The Iberian Peninsula contains Portugal and Spain, which are two of the most dynamic countries in the whole of Europe. Centuries of trade, conquests and migrations have come together to create a rich, cultural diversity that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else on earth, let alone on the European continent.
It is this kind of diversity that has created some truly wonderful cuisines, so much so that if you are a bit of a foodie and you like a nice glass of wine, then the Iberian Peninsula is the place for you. The rich diversity that can be found in Portugal and Spain translates perfectly into an exceptionally vibrant, regional culinary delight.
Strictly speaking, Iberian cuisine is any cuisine from any of the national territories that can be found on the Iberian Peninsula and this includes Great Britain (Gibraltar), parts of France, Spain and Andorra. Of course, in practical terms, when we actually say ‘Iberian Cuisine’ what we really mean is the cuisines of Spain and Portugal.
There are a lot of similarities between Spanish and Portuguese cuisines but also just enough differences to make them distinct from one another. Both cuisines have a basis in so-called peasant food – hearty, rice-based meals that are cheap to put together and are filling. These types of dishes can include paella from Spain Arroz de pato from Portugal. With both countries, bean and tomato-based soups and stews are very common, as are seafood dishes since seafood is in abundance in the region.
One of the main differences between the two countries, for many people, is the use of herbs and spices. For instance saffron, parsley and paprika are more associated with Spain while piri piri (which are small, potent chilli peppers), bay and coriander are more closely linked with Portugal.
Portugal is the single largest consumer of seafood in Europe per capita – putting the country 4th overall. In fact, as if to highlight this themselves, the Portuguese national dish is ‘bacalhau’, which is dried and salted cod. During the 15th century, the English would salt and dry cod in order to preserve it. Since there was not much of a market for this type of fish in England, they began to look elsewhere and eventually started to trade the fish with Portugal.
Both countries rely heavily on seafood for their cuisines, since the Iberian Peninsula has water on 3 sides: The Bay of Biscay to the North, The Atlantic Ocean to the West, The Alboran Sea to the South and the Balearic Sea to the Southeast. They are both also very much rice focused.
A few examples of the dishes that the two nations favour are:
· Paella – seafood, rice, spices, and veggies
· Patatas Bravas – fried, spicy potatoes usually served as Tapas
· Jamón Ibérico – Iberian cured ham
· Fabada Asturiana – Spanish bean stew
· Sardinhas assadas – grilled sardine platter
· Peixinhos da horta – breaded and fried vegetables
· Sopa de cação – a type of broth, usually with monkfish shark
· Feijoada – bean stew with pork and beef
All of the above, from both Spain and Portugal, and many more from the Peninsula are considered to be Iberian cuisine and they among the best dishes in Europe – especially delicious if you like your seafood!