Spanish Food Lesson for Kids: Facts & History

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Spanish food as we know it today may have a broader array of dishes than any other in the world due to Spain's history as a ruler of many other parts of the world. Learn about the influences that make up Spanish cuisine today.

Different Dishes

Have you ever noticed that if you go to some restaurants, many of the options are pretty similar? Odds are good that you'll get pasta at an Italian restaurant, or curry and rice at an Indian restaurant, or meat and cheese in a tortilla at a Mexican restaurant. Even an American restaurant may have nothing but hamburgers.

Some foods use similar ingredients for a lot of their dishes. Spanish food, on the other hand, has a much more diverse group of dishes because it has influences from all over the world, as Spain brought in different types of food to its huge empire centuries ago.

Location, Location

Take a look at a map of Spain and the first thing you'll probably notice is that it's almost entirely surrounded by water. So would you be surprised to learn that lots of Spanish meals have seafood, like fish, shrimp, crabs and lobster? The Spanish even ate whale meat in the past.

One popular dish is called paella, which is a mixed rice and seafood dish. The flavorful rice is a rich yellow color from the spices and ingredients used. Paella is perhaps the most popular dish in all of Spain.

Spain has a number of mountains as well, where pigs are raised and made into world-famous serrano hams (serrano means mountain in Spanish). The mountains of Spain are also a great place to grow olives and grapes, making Spanish olive oil and wine very popular.

Serrano ham
Spanish ham

Some Spanish food is part of the Mediterranean diet, which includes foods common in southern Europe and northern Africa. Scientists have found that the Mediterranean diet has healthy fats (unlike bad fats in pizza and ice cream!) and is good for your heart. This is one reason why Spain has one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world.

Everyone Come Here

Spanish food has a tremendous variety not only because of its geography but also because of its history. A lot of different types of people have controlled Spain and affected the meals the Spanish eat. For example, Greeks came to live in parts of Spain thousands of years ago, introducing the wine and olive oil that are so well-known. Later, Muslims from northern Africa took control of almost all of Spain, introducing rice to the Spanish diet. They also brought spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg.

A painting of explorer Christopher Columbus returning to Spain after discovering the New World. Columbus brought back new types of food to Spain as well as new people.
Columbus returns to Spain

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