In this article, we’ll show you some of the best products and food of Northern Spain. We are big “foodies”, and have traveled the area for many years and tried its specialties. Let’s dive right in.
Pulpo a la Feira
Many say that Pulpo a la Feira, Galician octopus (see photo above), is the most famous northern dish. It is made of boiled octopus, spicy paprika powder, extra virgin olive oil, and potatoes.
Trying it freshly cooked in a picturesque fishing village is a must. And it is even better if it is served with a cold beer (why not the local Estrella Galicia). There is something special about eating seafood in Galicia, and it is something that we strongly recommend.
Cachopo is a typical dish in Asturias with a taste like no other. Two thin meat fillets of Asturian cows – which breed freely in the mountains – are stuffed with cheese and Iberian ham, breaded and then everything is fried together. It is a bit similar to a Cordon Bleu.
You can do many variations of this dish, the one with Cabrales cheese is always a safe bet. In the picture above you can see a Cachopo that we ate in a small restaurant in the “cider village” of Villaviciosa. Cachopo is great to combine with natural apple cider from Asturias!
Empanadas is a small pie with different stuffing and some of Spain’s best are made in Galicia. Usually, the filling consists of tuna, cod or chicken, but we recommend you to look for the one with sardines, which is very tasty. Meat and fish are often together in one empanada, with a delicious sauce of onions, tomatoes, and garlic.
Empanadas are easy to take away, for example, bring them when with you when spending the day on some of the beautiful beaches in Galicia.
Percebes Gallegos – the so-called gooseneck barnacle – is an exclusive delicacy in Galicia and northern Portugal. These barnacles are found in isolated places, on cliffs along the rough Galician coast. They are difficult to catch and the fishermen, often older women, risk being washed over by the waves while collecting them.
The outside of the Percebes may look a bit creepy, but under the shell, you’ll find a slice of delicious meat, with a very intense taste of the sea. They should only be boiled in water with salt, and served, preferably, with the local Albariño wine.
Calçots are a type of scallion that is usually eaten during the winter in Catalonia and around the Ebro area. From January to March, Catalans invite their friends or loved ones over and make a Calçotada, which is a barbecue with grilled Calçots, meat and plenty of drinks.
It is a very nice party, if you are invited to a Calçotada, we recommend you to try it out!
After the “onions” have been grilled, you have to peel them and dip them in a Romesco sauce before eating them. It’s not uncommon to see competitions in Catalonia to see who can eat the most Calçots!
Pimientos de Padrón
Pimientos de Padrón are small green peppers from Galicia (originally from the village of Padrón). They have a mild taste, slightly sweet, but sometimes you’ll get a spicy one – and there is an unwritten “rule” saying that you should pay for the tapa in that case. ;-)
If you make them at home, fry them in a pan with plenty of olive oil on low heat until they get some color – it may take a while – and don’t forget to sprinkle some sea salt on top of them. Above in the photo, these green peppers are seen with octopus – two pillars of the Galician cuisine.
Morcilla de Burgos
The blood sausage from the city of Burgos in the Castile and León region is an important part of the Northern Spain cuisine. Its ingredients are onion, rice, pork fat, blood, spices, and salt. Grill it so that the surface gets crispy. It is very tasty as a tapa!
Patatas a la Riojana
Patatas a la Riojana is a tasty stew where the main ingredients are simple: chorizo, paprika, and potatoes. This filling dish is common in the La Rioja region and is eaten especially during the winter months.
A personal favorite at SpainNorth.com is Rabas: batter-coated squid, fried to perfection. Instead of Calamares Fritos they are called Rabas in Cantabria and Northern Spain. Served together with a lemon slice and a locally brewed beer, it is an amazing dish.
Chorizo a la Sidra
Chorizo a Sidra, basically chorizo that is cooked in natural apple cider and garlic, is a must to order when visiting a cider house in Asturias. This dish is also very popular in the Basque Country – and throughout Spain for that matter.
The first thing we do every time we visit Valladolid (Castile and León region) is going to an Asador and eating Lechazo al Horno – suckling lamb baked in a wooden oven. This meat is so flavorful and tender!
Lechazo goes well with freshly baked bread and a glass of local red wine, don’t forget to dip the bread in the sauce to take advantage of all the flavors.
Cod from the Basque Country
Cod from the Bay of Biscay is a staple in the Basque kitchen and many dishes are made with it.
For example, try Bacalao a la Vizcaína (cod in tomato sauce), Bacalao al Pil-Pil (cod with a sauce of olive oil and garlic) or La Porrusalda, which is a simpler recipe of cod, potatoes, and green sauce.
Patatas Bravas are small potato cubes that are boiled, deep-fried and then served with a hot tomato sauce and sometimes with a garlic sauce (alioli). This is a classic Spanish tapas dish that goes well with a cold beer.
The Bravas was one of our absolute favorite dishes while we were still living in Barcelona, and a great way to start a night out.
Check this Instagram account for tips on bars that make amazing Patatas Bravas in Barcelona.
Butifarra is a type of sausage with spices that is one of the most important products of Catalan cuisine. It can be bought already made, grilled or cooked in many ways. It is good to eat it with alubias (a type of white beans).
Pimientos Rellenos are stuffed red peppers, a very common dish in the Northern Spain gastronomy. Fish, seafood and minced meat are usual fillings, but let your imagination flow and fill them with any ingredient you want.
We love to grill Pimientos de Piquillo, a type of pepper with a sweet taste, and fill them with feta cheese. The perfect starter for a Spanish meal!
Fabada Asturiana is a mountain stew made with Fabada beans, pork, chorizo and Morcilla (blood sausage). This dish is simple, tasty, filling and a classic from the region of Asturias. During the winter – in colder weather – the Fabada Asturiana is at its best!
Gambas al Ajillo
Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce) is a common dish in Spain and we love ordering it as an appetizer or just as a tapa. Dip some bread in the sauce when you have finished the shrimps (the Spaniards do this with basically every sauce).
Gambas al Ajillo is also very easy to make at home, just follow these steps:
- Take the shrimps out from the freezer and leave them until they are room warm, scale them.
- Cut some garlic into small pieces and fry it in olive oil until it starts to turn golden brown (don’t burn them). If you like some heat, you can add some spicy chili and fry it together with the garlic.
- When the garlic starts to turn brown, add the shrimp and fry together (for a maximum of 5 minutes).
- Add a pinch of salt and pour over a splash of white wine. Cook until the alcohol evaporates.
- The last touch is given by sprinkling some chopped parsley. Enjoy!
The Iberian ham is eaten all over the Iberian Peninsula, but the best comes from the region of Castile and León. At this moment, we have one of these cured hams in the kitchen – and three more are drying.
There are different classes of hams, the best is Jamón Ibérico de Bellota which comes from free-range pigs who only eat acorns all their lives. The pigs are slaughtered, and then the hams are hung up for drying, the best ones, the Gran Reserva, should dry for about 36 months.
When the ham is ready, it is placed on a jamonero and then you cut up thin slices whenever you feel like it. Cut it with caution, I ended up in the emergency room at the hospital the first time I tried.
Carne a la Piedra
Carne a la Piedra is high-quality meat that is cut into thin pieces – often Buey (ox) – and then grilled by yourself on a hot “stone”. A fun and social concept where you eat, drink and socialize for hours.
Cocido Maragato is a traditional northern stew that was common among farmers outside the city of León in Castile and León. It is served in three parts: first 7 types of meat, then chickpeas and lastly the soup. So the opposite way of how you usually eat the Cocido in the rest of Spain.
If you are walking the Camino de Santiago (the French Way), don’t miss this tasty stew when you will be in León province. If you are going to continue your hike after the meal, it may not be the best idea to eat that much, so you may want to try it during the evening, for example in Astorga, where many pilgrims stay overnight.
Should you be on vacation in Navarre, you should try Trucha (trout caught in the streams of the Pyrenees). The trout is filled with Jamón Iberico – sometimes with more ingredients – and deep-fried. Very simple and really tasty, often accompanied by potatoes and fresh salad.
You can say that Pinchos (pintxos in Basque) is Northern Spain’s answer to tapas, usually, they are served with a wooden stick and a small bread. They are found on the bar counter, colorful, tasty and in many cases significantly more creative than regular tapas.
These little good mouthpieces are offered at very reasonable prices and are an important part of social life in Northern Spain.
Pinchos are eaten for lunch or dinner and are a way to hang out. On festive occasions, you start in a bar, eat some Pinchos accompanied by good drinks, continue to the next favorite spot and so on into the night.
When paying, waiters simply count the wooden sticks in your plate (if the pinchos have wooden sticks…). If you are traveling to San Sebastián or Bilbao in the Basque Country, a pintxo round may well be the highlight of the trip.
Angulas are baby-eels, a dish that used to be typical on San Sebastian’s day (Día de San Sebastián). Today they are very rare, a real delicacy and cost hundreds, some years thousands, euros per kilo.
Therefore, small “fake baby-eels” (made by a mixture of other types of fish) are sold in grocery stores all over Spain, but they are instead called Gulas and are considerably cheaper.
If you do not have the opportunity to test Angulas, go past a supermarket and search for “La Gula del Norte” in the refrigerated counter. Then you can fry these together with some garlic and olive oil. Good and simple!
Cheese from Northern Spain
The cheese from Northern Spain is among the best in Europe. For over 1000 years, cheese has been produced and stored traditionally in caves close to mountain villages in Picos de Europa. Today, many kinds of cheese have been given a “protected designation of origin” because of their high quality and characteristic taste.
On fertile slopes inland the livestock thrives well and often graze all year round. Many stores sell small boxes containing several brands of cheese from all parts of the region, so that you can try many of them and find your favorite.
We would recommend you to taste Cabrales, the blue cheese from Asturias, and also the creamy, triangular Queso de Tetilla from Galicia, which is easily recognized by its shape of a woman’s breast. We also love Queso Pok, produced in Castile and León, which is almost always found in our refrigerator.
Now you know some of Northern Spain’s best food. What are you going to try first? Maybe Carne a la Piedra? Or the Galician octopus? Let us know below!