3 mins

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

One of the largest states in Spain, Andalucía boasts eight provinces, each with its own historic food culture. Get inspired by its distinct flavours, drinks and traditional preservation techniques...

Tapas from Andalucia, Spain (Shutterstock)

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

Tapas! Dig in and keep ordering (Shutterstock)

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

Jamón for sale in Seville, Spain (Shutterstock)

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

Fried fish = delicious (Shutterstock)

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

Atun rojo (Shutterstock)

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

Garlicky gambas ajillo (Shutterstock)

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

Salmorejo (Shutterstock)

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!

Sherry wines best tasted in the city of Cadiz (Shutterstock)

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

Locals and visitors enjoy the region's famous 'seafood street' in Cadiz (Shutterstock)

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.

Learn more about Andalucía's cuisine

Born and raised on a farm in Scotland, Annie headed to Cadiz in 2005 after 20 years in London of running her own catering company.

She is passionate about the food and wine of Andalucía and in 2013 was adopted by her village of Vejer de la Frontera for the attention she brought to local gastronomy. Vejer is the base for Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen from where she runs culinary holidays in Spain, Scotland & Morocco

Visit Annie B's

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