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Spanish cuisine

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Spanish cuisine has common elements, a number of regional specialties, and was greatly influenced by ingredients brought back from the Western Hemisphere in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of its core elements are olives, olive oil, nuts, and grains. The latter feature rice, but also bread as an ingredient as well as something eaten separately. Bread is eaten with olive oil or cheese. Some foods are Iberian and may be found in Spain or Portugal.

Spain, with a long coast, makes very substantial use of seafood; meat is less common. Sausage and smoked ham are often used.

Legumes such as lentils are important.

During the long period of Moorish rule, North African cooking had an influence; saffron is a common if expensive spice, as well as cinnamon and cumin.

Tortilla in Spain is an egg omelet, totally different than the Mexican corn flatbread.

Customs

Tapas, or small plates, are a key aspect. Spaniards eat a light breakfast, a heavier mid-morning meal; tapas at 1 p.m. with a three-course lunch following at 2 to 3 p.m.; a late afternoon light meal of tea & pastires, or tapas; evening tapas at 8 p.m. or later, and a three-course supper at 10 p.m.

Valencia

Many consider paella the national dish of Spain. It comes from Valencia, based on rice with many ingredients, cooked in a wide, fairly flat pan, traditionally over an open fire.

Galicia

Celtic influence produces meat and fish baked in pastry. Galician food is the ancestor of the Argentinian empanada.

Asturias

The regional specialty is a bean dish, fabada, mixed with smoked meat. While Brazilian cuisine has Portuguese roots, Spain and Portugal share the Iberian peninsula, and there are similarities between fabada and the Brazilian national dish, feijoada. Asturias features local cheeses and excellent cider.

Cataluna

In this region, there are unusual mixtures with many ingredients, such as zarzuela with different fish, and fruit as an ingredient.

Andalusia

The cold soup, gazpacho, is a cooling treat from this hot area.

From the New World

Some of the major influences are tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini and various forms of peppers. Chocolate was a beloved import; fried sweet bread, churros, may be dipped into hot chocolate as well as into coffee.

Derivatives

Latin American cuisines are heavily influenced by Spanish styles. Cuban cuisine is closer to the European style than Mexican cuisine, in the heavy use of rice rather than corn.