One of the less visited parts of the country, Northern Spain has a myriad of delights for travellers who don’t mind going a little bit off the beaten track. From coastal cities and seaside towns to green mountains and national parks, there’s a huge amount of variety in the different regions of Northern Spain. And some of the best ways to experience that variety is through food.
Sample pinxtos in Basque Country and morcilla in Burgos. Try pouring Asturian cider and snack on pulpo in Galicia. Many of these dishes are local favourites and it’s worth visiting these regions just to take the authentic versions for yourself. While there are many tastes to choose from in Northern Spain, here are some of the favourites.
Popular throughout Spain, the tortilla (or Spanish omelette) usually includes potato and onion and is often served at room temperature. In many parts of Spain, slices of tortilla are served as a tapa. When you order tortilla in Basque Country, it’s likely to come as a sandwich, filling a decent sized piece of baguette. Try it in one of the seaside towns on route to San Sebastian – it makes the perfect snack on a Northern Spain road trip.
The North’s answer to tapas, pinxtos are bread-based and bite-sized. Small portions of bread are topped with a range of delicious toppings – vegetables, cured meats, seafood and more – and are often held in place with a toothpick. Sit in a bar, order a drink and graze on pinxtos as you chat to your companions. Bilbao in particular is a great place to hop from pinxtos bar to pinxtos bar, ordering drinks and sampling local delicacies as you go.
This beautiful Galician dish is now served all across Spain as a tapa, however some of the best versions come from Lugo, its hometown in Galicia. Bite-sized pieces of fresh octopus are slowly boiled until tender and are then served with chunks of potatoes. The dish is completed with a generous sprinkling of paprika and a glug of olive oil. The result is delicious, and is especially lovely enjoyed outside on a warm summer evening with a glass of chilled red wine. Try it in one of Galicia’s charming coastal towns, preferably with a view of the sunset over the water.
A favourite of Galicia, pimientos de Padrón are a particular sort of pepper which comes from the town of Padrón near A Coruña. The peppers are served blistered in a bowl, hot, with flakes of salt. While these peppers are usually relatively mild, one in every dozen or so is surprisingly spicy, making each mouthful a potential surprise. Taste these peppers in their hometown or in nearby A Coruña.
A must for those who love black pudding, morcilla is basically a sausage made from onions, rice, blood, lard and spices. Traditionally, there is no meat in morcilla. The sausage is creamy and a bit spicy, and milder in flavour than black pudding. Morcilla is usually served thinly sliced on bread, typically as pintxos. Nowadays, morcilla is popular throughout Spain, however, the dish originated in the city of Burgos in the Castilla-León region. In Burgos, morcilla is made with locally-grown onions, giving the authentic sausage a distinctive flavour, which is well worth trying for yourself.
This flavoursome vegetarian dish gets its name from the Catalan word for ‘to cook in ashes’, escalivar. Traditionally, a mixture of ripe Mediterranean vegetables, including peppers, onions and aubergine, would be cooked whole in the embers of a wood fire. When the vegetables were charred on the outside, the tender flesh would be pulled out and used either as an accompaniment to meat or served on a slice of bread. No matter where you stay in Barcelona, you can be sure to find escalivada on the menu of nearby tapas bar, and it sometimes comes with black anchovies or olives.
If you do find yourself in Asturias, even if it’s just for a few hours, be sure to try their local speciality: apple cider or sidra. Asturian apple cider is made from local apples and is a cloudy, slightly sour drink with a very distinctive smell. It comes in dark bottles and is poured from a height, the waiter standing with the bottle over his head, into your glass which is generally held around knee-height.
The cider is usually poured in a steady stream, the height apparently aerating the cider and produces froth. The last inch or so of cider is always left behind, due to the sediment, and is then tossed to the side. In the evenings, the gutters of many towns in the region, run with cider.
If you want to experience this tradition for yourself, head to any bar in Gijon or Oviedo to watch the locals do it. And don’t worry if you spill some as you learn to pour – remember you’ll end up tossing the last bit on the floor anyway.
Planning a trip to Spain? Read our Spain food guide.
Last Updated 28 June 2023