THE BEST OF SPAIN - A CULINARY EXPERIENCE By: Executive Chef Vincent Gourmet / by Eric Monteiro

The Spanish gastronomy is not only paella, tapas or jamón ibérico. It is in fact based on a gigantic garden that the sea, rivers, mountains, fields and orchards have nurtured and shaped, a generous garden where restaurateurs and locals draw their ingredients to make many recipes that give Spanish cuisine the international reputation that it has today.

Olive trees, orange trees, vineyards and rice fields define the Spanish landscape. The extra virgin Spanish olive oil is possibly the best produced in Europe. Also known for its wine, Spain gives us Rioja, Cava and Ribera del Duero, all excellent wines that we taste in "bodegas.”

The territory of Spain extends from the Pyrenees to the arid soil of Andalusia and through the wetlands of the Delta de Ebro. Here, everything is grown and rises. Almonds and dates from the regions of Valencia and Andalusia, the pig farms of Extremadura and seafood from Galicia, production of food has shaped the identity of the communities of Spain. Each community has its customs, products and delicious recipes.

Classic Spanish cuisine includes the Spanish dish par excellence that is found everywhere, the "Cocido" (equivalent of the pot-au-feu, served with chickpeas,) the Andalusian Gazpacho, the "Montaditos" (a kind of tapas served on bread,) the “Jabugo” (Iberian ham) from Huelva, and the extensive variety of fish from the Mediterranean on one side and the Atlantic on the other, prepared fried or à la plancha!

''Pintxos'' (small snacks spiked with a skewer) can be degusted in bars and taverns in the Basque country, and what could be better than to relish the ''Espetos de Sardinas'' (grilled sardines) on the beaches of Malaga. For the sweets, try the Turrón of Alicante (nougat,) the Crema Catalana (Spanish crème brulée,) Arroz con Leche (rice pudding) or the '' churros '' served with hot chocolate for breakfast.

 Churros and hot chocolate

Churros and hot chocolate

 Turrón of Alicante (Nougat)

Turrón of Alicante (Nougat)

By combining seafood with mountain products, the Spaniards gave birth to the renowned ‘’Valencian paella,’’ with its variants such as "Mar I Muntanya" (sea and mountain,) in Costa Brava.

In Spain, a whole lifestyle has grown around meals. First, the savory breakfast accompanies the "cortado" (coffee with a dash of milk) or "café con leche" (half coffee / half milk,) followed by "bocadillo" (sandwich made with Spanish bread) at 11am. Then at 2pm you have lunch, the “merienda” (snack) at 6pm and finally, dinner, at 10pm.

Internationally recognized, Spanish cuisine enjoys great prestige. Today, 170 institutions have one or more Michelin stars and eight of them have the highest distinction: "Quique Dacosta" in the region of Valencia and "Celler Can Roca" in Girona are among the best restaurants in the world along with "Arzak,” in San Sebsatián." Chef Martin Berasategui and Ferran Adrià, are among the biggest names in Spanish cuisine.  Ferran Adria is the former owner of elBulli on the Costa Brava, and he has revolutionized the world of gastronomy with molecular cuisine.

If you are lucky enough to tour Spain, it is definitely the perfect place to delight your palate!