do you need? Why, bread of course, to sop up all the remains. When you’re eating something that tends to scurry around the plate, what helps? A piece of bread to help scoop the little rascals onto your fork. Without bread, eating is not the same, not as enjoyable, and definitely not as tasty. It is so enjoyable to enter the store and feel the bread is warm, recently taken out of the oven. Nothing better.

Aceite de Oliva (Olive Oil)
Olive Oil
In America, we have an aisle devoted to cereal, an aisle of ice cream. We do not, however, have an aisle of just olive oil. Light, dark, intense, with garlic, with lemon…you name it, you got it. There’s artisan varieties, store brand, etc. It’s astounding, really, until you realize that literally almost every dish contains it. If you’re cooking some pork, you’ll likely cook it on a pan with olive oil. (There aren’t that many grills in third floor apartments.) If you’re making soup, salad, even some desserts, what do you need? Olive oil! It’s versatile and delicious. It’s especially good with some Iberic ham and tomatoes …!

There’s more, really, but I’ll stop here for today. But here’s one final tipSpanish food is most definitely NOT spicy! That’s Mexican. They don’t generally enjoy spicy food too much.