Eating out in Spain is often cheap and meals are substantial rather than gourmet. One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas, or snacks, which are served at any time of day in local bars. These range from cheese and olives to squid or meat delicacies and are priced accordingly. Many of the specialties of Spanish cuisine are based on seafood, although regional specialties are easier to find inland than along the coast. In the northern Basque provinces, there is cod vizcaina or cod pil-pil; angulas, the tasty baby eels from Aguinaga; bream and squid. Asturias has its bean soup, fabada, cheeses and the best cider in Spain, and in Galicia there is shellfish - especially good in casseroles - and a number of regional seafood dishes such as hake à la Gallega.
In the eastern regions, the paella has a well-deserved reputation. It can be prepared in many ways, based on meat or seafood. Catalonia offers, among its outstanding specialties, lobster Catalan, butifarra sausage stewed with beans, and partridge with cabbage. Pan amb tomaquet, bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato, is a delicious accompaniment to local ham and cheese.
The Castile area specializes in roast meats, mainly lamb, beef, veal and suckling pig, but there are also stews, sausages, country ham and partridges. Andalucía is noted for its cooking (which shows a strong Arab influence), especially gazpacho, a delicious cold vegetable soup, a variety of fried fish including fresh anchovies, jabugo ham from Huelva and many dishes based on the fish that the coast provides in such abundance. Restaurants are classified by the Government and many offer tourist menus (menu del día). Restaurants and cafes have table service.
Spain is essentially a wine-drinking country, with sherry being one of the principal export products. Its English name is the anglicised version of the producing town Jerez (pronounced khereth), from which the wine was first shipped to England. Today, Britain buys about 75 per cent of all sherry exports. There are four main types: fino (very pale and very dry), amontillado (dry, richer in body and darker in color), oloroso (medium, full-bodied, fragrant and golden) and dulce (sweet). Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María are other towns famous for their sherry and well worth visiting. Tourists are able to visit one of the bodegas (above-ground wine stores) in Jerez. In the Basque Country, a favorite is chacolí - a ‘green’ wine, slightly sparkling and a little sour, rather than dry.
The principal table wines are the riojas and valdepeñas, named after the regions in which they are produced. In general, rioja, from the region around Logroño in the northeast, resembles the French Bordeaux, though it is less delicate. Valdepeñas is a rougher wine, but pleasant and hearty. It will be found at its best in the region where it is grown, midway between Madrid and Cordóba.
In Catalonia, the ampurdán and perelada wines tend to be heavy and those that are not rather sweet are harsh, with the exception of the magnificent full-bodied Burgundy-type penedés wines. Alicante wine, dry and strong, is really a light aperitif. Nearby, the Murcia region produces excellent wine. Often it makes a pleasant change to try the unbottled wines of the house (vino de la casa). It is much cheaper than the bottled wines and, even in small places, is usually good. Similarly, inexpensive supermarket wine is very acceptable. Among the many brands of sparkling wines known locally as cava, the most popular are Codorniú and Freixenet, dry or semi-dry. The majority of Spanish sparkling wines are sweet and fruity.
Spanish brandy is as different from French as Scotch whisky is from Irish. It is relatively cheap and pleasant, although most brandy drinkers find it a little sweet.
Spain has several good mineral waters. A popular brand is Lanjarón which comes from the town of the same name. It can be still or sparkling. Vichy Catalan is almost exactly like French Vichy. Malavella is slightly effervescent and Font Vella is still. Cocktail lounges have table and/or counter service. There are no licensing hours.
Spaniards often start the evening with el paseo, a leisurely stroll through the main streets. A cafe terrace is an excellent vantage point to observe this tradition, or enjoy street theater in the larger cities. The atmosphere is especially vibrant at fiesta time, or when the local football team has won, when celebrations are marked by a cacophony of car horns, firecrackers and a sea of flags and team regalia. Tapas bars offer delicious snacks in a relaxed, enjoyable setting and it is fun to try out several bars in one night. The nightclubs of Ibiza, Barcelona and Madrid have attracted the attention of the international media, but the variety on offer caters for most tastes. Things work up to la marcha (good fun) relatively late and it is possible to literally dance until dawn. Flamenco or other regional dancing displays provide an alternative for those who prefer to watch dancing.