This blog post was updated on August 16, 2021.
As many European and American tourists will surely tell you, Spaniard food is second to none when it comes to variety, quality, and affordable price. Sharing most of the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal and Andorra, Spain can boast of having all kinds of fresh and top-notch ingredients due to its diversity of ecosystems, mild weather, focus on traditional livestock farming, and constant proximity to saltwater. From juicy meats to superb fish and seafood, Spaniard gastronomy is as good and widespread as it gets. Sure, you might have tried the tortilla de patatas, a side of croquetas, a jamón serrano tapa, or the omnipresent paella.
But Spain has plenty of other delicious treats that might seem, at least at first sight, pretty odd or even impossible to fathom for a visiting foreigner. It may seem scary to trust that something will be unexpectedly tasty, but a healthy dose of risk and fear make for great trips. So next time you’re there, be sure to open your mind and be on the look out for these unusual foods you need to try while visiting Spain. They’ll blow both your mind and your palate alike!
Spaniards have a saying: “Del cerdo, hasta los andares“, meaning that everything the pig offers (even the hooves they use for walking!) can be used when it comes to enjoy the culinary marvels this animal brings to the table. And when we say everything, we mean it. Fancy a little bit of pork’s blood? No, don’t worry, you won’t have to actually drink it. You’re in Spain, after all, not in Transylvania! Pig’s blood (or, in some cases, beef’s blood) is the main ingredient of one of the most internationally adapted dishes from the Spaniard gastronomy: the morcilla. Mixed with other ingredients like rice, bread, onion, and the pig’s entrails and fat, your traditional morcilla looks like a black chorizo, so you’ll definitely try it in fried slices…unless you’re going with the more spreadable morcilla del Bierzo. Because every region has its own twist and unique feature to enrichen this delicious and ever-evolving treat — from almonds and ginger to pine nuts and fruit — , it’s always an ideal choice to enjoy as part of a meal or to share with friends during a classic Spaniard aperitivo. Andalucía, León, and more specially, Burgos, are famous for their morcillas. In the end, no matter where you try it: you’ll forget that blood is even part of the equation the moment you aim for the first bite!
We move from pork’s blood to…well, the whole animal! Because we weren’t kidding before: nothing pig-related can go to waste in Spain. This creature is an unmissable and quasi sacred part of its gastronomy, and this glorious dish is the best proof you’ll find. Because, no doubt about it, few American tourists will remain indifferent the moment they see a full piglet, cooked from head to toe, being served in front of their plate. Yes, head and all. The cultural shock is key here. Although it’s rather uncommon to see whole animal carcasses openly exposed in American marketplaces, it’s actually something pretty standard in most European supermarkets. Spain, of course, is no exception. Cultural backgrounds aside, it’s easy to have mixed feelings regarding the cochinillo asado (literally, “baked piglet”), given the emotional impact that may cause seeing such a cute sucking creature completely charred and ready to be devoured. However, having assumed the poor piggy’s fate, you’re in for a real treat. Cochinillo is one of the juiciest, most tender, and flavorful meats you will ever eat. A true delight for the senses, even the crunchy skin is a delicatessen you cannot miss if you have the chance. Our recommendation: head to Segovia or any other town or small city in the Castilla y León region, where cooking and eating this feast comes with a traditional ceremony with a chef who sometimes uses a plate to cut its mouthwatering masterpiece among joyful tourists and locals alike!
Conejo al Ajillo
If the whole pig carcass definitely can break hearts among some tourists, the mere thought of eating a rabbit can be enough to completely ruin many appetites from those visiting from the US. Truth is, although it might sound disturbing to many, eating rabbit is a normal occurrence not only in Spain, but in many parts of Europe. A horrifying sight to avoid in any butcher shop –seriously, if you don’t want to have nightmares for the rest of your trip, avoid the urge of taking a look — it’s difficult to avoid the facts: rabbits are truly delicious, with a versatile meat imbued with a distinct, tasty flavor that is still an important element found in the menu of both rural areas and fancy restaurants alike. Conejo al ajillo is the preferred choice, a Spaniard traditional stew made with garlics (ajos, hence the name), olive oil, and thyme that will become a true highlight of your Spaniard adventure. Just give it a try, doc!
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Pulpo á Feira
Octopi are fascinating, highly intelligent creatures able to perform astonishing tricks. They’re definitely clever folks. That’s why some might feel uncomfortable, or just downright sad, when thinking about eating them. In Spain, however, it’s one of the most popular and demanded side plates (raciones) in any bar or taberna. Especially in the northwestern region of Galicia, where this extraordinary cephalopod is cooked to perfection using a particular technique known as “á feira” consisting of slicing it and serving it with salt, olive oil, and pimentón (a typically Spanish kind of paprika). Feel adventurous enough to prepare it at home when you come back from your Spaniard trip? Here’s a pro advice: soak the wooden serving plate with the cooking water. That’d mix with the octopus juices and the olive oil, creating a dipping sauce to die for!
Not shocked by any of the above yet? Unimpressed? Ok, hot shot, brace yourself…and go eat some bulls’ testicles. No, really. Go ahead. It’s not like you’d be the only one, anyway! Because yes, you guessed it right…bulls’ testicles can be and are prepared for human consumption. And yes, although it may sound absolutely revolting — just do yourself a favor and don’t Google it –, culinary gourmets treat these criadillas as a select delicacy. They are especially popular in the southern region of Murcia, although you can find them pretty much throughout the country. Bet you didn’t think about that when booking those cheap non stop flights to Spain, right? In fact, there are as many ways to cook criadillas as you’d expect with any other kind of meat. Serving them sliced with a breading coat in order to mask their baffling origins is usually the way to go, though…
Have you tried any other surprising delicacy while visiting Europe? Let us know at our comments section below!