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Andalucian food beginner's guide: 7 dishes and staples you must try

Wanderlust logoWanderlust 23/05/2020 Wanderlust
a bunch of different types of food on a plate © Wanderlust

One of the largest states in Spain, Andalucía boasts eight provinces, each with its own historic food culture. The areas by the sea are more influenced by fish, and the areas inland by legumes and meat.

It is also a treasure trove of unique, delicious delights, producing some of the best fresh and preserved food in the world. To get the most out of enjoying the Mediterranean diet in Spain, a little bit of prior knowledge goes a long way.

Here are 7 dishes and staples from Andalucía you must try...

1. Tapas

a bunch of different types of food on a plate: Tapas! Dig in and keep ordering (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Tapas! Dig in and keep ordering (Shutterstock)

As many will know, tapas consists of smaller dishes of something that may typically be a bigger dish. Normally eaten at the bar or small casual tables, it’s a great way to eat. You just keep ordering more and more until you’ve had enough.

Typical tapas dishes to look out for are ensaladilla (tuna, potato & mayo), boquerones en vinagre (pickled fresh anchovies), queso (cheese) and albondigas (meatballs). When in Andalucía, just look at what everyone else is ordering and say pointing at it – una para mi.

2. Jamón Iberico

a bottle of wine: Jamón for sale in Seville, Spain (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Jamón for sale in Seville, Spain (Shutterstock)

There are two main types of pig in Spain. The Iberian black pig (cerdo Iberico) and the pink pig (cerdo). Jamón is the back leg and paleta, the front leg, is slightly cheaper. Jamón Serrano is from the pink pig and is a quarter of the price, but doesn’t offer the health benefits of Jamón Iberico.

The Iberian black pig lives on a diet of acorns (bellotas) and the pink pig on normal pig food. Acorns are filled with oleic acid, the same good quality fat found in olive oil which means that the fat from Iberian pigs is healthy. The fat from the prized Jamón Iberico must never be discarded, but eaten instead.

3. Pescados fritos mixtos

a half eaten banana on a plate: Fried fish = delicious (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Fried fish = delicious (Shutterstock)

A plate of mixed fried fish might consist of fresh chocos (diced cuttlefish), calamari (squid rings), puntillitas (a tiny cousin of squid), boquerones (fresh anchovies) and acideas (tiny sole) - all lightly dipped in batter and quickly deep-fried in olive oil.

4. Atun rojo

a close up of food on a table: Atun rojo (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Atun rojo (Shutterstock)

The mighty atun rojo (bluefin tuna) passes by the coastline of south-west Spain each spring en route from the chilly Atlantic to spawn in the warm Mediterranean.

They are harvested using a 3,000-year-old sustainable method, essentially involving the use of a complicated netting system, known as the almadraba. Their flesh is highly regarded by the culinary world because of its Omega-3 filled blubber which marbles the flesh and causes it to melt in your mouth like butter.

It's available all year round, as it is frozen at -60°C. These massive fish are then butchered into 22 parts, each with a different value. Look out for ventresca (belly) and tarantelo (close to belly). If a dish or a catch is described only as atun, it will probably be yellowfin.

5. Gambas ajillo

a bowl of food on a plate: Garlicky gambas ajillo (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Garlicky gambas ajillo (Shutterstock)

Garlic and prawns: two of Spain’s favourite ingredients come together sizzling in olive oil with added chilli. We are talking LOTS of garlic here but, along with the prawns, both confit together under the hot oil to produce a sweetness.

This is one of the few dishes you will come across that involves a bit of heat. Always served with chunky bread for dipping in the oil.

6. Salmorejo

a bowl of food on a table: Salmorejo (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Salmorejo (Shutterstock)

Gazpachos are hugely popular during the summer in Spain, when tomatoes are sun-kissed and super sweet. However, you are likely to find salmorejo on the menu all year long.

Like a gazpacho, it is a cold raw soup but salmorejo is made only using tomatoes, bread, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and vinegar. It’s more a thick paste than a soup. Expect it to be served with diced hardboiled egg and shredded jamón on top. It’s often used as a base for anchoas (preserved anchovies) or even on bread for breakfast.

7. Sherry!

a glass of wine: Sherry wines best tasted in the city of Cadiz (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Sherry wines best tasted in the city of Cadiz (Shutterstock)

Wherever there is great food, there is often great wine to be found. The wine of the area is made to match the food, and just as champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, sherry can only come from the region of Cadiz in Andalucía.

Dry sherry such as fino and manzanilla should always be accompanied by something salty, such as marcona almonds or crunchy green olives. Other sherry types are easier to drink without food. A good rule of thumb is when experimenting with matching your meal to your sherry is as follows: fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it runs.

P.S. The importance of embutidos, salazones y conservas

a group of people on a city street: Locals and visitors enjoy the region's famous 'seafood street' in Cadiz (Shutterstock) © Provided by Wanderlust Locals and visitors enjoy the region's famous 'seafood street' in Cadiz (Shutterstock)

Andalucía is a master of preserving the very best food. It’s a hot part of the world, so prior to refrigeration, food was preserved using salt, air, olive oil and pork fat. These methods are still used to this day.

Embutidos is the name given to preserved pork in the region. Look out for chorizo, salamis and caña de lomo (preserved pork loin). Also worth looking out for are chicharrones (preserved pork belly), tocino (preserved pork jowl), and lomo en manteca (cooked pork loin preserved in pork fat).

Salazones typically refers to fish salted and air-dried. One to look out for is mojama, or air-dried tuna. Meanwhile, conservas refers to anything canned and tinned. Look out for fabulous canned tuna, atun en manteca Iberica (tuna preserved in Iberian pork fat), partridge pate and preserved artichokes. You will find many bars serving only such preserved food and they are definitely worth a visit.

More hunger-inducing foodie guides:

7 basic culinary staples from Sardinia, Italy

Armenia's tastiest traditional dishes

The best Japanese street food there is

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