Christmas time in Spain is one of the most beautiful times of the year. In addition to beautifully decorated streets, traditional music, and the general festive mood, Spanish Christmas food is especially popular.
But what do you eat in Spain for Christmas? This is exactly the question we want to answer in this article. For this reason, you will find 21 traditional Spanish Christmas dishes from different parts of the country.
These include typical appetizers, delicious main dishes with a long tradition, traditional Spanish Christmas dinner, and, of course, the delicious Spanish Christmas sweets and treats that delight young and old every year.
What to find out in this post
When is Christmas celebrated in Spain?
In Spain, Christmas is a bit longer than we are used to in Central Europe or North America. This is because the Spanish Christmas season begins on December 08, on La Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception Day).
While the actual Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve (24.12.) and Christmas, on 25.12., are the big highlights of the Christmas season, the Spanish Christmas season ends only with the Three Kings, on 06. January.
Throughout Spain, there are various exciting Christmas traditions and festivities. However, this article is only about typical Spanish Christmas dishes.
Spanish Christmas Food – Traditional Christmas dishes from Spain
Just as not all families in Germany eat potato salad and sausages, there are some differences in Spain depending on the family, tradition, and province. That’s why I’m not only describing how our family celebrates Christmas – we combine typical Catalan and Aragonese traditions – but I’ve also picked out the most popular dishes from different Spanish provinces.
This way you will get a better overview of popular dishes and meals in the various parts of the country. Let’s start chronologically with the appetizers.
Spanish Christmas appetizers
The first Spanish Christmas appetizer takes us to Extremadura, where this dish is traditionally eaten during the holidays. Ajoblanco Extremeño is a recipe from grandmother’s time that is still very popular today.
You can think of it as a mixture of gazpacho and alioli. Because its main ingredients are garlic, egg yolk, bread, tomato, and cucumber. While in gazpacho, the tomatoes are the main ingredient, in ajoblanco, the main ingredient is garlic. You eat the mixture as a kind of cold soup.
Escudella de Nadal
Let’s move on to a Catalan Christmas appetizer that is also a tradition in our family. Escudella de Nadal (Christmas Escudella) is – as the name suggests – the Christmas version of the popular Escudella soup.
This is a traditional noodle soup served in Catalonia during the Christmas season. The clear broth is made from various meats and vegetables. It is then served with chickpeas and the typical shell-shaped noodles called galets.
The traditional escudella, on the other hand, is often served with different meats, such as carn d’olla, during the cold season, even outside of Christmas.
Chicharrones con sal, pimienta, aceite y limón
When it comes to typical dishes in Spain, the region of Andalusia, of course, can not be missed. After all, the country owes some of its most popular dishes to this region in the south.
One of these popular Andalusian dishes is the Chicharrones Andaluces. Nowadays, these are also eaten with pleasure and frequently outside the south. However, they are prevalent in their hometown of Cádiz.
Andalusian chicharrones consist of roasted pork. This can traditionally be made from different parts of the pig, such as the stomach. At Christmas, chicharrones are a favorite appetizer served with sal, pimienta, aceite y limón (salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon).
Food that ends up on the table of most Spanish families at Christmas (except for vegetarian families, of course) is the typical Spanish ham.
Here, a distinction is made between Iberian and Serrano ham. However, both are called Jamón and are consumed throughout the year, but especially at Christmas.
Many Spanish employees even receive a whole ham leg as a Christmas gift from their work, which they can either cut themselves or have a butcher cut into smaller thin slices.
In addition to ham and other types of embutido (cold cuts), various types of marisco (seafood) can be found on the appetizer plate throughout Spain at Christmas.
Shrimp and prawns are particularly popular. Even Spanish children know the best way to peel them, whether with their fingers or with a knife and fork.
But also other types of seafood, such as mussels are loved in Spain at Christmas.
Pastel de Kabratxo (Cabracho)
Let’s move on to another Christmas delicacy, the Pastel de Kabratxo. This one originates from the Basque Country, but is now also enjoyed in other parts of Spain at Christmas time.
Although it is called pastel (cake), it is not a dessert. In fact, the cake is made from cabracho (red scorpion fish). It is prepared with leek, onion, eggs, and other ingredients and served as an appetizer. It is often eaten together with toasted bread.
Due to its strong flavor, cabracho is perfect for making fish cake. If you like it a little milder, you can substitute this strong fish with hake.
Other typical appetizers for Christmas in Spain
In addition to the appetizers listed, the following dishes are also popular for Christmas:
- Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) in the Basque Country
- Crema de Almendras (almond soup) in the Balearic Islands
- Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup) in Castile – La Mancha
- Sopa de Trucha (trout soup) in Castile y León
Typical Spanish fish dishes for Christmas
Now that we’ve whetted our appetites with a few typical appetizers, it’s time for the main course. Below, you will find a selection of typical Spanish Christmas dishes with fish served in the different regions of Spain for the holidays.
Merluza en Salsa Verde
Similar to many other Western countries, people in Spain like to eat fish at Christmas. One of the most popular types of fish is hake (merluza). While fish is popular throughout Spain, salsa verde is considered an important dish in the Basque Country.
Salsa Verde is quick and easy to prepare, which also makes it a popular option outside of the Christmas holidays. The green sauce consists mainly of parsley and garlic.
The finished dish is served with various side dishes, depending on the region and the family’s preference. The most popular among them are eggs, white asparagus, and peas.
Bacalao al Ajoarriero
Another very popular type of fish in Spain, not only at Christmas, is cod (bacalao). While there are a wide variety of preparation forms and recipes throughout Spain, bacalao al ajoarriero is considered one of the most popular.
Generally, this is salted bacalao prepared with various vegetables in a pan.
This Spanish cod dish, which is mainly enjoyed in the northern part of the country (León, Aragón, Navarre, Cuenca, and parts of the Basque Country), has various recipes and preparation methods. Garlic, onions, tomatoes, and peppers are particularly popular. Some families prefer to prepare the fish with potatoes.
Besugo al Horno
Another type of fish that is particularly popular at Christmas in the central part of Spain, such as the Madrid region, is besugo. This fish, which belongs to the sea bream family and is rather unknown in most other European countries, is considered a long Christmas tradition in many Spanish families.
The exquisite fish is usually baked whole in the oven with lemon and onion and then served with potatoes.
Since the high-quality fish exceeds the Christmas budget for many families, some Spanish families substitute the recipe with white bream, sea bass, dorado, or other traditional fish.
Typical Spanish meat dishes for Christmas
While in the previous part we dealt with the most popular fish dishes in Spain at Christmas, now we turn to the traditional meat dishes.
One of the most traditional Christmas dishes in Spain is Carna Guisada. This meat stew has been firmly rooted in Spanish culture for years, and many families have their own recipe that they cook every Christmas.
Even though the meat (carne) can theoretically be chosen freely, most use veal for it. This is then cooked in a stew with various vegetables such as peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes.
The meat stew is popular throughout Spain and varies depending on the region and family tradition.
Cochinillo or Cordero Asado
In Spain, many people like to eat a hearty roast at Christmas. Among those, lamb (cordero) and suckling pig (cochinillo) are especially popular.
As with many of the other dishes on this list, the preparation method of the two meat dishes can vary depending on the region and family tradition. While the lamb is considered a popular Christmas food throughout the country, suckling pig is especially eaten in the region around Segovia in Castile and Leon. That is why it is often referred to as Cochinillo de Segovia.
Both dishes are prepared with very few ingredients to bring out the natural flavor of the meat.
Pavo al Horno
Roast turkey is not only popular for Thanksgiving in the USA. For many Spanish families, this bird also returns to the table every year at Christmas.
While some resort to pre-cut meat, the turkey (pavo) is traditionally stuffed whole and then baked in the oven (“al horno“). The stuffing may vary according to family tradition, but often includes prunes, apple, and bacon.
For the decoration of the bird, on the other hand, people like to use fruits such as oranges or grapes.
Let’s move on to a typical Catalan Christmas tradition: Carn d’olla (Engl. potted meat). Traditionally, these are the boiled meats that are used in the preparation of the aforementioned escudella.
For several hours, the vegetables are cooked with different meats. Then the meat is separated from the broth. While the broth is served as escudella with the galets (pasta), the meat is typically the main dish. It is usually eaten together with the chickpeas used for the soup.
After the Catalans ate the typical Carn d’Olla on the first day of Christmas, there is another typical Catalan Christmas tradition. Namely, the leftovers of the meat d’Olla are used for the canelons that are traditionally served on the second day of Christmas (San Esteban).
The delicious canelons are the Catalan version of the Italian cannelloni and are prepared in a similar way. After filling the large pasta tubes with the meat from the previous day, they are covered with a creamy bechamel sauce and baked in the oven.
Carne de Cabra or Conejo en Salmorejo
Let’s travel now from the Iberian Peninsula to the Canary Islands. Here, too, you can find a few typical Christmas dishes. Especially goat meat and rabbit are consumed as a festive roast.
Especially the goat meat (Carne de Cabra) is typical for the Canary Islands and is popular there even outside Christmas. Although the dish is widely eaten in the Canary Islands, carne de cabra is said to have a certain South American influence due to its strong flavor.
The second typical dish is Conejo en Salmorejo. This is rabbit meat in salmorejo sauce (not to be confused with the Andalusian salmorejo). Salmorejo sauce consists of the main ingredients of white wine, red wine vinegar, garlic, and bell pepper.
Although the rabbit en Salmorejo is now one of the most famous dishes of the Canary Islands, it is believed that the original recipe actually comes from Aragon.
Let’s talk about a dish that certainly not everyone is directly drawn to: snails. While plenty of families in Spain will certainly avoid eating this dish, caracoles are still one of the traditional Christmas dishes in Spain.
Depending on the region and preference, there are various ways to prepare them and side dishes that are served with the snails. I must admit, the dishes always smell very good. (My father-in-law is a big fan and always likes to order the snails when we go out to eat together). Despite everything, I just can’t bring myself to try the caracoles.
However, if you like to try new things and maybe you already have a taste for them, you shouldn’t miss this delicacy for Christmas.
Typical Spanish Christmas desserts
What would Spanish Christmas be without turrón? You can buy them in numerous varieties in every supermarket as early as November. These delicious sweet bars can probably best be compared with (Turkish) nougat.
The traditional Turrón varieties are divided into the hard Turrón (Turrón Duro) with whole almonds and the soft Turrón (Turrón Blando) like the classic Turrón de Jijona.
Nowadays, however, there are all kinds of varieties such as chocolate, nougat, or even filled with Oreo cookies.
Polvorones and Mantecados
These yummy treats are one of my favorite Spanish Christmas snacks. Polvorones are not only super delicious but also fun to eat. They are usually wrapped in paper and served in powder form – hence their name. Before eating, you must first squeeze them between your palms so they don’t fall apart when eating.
Polvorones are often served together with mantecados. Although they are similar in appearance, they differ in that the mantecados are made with butter. This makes their consistency less crumbly than the polvorones. Mantecados also contain almonds and usually a few Christmas spices such as cinnamon.
Similar to Germany, Spain cannot do without marzipan at Christmas time. The production takes place with similar basic ingredients as in Central Europe (almonds and sugar) and therefore tastes quite alike.
Particularly popular are the Mazapán de Soto (Rioja) and Toledo. Marzipan in Spain, which originally came to Spain and then the rest of Europe through the Muslims, still has an Arabic influence. Especially with the marzipan from Soto, this influence can still be observed.
Another sweet delicacy at Christmas time in Spain is the Frutas Confitadas (candied fruits). Similar to other European countries, they can be found on various Christmas pastries, such as the Roscón de Reyes, a cream-filled wreath served every year on January 6.
You can find this candied fruit either chopped (e.g., cubed) or sliced (e.g., orange or lemon slices).
The candying process is done by removing water from the fruit, and adding sugar. This provides the subsequent sweetness of the fruit.
Let’s get to the last Christmas specialty on our list and one of my favorites: churros. Nowadays, the lengthy deep-fried shortbread has also long since made it to international Christmas markets. Moreover, today it is also widespread in the Latin American area. However, the popular pastry has its origins on the Iberian Peninsula.
Here, you can theoretically find churros at any time of year. But they taste perfect in winter. Then you can enjoy them freshly fried and warm with a cup of hot chocolate. The chocolate served with the churros is usually very thick and creamy, making it perfect for dipping the hot pastry in.
Traditionally, churros are especially enjoyed for breakfast on January 06, the day of the Three Kings. This is also a tradition in our family.
More about Christmas in Spain
Got a taste for it? What dish would you like to try in Spain at Christmas time? Maybe you have a favorite dish that didn’t make our list? Let us know in the comments below!