- Spanish chef José Pizarro told Insider that in big cities like London and New York, people understand his country’s cuisine more than they did years ago.
- Still, there are a number of things people get wrong about Spanish food – as well as some red flags you should look out for when choosing a Spanish restaurant.
- Firstly, you should eat “pica pica” like croquetas or olives before your starter.
- You should also try pairing your meal with Cava or sherry.
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Spanish chef José Pizarro, known for his self-titled UK restaurants and tapas bars, told Insider that people in cities like New York and London are finally learning to understand what Spanish cuisine really stands for.
“When I arrived in London I was doing completely different cuisine than I am now, more regular,” he said. “I found my clientele was not ready for [anything else] because people didn’t know about the ingredients of Spain.”
Now, he says you can find everything from basic tapas to high-quality restaurants.
However, there are still a number of things you could be getting wrong about Spanish cooking, according to Pizarro – and some red flags to look out for when choosing where to eat, too.
You don’t have ‘pica pica’ before your meal
Most people are familiar with the concept of tapas – a social way of eating over several small dishes – but are you starting your meal with “pica pica?”
“Pica pica is something you should always have before your starter,” Pizarro said. At his restaurants, this can mean everything from sourdough and olive oil to olives, Jamón Ibérico, croquetas, and prawn fritters.
You think everything is fried, meaty, or cheesy
There’s a commonly held belief that Spanish cuisine is predominantly made up of fried foods, meat, and cheese – but Pizarro says there’s so much more to it.
“People think Spanish food is all frying and heavy, and it’s really not,” he said.
“Yes, we love frying and we love cheese, but actually the base of our cuisine is olive oil, which for me is the healthiest way to cook,” he said. “If used properly and you don’t overuse and overheat it, it’s good and healthy.”
He added that the type of food differs depending on where in Spain you go.
“In north, it’s warm food because it’s a very cold area,” he said. “If you go to Cadiz or another area, it’s more light and fresh because it’s really hot.
“The Spanish cuisine is very divserse – it’s a different dish for every person.
“We have beautiful vegan dishes, vegetarian, fish, meat – we have everything in our cuisine.”
You don’t drink Cava or sherry with your meal
While you might be tempted to pair your meal with a class of Rioja, according to Pizarro, you should try a Cava or sherry instead.
“Cava was always [drunk] to celebrate, the main time was Christmas or birthdays or things like that, but slowly it changed to be almost everyday,” he said.
“You can have a different sherry for a different dish, and Cava is the same. It’s not just for a celebrations – it always works very well.”
He added that he’s happy to be slowly seeing sherry make a resurgence.
“It’s not the kind of drink to have in your back cabinet from your grandma,” he said. “People do appreciate sherry and enjoy having it with the whole meal.”
He added that people often come into his tapas bar José and “want to learn” more about it.
“They leave and say, ‘I tried that sherry and it was unbelievable,”’ he said.