If I asked you what is Spain’s best-known food I guess there wouldn’t be many suggestions to rival paella.
And if you are taking your holidays in Benidorm, or anywhere else along the coast, either to the north or the south, you are not going to have any problem in finding it.
After all, the munchy mix of rice and seafood comes originally from the Valencia region, of which Alicante – and with it the city of Benidorm – is one of the three provinces.
But ubiquitous though paella may seem on local menus, there are plenty of other delicious dishes worth checking out.
In the last decade or so Spain has stepped out of the shadows of near neighbours France and Italy to rightfully earn its place as – dare I say it –the best eating place in Europe.
The French may have all their sauces, the Italians their pastas. But, as befits a country of vast natural contrasts, one that ranges from semi desert in the south-east to fjords in the north-west, the food that’s produced in Spain is almost as varied as the landscape.
And when it’s fresh produce, and virtually straight off the doorstep, it would be a crime not to try out some of Spain’s great dishes.
A culinary playground
One of the big advantages of a large and well-established resort like Benidorm is that it’s just as much a summer playground for the Spanish themselves as it is for British and other foreign tourists.
The fact that the Valencia region is the nearest stretch of coast for Madrid means it attracts hundreds of thousands of people here from the capital most bank holidays and weekends, as well as for their main holidays.
Like any capital, Madrid is a melting pot of the nation as a whole, many of its inhabitants brought up on the dishes their parents were taught by their parents before moving to the big city.
Add in those who come to Benidorm from other inland cities, or are looking for a warm sea after the chilliness of Spain’s northern waters, and the picture starts to get clearer.
To keep the customers satisfied, the city finds itself catering for those who are looking to enjoy their own lunch or dinner version of that famous, even infamous ‘cup of tea like mother makes.’
What’s on the menu?
To give an idea of what you might expect to find inside, most bars and restaurants proudly boast what region their food represents. If you see the regions of Gallego (Galicia) Asturiano, Cantabro, Vasco (Basque) or Navarro mentioned, then you know you are in for a feast of ‘surf and turf’.
They also usually offer tapas, if you want to sample something first before ordering a larger dish – or settle for sharing lots of things rather than sitting down to a full meal.
That means plenty of fish, plenty of meat, but also some surprises. True to its shared Celtic roots, Galicia has its own version of the Cornish pasty, called an empanada, which comes with various fillings from tuna to pork, and with vegetables.
Another dish to look out for is Trucha a la Navarra, a trout filled with a slice or two of tasty cured Serrano ham.
Trucha a la Navarra
Castilla y Leon and Castilla La Mancha
From the regions of central Spain – Castilla y Leon and Castilla La Mancha, Madrid itself and Extremadura – it’s mainly hearty, meat dishes.
They are good places to look out for game, roast sucking pig, and delicious lamb chops that taste self-seasoned from all the wild herbs they eat. Many recipes include ultra-healthy legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils. Olla Podrida which translates literally as ‘rotten pot’ is perhaps the most well known dish. This stew made from pork and beans is originally from the city of Burgos in Castilla y Leon.
Olla Podrida – Pork and beans stew
As a rival for attracting British holidaymakers, the southern region of Andalucia comes up with a wonderful mixed fish and seafood platter known simply as a ‘fritura,’ as well as perhaps the second-best known of Spain’s dishes.
Cold salad soup is probably the most accurate, if far from tempting translation of gazpacho. But although it may not sound so good, there’s nothing quite like a refreshing bowl-full laced with ice on a hot summer’s day.
Article written by Katie Belle, the travel and food addicted blogger behind delightso.me, and has recently returned from eating her way round the Mediterranean.