Christmas time in Spain focuses on delicious, high-quality food. Hopefully, this comprehensive list of traditional Spanish Christmas foods and recipes will inspire you to try something new over the holidays.
Table of contents
- Appetizers & Entremeses
- Seafood Dishes
- Other Main Dishes
- Spanish Christmas Sweets
- 3 King’s Day
Living in a new country can be especially difficult during the holidays. When I first moved to Spain in 1997, I missed some of my old holiday traditions.
Luckily, I was able to soothe my sorrows in some delicious Spanish food. In fact, I have to admit that I prefer traditional Spanish Christmas food to what I was eating back home.
So, what do they eat in Spain at Christmas time?
While it may slightly vary from region to region, one thing probably holds true for the entire country: Christmas is the time to buy and serve the highest quality foods that you can afford.
Appetizers & Entremeses
Before the main meal is served, it very typical for people to have a glass of vermouth or wine while snacking on a variety of small snacks.
One of the most common of these is a platter with sliced serrano ham, cured sausages, cheeses, olives, and other small treats typically referred to as “entremeses.”
Entremeses are meant to give you something to snack on while waiting for the main dishes to arrive, but also serve as a way to clear your palate between dishes.
They are often served with crusty Spanish bread and some aioli for spreading on it. For those who want to give making aioli a try, check out my easy recipe…
Each year, we buy a high-quality jamón serrano for Christmas. Jamón serrano is a type of salt-cured ham that is typical to Spain and that can often be found in high-end Christmas baskets here.
We choose hams that are at least 50% Iberian breed, the “pata negra” hams (those that normally have black hooves) which have an intense flavor and with the fat perfectly integrated into the meat. This makes them smoother and less dry.
The best serrano hams come from free-range pigs that ate only grass and acorns (although in some cases that only applies to the last months of their lives). Their restricted, wild food diet, of course, comes with a significant rise in price.
We usually buy our ham at the beginning of December and snack on a few thin slices each day over the course of the next month or so, until it’s gone. Some ham slices also find their way to our entremeses platter at Christmas.
Chorizo and other sausages
Christmas baskets also include delicacies like manchego cheese, chorizo ibérico, and a good bottle of red wine. (They also have a lot of Christmas sweets. More on that below…)
If you can’t find a good quality chorizo where you live, why not try making it yourself?
Seafood is also very popular here in Spain during the holidays, especially along the coast.
Denia’s Red Prawns
My husband’s boat fishes for the famous red prawns of Denia. They are probably the most prized seafood this time of year, at least in our area of Spain. So prized, that the largest-sized prawns can sell for over 200 Euros a kilogram in the days right before Christmas!
The Denia red prawns are prized as one of the most flavorful and highest quality shrimp. They have helped Denia earn a denomination as a UNESCO city of gastronomy. (In fact, the logo for the city happens to be a red prawn.)
While they are most prized by the people in the Valencian community, people from all over Spain love serving them at their Christmas Eve feast.
The Denia red prawns are often served with cigalas and langostinos in beautiful platters called “mariscadas.” Cigalas are a type of small rock lobster and langostinos are other types of shrimp.
Depending on the region of Spain, the mariscadas often also include shellfish such as mussels and “navajas.” They may also feature lobster tails and different types of crabs.
Other popular seafood dishes
Other prized (and expensive) Christmas treats from Northern Spain include angulas and percebes.
Angulas are small baby eels that are served whole in what looks like a platter of thin noodles. Percebes, on the other hand, are a type of barnacle from the region of Galicia.
Berberechos (cockles) are another expensive and popular treat. As are navajas (razor shells), vieras (scallops), and tellinas (coquina clams).
Somewhat less pricey, one can also find almejas (clams) or mejillones (mussels) at many a Christmas feast.
It isn’t all about shellfish, though. Some people prefer to serve fish like besugo (sea bream), rape (monkfish), or the less expensive bacalao (cod).
Seafood recipes to try
Many of these Spanish seafood dishes find their way to our Christmas Eve dinner.
Other Main Dishes
While seafood is probably the most common choice along the coast, there are other prized meats that are popular during the holidays. Even along the coast, many holiday menus feature seafood appetizers and side platters with a main meat dish.
One of the most commonly seen specialty meats this time of year is cochinillos, or suckling pigs.
I have to admit that, even after years of being here, as a mother I have a hard time seeing 2-6 week old baby piglings at the meat counter. While it’s not something I’ve ever served, this wouldn’t be a complete listing of traditional Spanish Christmas food if I didn’t at least mention them.
The suckling pigs are normally halved and roasted and served in one piece on a platter, with head, hooves and all. I’m sure it is delicious, but, again, it’s something I have personally never tried.
If suckling pigs turn you off too, don’t worry. There are plenty of other traditional options.
Some people choose to roast a turkey, or a capon (a rooster that has been castrated and fed a special diet to make it more flavorful).
Lamb dishes are also popular at Christmas meals.
My mother-in-law usually makes a Valencian puchero on Christmas Day. She serves the broth alongside our tasty Christmas Eve dinner leftovers.
Puchero is a traditional winter stew filled with hearty meats and lots of root vegetables. The broth is often served with rice or tiny pasta noodles referred to as fideos.
This is probably one of our favorite winter recipes.
While some people may start off the meal with an aperitif like Bitter Kas, beer, or a glass of vermouth, most people have Spanish wine with their holiday meals.
No Spanish Christmas meal would be complete without a good bottle of Spanish wine. My favorite is vino tinto (red wine).
In the past, I almost always favored red wines from the Ribero del Duero region or the more famous Rioja wines. Nowadays, though, the Valencian community offers some of my favorite wines. I also quite like those from El Bierzo. They don’t have that oak-y flavor I normally love, but as a trade off are very smooth.
For those who prefer white wine, my region, Alicante, serves up some of the best white wines made with moscatel grapes. These sweet grapes add a nice touch of sweetness to even the drier wines of the region. That makes for a well-balanced wine that isn’t too dry nor too sweet.
After dinner drinks
Once the meal is over, desserts are usually served with a bottle of Spanish sparkling cider, and/or a quality Spanish cava. A shot of liqueur often follows them.
Cavas are Spain’s sparkling wines. They are made in the traditional champagne method, but use the more local grape varieties. Most Spanish cava comes from the Catalonia region. Cava can be sweet, semi sweet or dry (brut).
While it is usually served alone, cava also finds its ways into mixed drinks or cocktails. At holidays, sorbetes combine cava with lemon ice cream or slushies.
Another regional drink made with cava is the delicious agua de Valencia made with freshly squeezed orange juice.
Some people prefer drinking a glass of sidra with their holiday sweets instead. Sidras are hard ciders made from apples in Northern Spain. Asturias is especially known for their delicious ciders.
After dessert and coffee, many restaurants will offer a shot of a liqueur on the house. In my region, the most popular liqueur offered is mistella, a locally made wine liqueur.
Other sweet choices are apple schnapps and limoncello or creamier drinks like crema de orujo. On the less sweet side is plain orujo.
Orujo is distlled, mainly in Northern Spain, from the residual grapes after wine production. Orujo is often served plain, but also served infused with herbs meant to be digestive. This infused orujo is called orujo de hierbas. (I wrote more about infusing digestive herbs in my post about how to make bitters.)
Spanish Christmas Sweets
While some of the foods already presented are common all around the world at Christmas time, what really sets Spain apart is its wide array of traditional Spanish Christmas treats. Here, almonds take center stage and are the protagonists of most of them.
After holiday meals, one is normally presented with a plate filled with different types of turrón, marzipan, mantecados and polvorones, and other pastries. The are typically served with sidra, cava, or liqueurs such as mistella or orujo.
Traditionally there were two main types of turrón. Turrón de Alicante is a hard nougat fillled with whole almonds. Turrón de Jijona is a softer, creamier tablet made from an almond paste.
The traditional versions of turrón were made from almonds, honey, sugar, and eggs. Nowadays, though, you can find all sorts of “turrones” in the stores. My son’s favorite is a white chocolate turrón with crispy white rice.
Pretty much any bar of chocolate or any sort of sweet paste formed into a bar for cutting and serving at Christmas time is now referred to as turrón. In fact, each year, crazier non-traditional turrón flavors such as “bubble gum” and “chorizo” show up on the market. While I love the unusual and wacky, I’m not too sure about either of those. 😉
For those ready to try their hand at making the more traditional turrones, I have a couple of recipes up on the blog…
Some of the other traditional sweets vary by region.
In my area, the Valencian community, pastissets de boniato are probably the most common Christmas pastry.
The outer pastry is sometimes made with wheat flour and other times made with only almond flour. The filling also varies. While the more common pastissets use a white sweet potato filling called dulce de boniato, others are filled with an almond paste or cabello de angel (a sweet made from a specific type of pumpkin).
For those wanting to try making pastissets de boniato, I have recipes for both the pastries and the filling on the blog.
Mantecados and polvorones
Also normally made with ground almonds, mantecados and polvorones are smooth and silky cookies that are popularly served at Christmas. They are normally made in Southern Spain. An Andalusian town called Estepa is the most famous for distributing a wide variety of these cookies all over Spain.
The most traditional mantecados use lard as the fat, giving the cookies a distinctive flavor unlike any other cookie I’ve tried. (Their name comes from “manteca” which means lard.) That said, you can now find mantecados and polvorones made with olive oil instead. They are also often flavored, and you can find everything from chocolate mantecados to coconut flavored ones.
I love making mantecados, especially because I find the store-bought varieties to be too sweet. I have included both a traditional recipe and a gluten-free adaptation for those who need it.
Mazapán (Marzipan Candy)
Finishing up the list of Spanish holiday treats is yet another almond-based sweet. Mazapán, or marzipan candy, is a sweet that is made from a sweet almond paste. The almond paste is formed into figures and then briefly cooked to give a golden brown appearance and a slightly crunchy exterior.
Marzipan candy is a simple recipe that kids love helping to make.
3 King’s Day
If you are planning a Spanish Christmas dinner, hopefully I’ve given you some inspiration for creating the perfect feast.
So, when the holidays are winding down back home in the US, Christmas in Spain is just getting started.
Roscón de Reyes
The final day of the Christmas holiday, 3 King’s day brings a holiday treat of its own. Roscón de Reyes, served on that day, is a ring shaped cake that is often served filled with cream, chocolate cream, or cabello de angel.
What’s even more fun about this cake, though, is that it normally hides a couple of treats inside. If, when eating your slice, you find a small figurine, you should be crowned king of the table. On the other hand, if you are unlucky enough to find a small bean instead, tradition states that you should be the one to pay for the cake.
This post was originally published on December 25, 2015. It was rewritten, adding more food ideas and recipes in December of 2019.
Wherever you may be, I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!