Paella, tortilla, croquetas, gazpacho, jamón and chorizo are a few of the dishes that most visitors expect to see on a Spanish menu. And naturally all of those things are widely available in restaurants in the Sierra Nevada region. However, modern Andalusian cuisine offers everything from traditional, hearty plates that are perfect after a long day walking in the mountains through imaginative fusion cuisine to elaborate tasting menus.
Bars and restaurants
The easiest way to sample the local food is to tuck into some tapas and raciones at a bar or restaurant. Almost all bars serve a free tapa with your drink, and typical tapas include pinchos morunos (spicy pork skewers), albacore tuna with roast peppers, deep-fried aubergine with honey, pork stew, deep-fried fish, tortilla and mini hamburgers. Less traditional, but equally delicious, are curry, sushi, hummus and fajitas.
Raciones, which are bigger plates for sharing, include all kinds of salads (always served as a starter), cheeses and cured meats, roast vegetables, meatballs, pork tenderloin, lamb, steak and a wide variety of fish and seafood. A plato alpujarreño is a very hearty plate of sausage, morcilla (blood sausage), pork loin, ham, fried egg, and potatoes cooked with peppers. Vegetarian dishes are now widely available, and there are a few vegan restaurants in the city of Granada.
If you’re able to splash out, a tasting menu is another good option, because you get to taste 5-10 carefully selected dishes, with the staff explaining the ingredients in each one.
Granada’s central market
The Mercado San Agustín was established in the 19th century, although the current building dates from the 1990s. It was recently refurbished to incorporate a number of bars as well as the many stalls selling fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. You can taste cold meats, cheeses and wines at some of the stalls, and the bars serve tapas using fresh ingredients from the market.
A growing number of local food producers also open their doors to visitors, offering tastings and tours of their installations. Most also have a shop where you can buy their products.
Olive oil is the staple of Andalusian cooking – you need copious amounts of it for classic dishes like croquetas, gazpacho, tortilla and patatas a lo pobre. And it’s easy to see why it’s so popular here: around 45% of the world’s olive oil is produced in Spain, and 80% of that comes from Andalusia. Jaen province, just to the north of Granada, is the heart of the industry, but Granada also produces a lot of olive oil.
Not all olive oils are created equal. The first cold extraction of oil from the fruit produces the prized extra virgin olive oil, provided that it meets a number of strict quality standards. Then there are the many different varieties of olives, such as picual, gordal, hojiblanca and arbequina, each with their own particular flavour. Some are sharp and strong, others sweet and delicate. Organic olive oil is also becoming increasingly common.
Olive oil tourism (oleoturismo) is growing in popularity, and there are various producers where you can do tastings, learn all about how olive oil is produced, see a traditional olive press and have a wander around the olive groves.
Granada’s wines used to have a reputation for being rather mediocre, but that has changed dramatically since we moved here in 2006. Many wineries have invested heavily in new equipment and started to take a far more professional and scientific approach to winemaking. As a result, there are now many excellent wines available, although there isn’t really a typical Granadan style of wine. This partly reflects the huge climatic variations between areas, and partly the many different grape varieties grown – red wines are made from Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha (Grenache), Syrah (Shiraz), Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, while white wines may use Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscatel, Pedro Ximénez and the local grape Vigiriego.
The main winemaking areas are in the Geopark in the north of the province (around Guadix and Baza), and the rolling hills of the Contraviesa range between the Alpujarras and the Mediterranean.
Various wineries offer tastings and guided tours. In some cases you can just turn up when they’re open, while for others you will need to book ahead. A few even have restaurants and/or accommodation – Señorio de Nevada is a great option in a very convenient location near Cónchar, close to the motorway from Granada to the coast.
The Sierra Nevada is where the famous cured hams of Trevélez come from. However, if you’re expecting to see pigs roaming the mountains in search of tasty acorns, you’ll be disappointed. The pigs are reared elsewhere, and only after they have been slaughtered are the hams sent to the Alpujarras to cure in the cool, dry mountain air.
The terminology surrounding jamón can be a bit confusing, so here’s a brief guide:
- A jamón serrano is any cured ham, but it is generally assumed that jamón refers to cured ham, so the word serrano is often left out.
- A bodega ham has been cured for 9 to 12 months, a reserva from 12 to 14 months, and a gran reserva for 15 months or more.
The best hams from pure breed Iberian pigs, with their characteristic black hooves. There are various grades of jamón ibérico, depending on how the pigs have been reared:
- Jamón ibérico de bellota: This is the most exclusive grade of ham, with a strong, nutty flavour. It comes from pigs that have freely roamed the hills in search of acorns (bellota in Spanish) and grasses. This gives the pigs more exercise and means they grow more slowly than intensively farmed pigs, making their meat juicier and tastier.
- Jamón ibérico de cebo de campo: Similar to bellota, but the pigs have not eaten enough acorns to qualify as bellota.
- Jamón ibérico de cebo: Also from Iberian pigs, but ones which have been kept in captivity and fed on grain.
You can visit some of the curing cellars, where you will see thousands of hams hanging to cure. And of course you can sample some of the hams, washed down with a glass of local wine.
Cordero Segureño is the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for lambs of the Segureña breed, which are reared in the mountainous region on the borders of Granada, Jaen, Almería, Albacete and Murcia. The lambs are milk-fed until they are three weeks old, and they are slaughtered at an age of sixty to ninety days, when they weigh 22 to 28 kg. The tender meat has a delicate but distinctive flavour.
Spain is most famous for its hard Manchego cheeses, but there are hundreds of small producers who make all kinds of styles of cheeses. In Granada, the best cheeses are generally made from goat’s milk, and 11 cheeses from the province won medals at the 2022 World Cheese Awards. You can also get local sheep cheeses.
Quite a few bars and restaurants offer a mixed plate of local cheeses for you to sample, although Manchego cheese is also popular.
Local fruit and vegetables
The interior of Granada has a climate of extremes: very hot summers and fairly cold winters, with big variations between daytime and night-time temperatures. But the coast has a very mild climate, where it is even possible to tropical grow fruit like mangoes. These contrasts between different areas and times of year mean that there are always plenty of fruit and vegetables in season. Güéjar Sierra is famous for its cherries and the Lecrín Valley for citrus fruit. Quite a few of the villages have festivals based around their fresh produce.
Spring is the season for asparagus, broad beans, artichokes and cherries. In summer you have an abundance of soft fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines, as well as typical Spanish vegetables including peppers, aubergines and courgettes. In autumn, grapes, pears, apples, squash and spinach come into season. And finally, when winter draws in, it’s the turn of citrus fruits, salad leaves, carrots and leeks.