Spanish Food: Top 20 Must-Eat Authentic Local Dishes in Spain (+ Drinks)

by Food & Drinks, Spain1 comment

Spain is famous for many things — the art of flamenco, exciting football sports, gorgeous summer beaches, pristine islands, beautiful architecture and of course, delectable Spanish food!

For centuries, Spanish cuisine has developed into a wide range of delicious dishes based on fresh and colorful ingredients from all corners of the country. In fact, there are so many regions that each have their own traditional dishes and cooking techniques, that tourists and locals alike will find themselves overwhelmed by the diversity of fragrances and tastes that emerge from each destination.

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As a traveler, you will surely be first introduced to the wonders of Spanish food through a tapas bar from any corner of the world — but of course, to try authentic Spanish cooking is a whole lot more delicious when you’re actually in the country.

After all, from hearty stews to light bites, there is something for just about anyone that will satisfy every palate in this vibrant country. So before you start your gastronomic adventure in Spain, take note of these Spanish foods that you should NOT miss during your visit!

Top Spanish Food & Dishes

1. Tapas

Spanish Tapas

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A tapa is a kind of appetizer or snack that can be served cold (mixed olives and cheese) or hot (fried or grilled).

  • TRIVIA: The word ‘tapa‘ is from the Spanish verb ‘tapar‘ which means “to cover” or “lid”. The exact origin for this is uncertain but one of the theories is that back in the pre-19th-century, posadas (hotels) or bodegas (stores) didn’t typically write so they offered their guests a sample of their dishes on a “tapa” or pot cover.

Tapas have long been a part of the Spanish culture and it has since evolved into a more sophisticated dish today. For the locals, these are regarded as ‘little meals’ that they can eat at any time of the day — in fact, tapas can even be combined to make a full meal!

To start off, here are some of the popular tapas that you can try all over Spain:

  • Patatas Bravas: Meaning “spicy potatoes”, this is one of the most common dishes in Spain that you’ll find on every tapas menu, and each region actually has its own version of it. Basically, the potatoes are cubed and shallow fried. The sauce can come in many ways, from spicy ketchup to garlic mayonnaise with pimiento (smoked paprika). In Madrid, bravas sauce is made with sweet and spicy pimiento, olive oil, flour, and stock.

Where to best try it? La Taverna del Clinic, Barcelona- Address: Rossello, 155, 08035 Barcelona Spain.

  • Croquetas: Another typical Spanish food item on a tapas menu that was traditionally deemed as a poor man’s food. These croquettes are tubes filled with bechamel sauce and encased in fried breadcrumbs. The best ones combine unique Iberian flavors, whether it’s Jamon (cured ham), morcilla (blood sausage), or bacalao (cod) that’s blended with bechamel sauce.

Where to best try it? Casa Julio, Madrid- Address: Calle Madera 37, 28004 Madrid Spain.

  • Albondigas: These are small meatballs in tomato sauce that’s regarded as a classic tapa item and served all over Spain with different variations (one of which is drizzled with almond sauce instead of tomato).

Where to best try it? Café OMKA, Granada- Address: Om-Kalsum, Calle Jardines 17, 18002, Granada, Sapin.

  • Gambas al Ajillo: (Garlic shrimp). A sizzling dish of prawns in olive oil that’s seasoned with garlic, green chili, and parsley. It can be served as tapas or as a main dish because of its strong flavor and it’s primarily found in the south of Spain. Enjoy it with some crusty bread which is perfect for mopping up all the delicious garlic sauce!

Where to best try it? These two restaurants are known for serving authentic and delicious Gambas Al Ajilo. (1) El Raco de I’Aguir in Madrid and (2) Cerveceria Catalana in Barcelona Spain.

  • Pimientos de Padron: Also called padrón peppers or Herbón peppers, these small green peppers hail originally from the town of that name in Galicia. These are fried and served with a sprinkle of salt, and are also mild in flavor. It is a common dish that can be seen in any tapas menus, sometimes served together with huevos rotos (fried eggs and potatoes) or as an accompaniment to other dishes.

Where to best try it? Bierzo Enxebre, Santiago de Compostela- Address: Bierzo Enxebre, Rua Troia 10, 15704, Santiago de Compostela Spain.

  • Tostas de Tomate y Jamón: Jamón is dry-cured ham with a deep and salty flavor, and the most sought-after kind is Iberico (Jamón Ibérico de Bellota) which is made from black pigs that are fed with acorns. Jamon is arguably the most globally recognized food item in Spanish cuisine that’s why it is regularly used as a component in tapas. This kind, the pan con tomate or tostas de tomate y jamon is one of the simplest but also one of the tastiest!

Where to best try it? Andreu Xarcuteria, Rambla de Catalunya, 125

  • Chorizo: Of course you’ve heard of chorizo, Spain’s famous type of smoky pork sausage that has been fermented, cured, and smoked. Some kinds can be sliced and eaten without cooking, whereas others need to be cooked and are added as an ingredient to other Spanish dishes. Naturally, there are a number of chorizo tapas to try and you can never go wrong with any of them: chorizo al vino into (red wine), tabla de embutidos (with cheese, nuts etc.), etc.

Where to best try it? Chorizo can be enjoyed all over Spain but these restaurants are famous for their unique and authentic chorizo. (1) Taberna Malaspina in Madrid and (2) Casa Roman in Seville. You can also try Asador Etxebarri in Plaza de San Juan 1, 48291 Atxondo, Biscay, Spain.

2. Jamon Iberico

Spanish Food : Jamon Iberico

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I have already mentioned Jamón or cured ham in the previous tapas section — but it deserves its own number because Jamon is the most celebrated Spanish food product that is eaten as is or mixed with other ingredients. In fact, Spain is the world’s top producer of dry-cured ham and it is still made using century-old techniques.

  • Did you know? Legs of ham were traditionally salted and hung up to dry to preserve them through the long winter months.

The most famous ham in Spain is the Jamón Ibérico or Iberian Ham which is made from black Iberian pigs. To date, there are four types of Jamon Iberico and they can be identified by colored tags.

  • Green tag: Specifies Jamon Iberico cebo de campo, meaning that the swine are also fed a diet of cereals, but are free-range.
  • Red tag: Means Jamon Iberico de bellota which are free-range, non-purebred pigs that have been fed with only acorns during their final months. It is often the most famous kind due to its special marble with a nutty flavor.
  • White tag: Specifies Jamon Iberico de cebo which are commercially raised on an open farm and fed a diet of cereals.
  • Black tag: The highest grade marking a purebred Iberian pig that has solely feasted on acorns in its last three months. They are given a denomination of origin status.

Jamon Iberico in Spain might sound complicated because of its variations but it is one of the most delicious specialties that you need to try! You can enjoy it with a glass of wine and some slice of cheese.

Where to best try it? Head to the following shops and restaurants and grab a taste of the famous Jamon Iberico. (1) Alma de Julian Becerro- Address: Calle Cava Baja, 41 Madrid; (2) Casa Gonzalez- Address: Calle del Leon, 12 Madrid; and (3) Mercado Anton Martin – one of the most authentic places to buy Jamon Iberico in Madrid.

3. Tortilla Española

Tortilla Española

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Also called tortilla de patatas, this is a Spanish omelette or tortilla made of eggs, potatoes, and onions. The potatoes and onions are slowly fried in olive oil and then mixed with the beaten eggs for the flavors to mix before cooking. This Spanish specialty can be eaten as a tapa variety (cold on top of bread) or a part of a breakfast meal.

Take note that they are much thicker than your regular omelet, but they have a fluffy and sweet center you’ll love!

Where to best try it? Almost every restaurant and food stall all over Spain sell this special omelet. You can request to the vendor to add other ingredients such as chorizo or ham for a more flavorful taste.

4. Paella

Spanish Food : Paella

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Paella is a traditional Spanish rice dish that originated in Valencia and it is perhaps one of the most famous Spanish food out there — which results in a lot of variations worldwide.

In Spain though, there are three major types of Paella: (1) Paella Valenciana (white rice, vegetables, chicken, duck and rabbit meat, land snails, beans, and spices); (2) Seafood Paella (rice, seafood, and seasoning) and (3) Paella Mixta (a freestyle mixture usually made of rice, chicken, seafood, vegetables, and other spices).

The first two are said to be the most common varieties in Valencia and you’ll love how delicious they are! If you ask me, I particularly love the socarrat or the rice that gets crispy or crunchy, usually found at the bottom of the pan.

Where to best try it? For an authentic Paella, head to Valencia where the dish was born. Restaurants near Lake Albufera are known for serving delicious and authentic Paella. La Matandeta is one of the restaurants that you can visit. Address: La Matandeta, Carretera, 46910 Alfafar Spain.

5. Cochinillo Asado

Cochinillo Asado

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Also called tostón asado, this is a roasted suckling pig that is a popular Spanish cuisine in Castile (particularly in Segovia) that has also spread out to Madrid and other regions (this actually reminds me of the Philippines’ lechon, a culinary influence we have picked up from the Spaniards).

Traditionally, the suckling pig or piglet is roasted to perfection in an earthenware pot oven in order for it to have a crispy crust and off-the-bone meat. Nowadays, most people use huge wood-fired ovens. Most people would even cut the suckling pig with the side of a plate instead of a knife in order to show how well it was cooked! To top it off, pair it with some wine or vino and you’re sure to have a feast before you!

Where to best try it? Restaurante José María in Calle Cronista Lecea, 11, 40001 Segovia, Spain

6. Gazpacho

Spanish Food : Andalusian Gazpacho

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Also called as Andalusian Gazpacho, this authentic Spanish dish is usually served cold and made of ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, bread, peppers, and cucumber.

Gazpacho actually originated in Spain’s Andalusia region and it is mostly consumed in the searing heat of a Seville summer. It is also usually served as an appetizer and can be paired with a slice of bread.

Where to best try it? Enrique Becerra, Seville which is one of the best places in Seville that serve authentic Gazpacho. Address: Enrique Becerra, Gamazo, 2., 41001 Seville Spain

7. Pollo al Ajillo

Pollo al Ajillo

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This is yet another classic Spanish food that translates to ‘garlic chicken’, and I’m sure that if you ever meet a local, they’ll say that the best garlic chicken is made in their home (or by their abuela or grandmother).

To prepare this viand meal, the cut chicken pieces are seasoned and browned in scorching oil. Once done, the chicken meat is taken out and an abundance of garlic and chilli are fried in this excess oil before putting the chicken back in again. There are variations to how this dish is finished off, but most people would stew it with some white wine and lemon juice.

Where to best try it? Restaurante Otelo in Calle Molinos, 44, 38670, Adeje, Tenerife, Spain

8. Empanada

Spain Food: Empanadas

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From the word empanar which means “enbreaded” or “to wrap in bread”, an empanada is a crescent-shaped pastry with filling (a variety of spiced meat and/or vegetables) that is either baked or fried until golden.

This famous Spanish food is not only easy to prepare but also inexpensive, making it one of the best Spanish comfort foods. Originating from Galicia, you will love this savoury food that can either be a snack or a meal in itself.

Where to best try it? La Fabrica in Plaça de la Llana, 15, 08003 Barcelona, Spain

9. Carrillada

Spanish Cuisine: Carrillada

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This is a mouthwatering Spanish food made of meat that is braised in a mixture of popular local sauces, thus making the meat so tender that it can easily ‘melt’ in your mouth.

There are two popular variants for this:

  • Braised beef cheeks: Called carrillada de ternera that is typically cooked in red wine and onion, or mushroom sauce.
  • Braised pork cheeks: Called carrillada Iberica or carrilada de cerdo, it is best cooked in garlic, tomato, and port wine.

Where to best try it? Espacio Eslava in Calle Eslava, 3, 41002 Sevilla, Spain

10. Fabada Asturiana

Fabada Asturiana : Spain Dish

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This hearty bean stew is a popular Spanish dish that is typically served during the cold winter months.

It is usually served with a mixture of pork meats such as chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage). Traditionally, fabada hails from the Asturias region but there are plenty of variations of this dish from all over Spain.

Where to best try it? Casa Gerardo, Prendes- Address: Casa Gerardo-Prendes, Carretera, 33438 Candas Spain

11. Pisto

Pisto : Spain Ratatouille Version

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One could call this the Spanish food version of ratatouille and it originated from across the plains of La Mancha. Some locals say that this was introduced by the Moors who called it alboronia.

As a traditional dish, it is made of a variety of cooked or fried tomatoes, onions, eggplant or courgettes and bell peppers. To enjoy, you can eat this cold as a starter or warm as a side dish topped off with eggs.

Where to best try it? Cabaña Buenavista in El Palmar O Lugar De Don Juan, Murcia, Spain

12. Fideuà

Fideuà : Paella Pasta

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This is one of the lesser-known Spanish dishes which is often lauded as an interpretation of the famous paella that has a variety of seafood ingredients — but instead of rice, it makes use of noodles or fideo that are thin and short pasta.

Cooked in a shallow iron pan, its other main ingredients are fish and shellfish that is mixed with saffron-spiced seafood broth.

  • TRIVIA: It is said that this dish came about when some Valencian sailors never received their full portion of arròs a banda (rice cooked in fish stock) because the boat captain loved it too much. The boat’s cook thought of a solution by using noodles instead of rice and it was liked, thus the fame of the dish spread out to places like ‘Pastaora House‘ where they cooked the first fideuades.

Where to best try it? L’Estimat in Passeig de Neptú 16, 46011 Valencia, Spain

13. Migas

Spain : Migas

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Literally translated to “crumbs”, this is a dish that is not only popular in Spain but also in Portugal and it is a perfect example of how peasant food introduced by shepherds has evolved into a coveted meal.

Originally, Migas was a breakfast dish that made use of leftover bread or tortas and the rest of the ingredients may vary across the provinces in Spain. But generally, it consists of softened bread that is cooked in fat and other ingredients like garlic, paprika and olive oil.

Where to best try it? La Miguería in Calle Estébanes 4, 50003 Zaragoza, Spain

14. Rabo de Toro

Rabo de Toro

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This is one of Spain’s most popular stews and it is basically a bull tail stew.

An Andalusian creation that is inspired in Cordoba, it is said that indulging in a warm plate of rabo de toro is like continuing a culinary tradition that is traced back to the ancient Romans. You see, back when bullfighting was large and non-controversial, less desirable parts of the bull were given to crowds after every event — one of those is the tail. To cut the story short, housewives took this ingredient for a spin which now brought the rabo de toro dish to life!

Today, a lot of restaurants near Madrid’s Plaza de Toros (the bullring) serve this stew (but not using the tail of a killed bull from a bullfight). They use a variety of ingredients (some use red wine, others use Andalusian sherry) but the main denominator is that the bull tail is cooked slowly over low heat to produce the dish’s signature tender meat.

Where to best try it? El Anciano Rey de los Vinos in Calle de Bailén, 19, Madrid

15. Pulpo a la Gallega

Spanish Food: Pulpo a la Gallega

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Also called polbo á feira, this food originated from the region of Galicia and it is often used as the main dish during the patron festivities of Lugo city.

As you will see from the photo above, this is a dish made of cooked octopus together with some potatoes or sweet paprika. A unique fact about pulpo a la gallega though is that it’s cooked in a copper cauldron — this type of cauldron is actually regarded as important because it adds a unique flavor to the dish. Other regions will present this dish in other ways such as putting it on a wooden board, but the fact remains that it is a Spanish food that is best paired with a glass of wine!

Where to best try it? Bodegón Os Concheiros in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Top Spanish Desserts

16. Leche Frita

Leche Frita

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Leche frita or fried milk is a popular Spanish dessert made by whipping up milk, egg yolks, and flour. This is left to chill and solidify, before being coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.

You’ll absolutely love how the milk pudding is encased in a warm, crunchy batter that’s dusted with sugar and cinnamon. For those who have a sweet tooth, it can be served with whipped cream or ice cream on the side.

Where to best try it? This is a popular street food. Otherwise, you can try it at Casa Alvarez, Madrid- Address: Casa Alvarez, Calle Santa Ana 10, 28005 Madrid Spain.

16. Turrón

Turron : Spanish Nougat

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Called as torró in the Catalan dialect, this is basically the Spanish food version of a nougat. A favorite during Christmas (but also available year-round), its name is said to have been derived from the Catalan word ‘torrar‘ which means charring or roasting in its Latin counterpart (torrerre). This is fitting because this sweet dessert is made of locally-grown roasted nuts (usually almonds but can also be pistachios or hazelnuts) that are mixed with honey, sugar and egg whites.

You’ll also typically find turron in two types: jijona which is the soft version and alicante turron which is harder.

Where to best try it? You’re better off buying this from stores and some popular brands are 1880, El Almendro, and many others.

17. Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

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Another name that it has is crema cremada and as you can see, this Catalan dessert cuisine is very similar to crème brûlée in which it involves baking a custard that’s made of milk, cornstarch, and eggs. Afterward, is sprinkled with sugar and burnt with a torch for that good ol’ crunchy top layer.

But for a final touch of that Spanish flair, it is flavored with cinnamon, lemon or orange zest as a finish. Often times, due to its distinct flavor, crema catalana is also used in other Spanish desserts like turron and ice cream.

Where to best try it? Granja M. Viader in Barcelona Spain.

18. Queso Manchego

Queso Manchego

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Manchego cheese is a kind of pressed cheese that’s made of pasteurized ewe’s milk from the Manchega sheep breed (typically in the provinces found in the middle of Spain like Toledo, Cuence, and others). If it’s produced from raw milk, the cheese is labeled as Artesano.

With a specific diet, they create a pale to greenish-black cheese that is slightly salty, or even peppery when aged further. Most delis and bars carry manchego cheese and it can be best enjoyed with a glass of authentic Sangria.

Where to best try it: (1) Poncelet Cheese Bar in Madrid and (2) Recansens in Barcelona.

19. Churros

Spanish Food : Churros with Chocolate

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Who hasn’t heard of churros? This is such a popular Spanish food snack that its fame has spread worldwide!

Originally invented by Spanish shepherds, a churro is made from thin dough pastry that may be straight, curled, or twisted. It is fried until crunchy and then doused in cinnamon or sugar. Apart from being a common dessert item, churros are also commonly eaten in Spain for breakfast and are dipped in champurrado, hot chocolate, dulce de leche or café con leche.

Where to best try it? A lot of street vendors sell this during fiestas or parties. The most famous place to taste an authentic Churros is at Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid. Address: Iglesia San Gines, Calle Arenal 13 Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid Spain.

20. Tocino de Cielo

Tocino de Cielo

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Translated to ‘heaven’s little pig’ (which I’m not sure why it’s called as such), a tocino de cielo has no porky goodness but it sure is a piece of heaven given how deliciously sweet it is!

  • TRIVIA: This Spanish dessert was first made in the monasteries of Jerez de la Frontera and Montilla-Moriles back in the 19th century.

One might think that it’s similar to the Spanish flan, but the taste and texture are not the same because, for one thing, tocino de cielo is made only with egg yolks that are combined with warm sugar syrup, and then poured in molds that are baked until the custard has set. It will be chilled in the refrigerator overnight or for a few hours, and when it’s time to serve, much like a pudding, it is served upside down so that the sauce can drizzle down from the top.

Where to best try it? A lot of restaurants and bakeries in Spain offer this sweet delicacy!

Top Spanish Drinks

1. Sangria

Spanish Sangria

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Without a doubt, sangria is one of the most popular drinks in Spain — but also worldwide! This fruity cocktail or punch is a favorite during summertime and it is traditionally made with red wine that’s mixed with a variety of chopped fruits like peaches, berries, pineapple, nectarines, and others (sometimes also mixed with other ingredients and spirits).

  • TRIVIA: Under EU regulations, only Spain and Portugal can label their products as sangria, containing less than 12% alcohol by volume; any similar products from other regions must be differentiated in name.

Where to best try it? A lot of bars and restaurants serve sangria in tall glasses (some even say it is best when made at home!). If you’re in Madrid, don’t forget to drop by Las Cuevas de Sésamo.

2. Vermouth

Vermouth in Spain

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This drink is said to be one of the biggest trends in Spain right now. Though it is hailed from Italy, Spain’s fascination for vermouth can be traced back to Reus in Catalonia when Italians first introduced this spirit in the 19th century.

And in case you don’t know, vermouth is a fortified wine that is sweetened by various botanicals and offering two varieties: red (sweet) and white (dry). Nowadays, this drink has become a favorite aperitif of Spaniards and can be enjoyed in many places.

Where to best try it? Apart from buying it in bottles, try one of Morro Fi’s multiple locations or Bodega Cal Pep in Barcelona.

3. Horchata

Valencian Horchata

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Moving on to a non-alcoholic Spanish beverage, horchata or orxata (as called in Catalan) is a famous cold drink from Valencia. Not to be confused with the Mexican horchata, the Valencian horchata is made predominantly of water, sugar, and tiger nuts (that’s actually not a nut but a root vegetable).

This white and creamy drink is a favorite during the summer, with some people noting how it tastes similar to rice pudding.

Where to best try it? Horchateria Daniel in Valencia, Spain

4. Cerveza

Spain : Cerveza

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You must never leave Spain without a taste of some of the popular beer brands like San Miguel (originally from the Philippines), Estrella Damm, Moritz, and Mahou. You can order these not by pint but by caña (small glass) or tubo (long glass) in any pub or restaurant.

If you want a refreshing type of cerveza, you can ask for a clara which is a beer that’s mixed with lemon juice (just like a shandy).

5. Tinto de Verano

Tinto de Verano

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If you want an alternative to sangria, this cold cocktail is your next best bet, especially because a lot of locals love this during the summer (it roughly translates to “red wine of summer” after all).

Tinto de verano is much simpler to sangria given that it is normally made of 1 part red wine and 1 part gaseosa (a term for sodas and carbonated drinks like La Casera).

• • •

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• • •

Spanish Food


Spain has a rich culinary heritage and they surely have a lot of dishes that reflect their way of life, culture, and natural resources.

Take note that the dishes listed above are just a rundown of the most popular Spanish food that first-time travelers should try. There are a lot more to explore and discover — but I hope this article can already serve as a helpful start!

• • •

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1 Comment

  1. Hong Nguyen

    Thank you for a good explanation of Spanish food!


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