14 Spanish dishes you should try -- from churros to jamón
By Jon Yeomans, for CNN
Updated 7:47 PM ET, Sun March 12, 2017
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Fideua – Fideuà is a type of Spanish pasta similar to vermicelli. It's popular in Catalonia and Valencia in seafood dishes that rival paella for their taste and intricacy. (Image credit: Brindisa.com)
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Gazpacho – Cold tomato-based gazpacho soup is ideal for a hot Seville summer. In addition to tomato, it's usually flavored with peppers, garlic, bread and lots of olive oil. (Image credit: Brindisa.com)
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Jamon – "Jamon is the staple of the Spanish table," says chef José Pizarro, who helms Jose tapas bar and Pizarro restaurant in London. Jamon Serrano (from white pigs) is the most common kind. Jamon Iberico (from black pigs) is the more expensive kind. (Image credit: Brindisa.com)
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Fabada – An Asturian favorite based around the white fabe bean, fabada is a one-pot feast usually served with a mixture of pork meats -- including chorizo, pork belly, bacon and Spanish blood sausage.
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Pimientos de Padron – A perfect complement to a glass of rioja, these salted Padron peppers are addictively sweet, salty and sometimes fiery hot.
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Churros – Few places make deep-fried dough pastry as finger-licking good as Spain. Often doused in sugar and dipped in hot melted chocolate, churros are a favorite during street festivals. (Image credit: "Quick & Easy Spanish Recipes" by Simone and Inés Ortega, Phaidon, phaidon.com)
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Albondigas – Served all over Spain, albondigas (or meatballs) is a classic tapas item. Here's a version of squid meatballs created by Pizarro. (Image credit: Seasonal Spanish Food by José Pizarro, Kyle Books)
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Tortilla – The humble Spanish omelet is usually filled with chorizo, peppers, onions and diced potatoes. A perfect tortilla should still be soft and moist in the center. (Image credit: "Quick & Easy Spanish Recipes" by Simone and Inés Ortega, Phaidon, phaidon.com)
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Croquetas – Croquetas are tubes of bechamel sauce encased in fried breadcrumbs. Jamon and salt cod are popular fillings. (Image credit: "BASQUE: Spanish Recipes from San Sebastián" and beyond by José Pizarro (Hardie Grant)/Photography: Laura Edwards)
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Paella Valenciana – Originating in the region around Valencia, paella traditionally comes in two varieties: paella Valenciana (with rabbit and chicken) and seafood paella. (Image credit: "Quick & Easy Spanish Recipes" by Simone and Inés Ortega, Phaidon, phaidon.com)
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Leche frita – Milk, egg yolks and flour are whipped up, chilled and solidified before being coated in breadcrumbs and fried to create leche frita, one of the most popular desserts in Spain.
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Migas – Migas, essentially dry breadcrumbs torn up and fried with ingredients like chorizo and bacon, has evolved from a peasant food to a dish served in fancy restaurants. It's the ultimate Spanish comfort food. (Image credit: "Quick & Easy Spanish Recipes" by Simone and Inés Ortega, Phaidon, phaidon.com)
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Patatas Bravas – Patatas bravas are made of shallow-fried potato cubes coated in a spicy sauce. (Image credit: "Quick & Easy Spanish Recipes" by Simone and Inés Ortega, Phaidon, phaidon.com)
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Bacalao – Bacalao (salted cod) is served in many ways but is popular with pil-pil sauce, made of olive oil, garlic and the juice of the fish -- especially in the Basque Country.
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Chefs such as Ferran Adria and the Roca brothers have spotlighted Spanish food
Classic dishes range from spicy patatas bravas to albondigas meatballs
(CNN)It's fair to say Spain was late to the table when it came to recognizing the global superpowers of food.
While Italy and France have spent years in the limelight, Spain was biding its time.
In recent years, however, people have come to celebrate the extraordinary flavors and variety of produce the cuisine has to offer.
High-profile chefs such as Ferran Adria, mastermind of the now-closed El Bulli restaurant, and the Roca brothers, founders of the El Celler de Can Roca, have brought Spain's alta cocina international acclaim.
But the heart of Spanish cooking remains in its rustic, homespun nature, a legacy of a time when hard-pressed Spaniards had to work the land for everything it would offer.
These 14 dishes -- from seafood and meat to rice and pastries -- are essential meals on any trip to Spain.
Paella is perhaps the most famous Spanish dish of all, and certainly one of the most abused.
Authentic paella originates from the region around Valencia, and comes in two varieties: Paella Valenciana, with rabbit and chicken; and seafood paella.
Saffron gives the rice its color, and the base should be left to crisp into a mouth-watering black crust, called the socarrat. Always eaten at lunchtime.
Where to try? La Matandeta near Albufera, Valencia
La Matandeta, Carretera, 46910 Alfafar Spain;
2. Patatas bravas
A staple among the small dishes that make up a classic tapas menu, patatas bravas -- "brave potatoes" -- is named for its spicy sauce, rare in a land that generally shuns fiery food.
The potatoes are cubed and shallow fried and served the same everywhere.
The sauce can come in any number of ways, from spicy ketchup to garlic mayonnaise with a dusting of pimiento (smoked paprika), or both.
One theory holds that the dirtier the bar, the better the bravas.
"Tapas originated in southern Spain and is an adaptation to the social culture of eating and drinking outside the home, and fulfills the same social function as the English public house and other similar institutions," explains Shawn Hennessey, who runs tapas tours of Seville.
"It's important to note that the tapeo (tapas crawl) is not primarily a 'drinking culture' thing -- it's oriented to friends and family with a communal atmosphere.
"Intoxication and rowdiness are rare. Key factors are the social sharing of food, and the opportunity to try a lot of different things in one meal. In short, tapas are a way of life."
Where to try? La Taverna del Clínic, Barcelona
La Taverna del Clinic, Rossello, 155, 08035 Barcelona Spain;
A legendary dish spoken of in almost hushed tones by Spaniards, migas is a good example of how much of Spain's cuisine has evolved from peasant food.
It's essentially dry breadcrumbs torn up and fried in a variety of combinations -- often served with chorizo or bacon.
Migas, handed down from agricultural laborers who had to be thrifty with their ingredients, is comfort food supreme -- and in recent times has found its way onto fancy restaurant menus.
"Like many traditional cuisines, the 'rustic roots' mostly show themselves in the use of basic or commonplace ingredients, ways of using everything available, such as nose-to-tail use of animals, dishes that use up leftovers -- including migas -- and methods of preservation such as curing and salting, pickling and preservation in oil," says Shawn Hennessey.
"For a modern-day nation such as Spain, tapas still has a high proportion of locally sourced food."
Where to try? Eustaquio Blanco, Cáceres
Eustaquio Blanco, Avenida Ruta de La Plata 2, 10001 Caceres Spain;
A prized dish in Spain, bacalao, or salted cod, was brought back by Spanish fisherman from as far afield as Norway and Newfoundland -- the fish not being found in local waters; it was salted to preserve it on the journey.
It has to be left to soak in water for at least 24 hours to remove all but the slightest tang of salt.
Bacalao is served in all manner of dishes; one of the most popular is with pil-pil sauce, made of olive oil garlic and the juice of the fish, and typical in the Basque Country.
Where to try? Bar Gatz, Bilbao
Gatz, Calle Santa Maria 10, Bilbao Spain;
A favorite of the northwestern Asturias region and based around the white fabe bean, fabada is a one-pot feast usually served with a mixture of pork meats.
Chorizo, pork belly and bacon are common accompaniments, as is morcilla, Spanish blood sausage, which tastes far better than it should.
Where to try? Casa Gerardo, Prendes
Casa Gerardo-Prendes, Carretera, 33438 Candas Spain;
14. Leche frita
Think it's impossible to fry milk? Think again.
Leche frita, or fried milk, is a popular dessert made by whipping up milk, egg yolks and flour. This is left to chill and solidify, before being coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
Can be served hot or cold.
Where to try? Casa Alvarez, Madrid
Casa Alvarez, Calle Santa Ana 10, 28005 Madrid Spain;