Snails and thistles: These are the weird and wonderful regional Christmas dishes eaten across Spain

CHRISTMAS would not look a lot like Christmas without traditional dishes and desserts.

In countries like the United Kingdom, Christmas without roast potatoes and gravy would be utter madness with 71% of the nation choosing a roast dinner of turkey, chicken or beef as the star attraction.

Spain, on the other hand, a country of strong regional pride, has no one national Christmas meal.

Coastal regions tend to eat fish, central regions eat pork or lamb, but often the most typical dish can be a soup, snails or even thistles cooked in béchamel. 

Each autonomous community will also have a number of typical Christmas foods, making it hard to define a region by what’s on its plates.

Until you get an invite to a real Spanish Christmas celebration here’s a look at the most iconic dish in 17 regions across the country.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

1. Andalucia

An Andalucian Christmas is typically a lengthy affair with a series of starters before the main course – if there is indeed a main course.

One of the most typically Andalucian starters is the caldo de Jerez named after the southern city Jerez de la Frontera in the province of Cadiz.

Also called consomé de Jerez, the dish is a clear soup made by boiling down beef bones with Jerez wine, chicken, jamon, vegetables and seasonings to whet the appetite.

Other typically southern starters include cured Spanish ham – jamon – from the nationally famous town of Jabugo in Huelva, as well as marinated olives and cream of seafood soup in coastal regions.

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Source: Mercado Calabajio.

2. Aragon

Aragon’s staple dish for festivals and Christmas celebrations with a centuries-long tradition is the sopa cana.

This sweet and stunning soup is made from a base of milk traditionally cooked with the extracted fat of a capon (a castrated cockerel).

Aragonese cooks add in honey, sugar and ground cinnamon along with chunks of hard or stale bread.

The popularity of sopa cana has declined in recent years, but it remains a typical and traditional Christmas dish that strongly identifies with the northern region of Aragon.

3. Asturias

Spain’s northern region of Asturias is famous across Spain for its fabada Asturiana, a rich bean stew cooked with chorizo and blood sausage.

The dish is sure to make an entrance at Christmas, however a more traditional dish popular at Christmas are the tortos de maiz, or corn cakes.

The tortos are made from a base of corn flour, then deep fried and served with picadillo de chorizo made by frying up minced pork, smoked paprika and garlic.

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Source: UnSplash.

4. Balearic Islands

To British or American readers, the typical Balearic Christmas dish of stuffed turkey may seem an imitation.

However the Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter turkeys among Aztec kingdoms in central American in the early 16th century.

It would be another hundred years until British colonialists settled in North America and began trading turkeys back to the UK, where they became the staple item on the Christmas menu.

The traditional turkey stuffing in Mallorca, the biggest islands in the Balearics, included raisins, plums, apricots, sweet chestnuts and Spanish pine nuts typically left to soak in rancid wine the night before. 

5. Basque Country

The Basque Country on Spain’s northern coastline traditionally will eat seafood at Christmas time, given its proximity to the Bay of Biscay waters.

The besugo or blackspot sea bream is the most typical fish on the menu, baked in the oven and stuffed with slices of lemon.

The besugo will typically be roasted in the oven over a bed of potatoes and drenched in a rich fish stock made using wine and garlic.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

6. Canary Islands

One of the most emblematic dishes of the Canary Islands are papas arrugadas, literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’.

While not the star attraction of Christmas, they’re bound to feature in the Canarian Christmas menu.

The dish looks similar to patatas bravas common on the Spanish mainland, and feature whole roasted potatoes covered with a spicy tomato-based sauce.

7. Cantabria

Despite being on Spain’s northern coastline, the region of Cantabria is most famous for its Christmas delicacy of caracoles a la montañesa – ‘snails in a mountain style’.

The dish is made from a rich base called sofrito in Spain, which alongside snails cooked in their own shells make a delicious soup inviting you to get dipping with bread.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

8. Castilla La Mancha

Castilla La Mancha in the centre-east of Spain’s mainland is famous for serving a whole cochinillo al horno – roast suckling pig – at Christmas time.

Not for the faint-hearted, the suckling pig is roasted whole in the oven and usually served after a hot mug of garlic soup.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Castilla y Leon

The central region of Castilla y Leon is also famous for chochinillo at Christmas time, but its popularity is pipped by unweaned lamb.

This type of meat is from young lambs – called lechazo – still drinking their mother’s milk and must be no more than 35 days old.

The dish has become a regional delicacy commonly called lechazo de Castilla y Leon and popular across Spain.

Usually a whole leg or even half an unweaned lamb is roasted in an oven, though the most traditional or roasted in a wood-fired oven.

The region’s capital of Valladolid is particularly famous for its cordero lechal – the words for ‘unweaned lamb’ in Spanish.

10. Catalunya

Christmas meals in Catalunya likely have a unique dish for each course, but the most traditional and typical is the sopa de galets.

This soup features large cylinders of pasta – galets – often filled with mincemeat and cooked in a rich broth.

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Source: Wikimedia commons.

11. Comunidad Valenciana

The Valencian region on the eastern coast of Spain has a similar cuisine to Catalunya, as the two autonomous communities share dialects of a common language.

The Valencian Community’s most signature dish at Christmas however are the pilotes de navidad – literally ‘Christmas balls’ – which are giant meatballs made from minced pork, pine nuts, parsley, egg, seasonings and breadcrumbs and served with a rich soup called puchero.

The puchero itself can take hours to cook, and features boiled beef bones, pork feet or ribs or fat, alongside typical vegetables like carrots, potatoes, turnips and chickpeas.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

12. Extremadura

Spain’s westernmost region on the border with Portugal, Extremadura, is most famous for its Iberian hams.

No Christmas dinner in Extremadura will be complete without starters of rich and dark-red jamon cut into thin slices and enjoyed before the main roasted meats or stews.

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Source: Mercado Calabajio.

13. Galicia

Galicia is well-known across Spain for the quality of its seafood, and the region has given its name to popular Spanish tapa like pulpo a la gallega (octopus in a Galician style).

Typical Christmas dinners will no doubt include some kind of seafood, however the most traditional is cod with cauliflower, or bacalao con coliflor a la gallega.

The dish sounds uninspiring, but the resulting stew made from sweet peppers, vinegar, parsley, onions and garlic is a comforting feast in the winter months.

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Source: Recetas Gamberras.

14. La Rioja 

Most northern regions in Spain will eat the vegetable known as cardo – thistle in English – which looks like a celery stalk though comes from a plant something like an artichoke.

Like neighbouring Aragon, most households in La Rioja will serve cardo cooked in bechamel with almonds.

The dish can also be beefed up with Spanish black truffles.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

15. Madrid

The Spanish capital is a melting pot of all the nation’s regional culinary cultures, and families will typically buy in Galician seafood or suckling pigs and spring lamb from neighbouring Castilla La Mancha and Castilla y Leon. 

Roast meat however is a Christmas tradition unto itself in Madrid, with many families eating a typical asado castellano – a Castilian roast.

The most traditional asados castellanos will use a wood-fired or clay to roast lamb or suckling pig, and the meat will have been prepared with parsley, garlic, onion and thyme.

Many asadores in Madrid will typically remain open offering Christmas menus on Christmas Day, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat out during celebrations.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons.

16. Murcia

A typical Christmas dish in Murcia is the regional zarangollo. 

This tapa is common throughout the year in many of southeastern Murcia’s bars and restaurants, but as the plate is unique to the region its never far from a Christmas menu.

The dish is typically made from scrambled eggs mixed with courgette (zucchini) and onion, though potatoes are an increasingly popular ingredient.

The dish is served hot as an appetizer accompanied with wine or other side dishes and starters.

17. Navarra

The northern region of Navarra in Spain is famous across the country for its prize white asparagus. 

The vegetable are typically extra-large in size and come with a geographic protection proving their Navarra heritage.

At Christmas time, households in Navarra will usually make a cream of asparagus, lobster-stuffed asparagus or asparagus-and-prawn flans.

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