15 Traditional Spanish Christmas Foods in the Valencia Community
We know the holiday season in Spain has truly begun, when the traditional Spanish Christmas foods are made available to savor. They demonstrate some of the oldest gastronomical traditions that have been passed down and treasured for generations. Some are enjoyed all throughout Spain, and some are distinct to a particular region. Having spent Christmas in various regions of Spain, we feel like it’s taken these few years to get our heads (and stomachs) around all the different Spanish Christmas foods.
So, since our town of Denia is a Creative City of Gastronomy, we met with local friends at Denia’s Office of Innovation and Creativity to broaden our palate with the local gastronomy at this festive time of year. It makes for such a delicious Christmas, that we wanted to share with you these fifteen Spanish Christmas foods that are traditional in the Valencia Community and Spain.
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The Savory Dishes (Salados) of Spanish Christmas Foods
#1 – The Puchero de Navidad
A slow-cooked stew of various vegetables and meat, the Puchero de Navidad (spelled Putxero in Valencian) is one of the most popular savory dishes to enjoy at this time of year in the Valencia Community. This is usually enjoyed at lunch time, because it’s a lot of food and can tend to be a heavier meal. It’s typical to see it advertised as the main menu del dia for a particular day of the week, and is also served throughout most of year.
For the first course is a large bowl of fideos (short, thin noodles) in light broth, which is brought out to share. It reminded us of chicken noodle soup growing up, but minus the chicken. Then, even though it’s been cooked as a stew, the main course is served on separate large plates. There’s a plate of garbanzos, a plate of various meats, and a plate of the cooked vegetables and meats. Some variations also include a plate of embutidos (cured, dry sausages).
The plate of cooked vegetables and meats, consists of root vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and carrots, and large chunks of slow-cooked pork and beef roast. Along with the meats is also an essential part, the pilota, which is like a large meatball, made of ground pork, egg, piñon nuts, and seasonings like cinnamon and cardamom. These pilotas come wrapped and cooked in cabbage leaves. Let’s not forget one other main ingredient of puchero, the tocino, which is a large hunk of porkbelly fat. Many Spaniards love to spread this on their bread or meat like butter.
In the days after having Puchero, it’s very typical to use the leftovers, especially the broth, for making other dishes. These tend to be croquetas or rice dishes that are dry or caldoso (with broth). Any leftover meat, garbanzos and vegetables, are fried with olive oil and garlic, and in other parts of Spain this is called ropa vieja.
We enjoyed this delicious and very traditional Puchero de Navidad at one of our favorite local restaurants in Denia, Tasca Eulalia. They serve it throughout most of the day, one or two days out of the week. It is definitely a place where we would have it again.
#2 – Bullit (Hervido)
Above Image – Photo credit to Lola Garcia from Cocinando con Lola Garcia.
Bullit is a Valencian word for boil, which is hervido in Castilian Spanish. It’s made of potatoes, green beans, onion and carrot. In more recent times, people have expanded the recipe to include gambas that are either boiled or grilled.
Essentially, this dish is like a stew, and is similar to the puchero but a little lighter. Throughout most of Spain, but especially the Mediterranean and Iberian Islands, this is also made with fish that is cooked with the rest of the ingredients, making for a great seafood stew.
#3 – The Gamba Roja de Denia
These are not just any gambas (and not to be confused with those from Huelva). The Gamba Roja de Denia are some of the most sought-out gambas in Spain. Chefs, even Michelin-star chefs, really love them. They’re unique to the Mediterranean waters just off the coast of Denia and live in a very deep trench.
The Gamba Roja de Denia is meant to be served as fresh as possible, and is typically boiled and then chilled for serving.
While the Gamba Roja de Denia are savored year-round, they especially accompany Christmas dinner for many local families. And what a nice gift they are – during the holiday season, their price can start at 200€ a kilo!
Other Savory Spanish Christmas Foods
Above Image – The cochinillo asado served at Restaurante Botín in Madrid.
There are other savory dishes that are not as traditional to the Valencia region, but are still enjoyed here. They are the more typical dishes of other parts of Spain.
For example, in Madrid and its surrounding areas, the cochinillo asado (oven-roasted, suckling pig) is a very popular dish, year-round and especially at Christmas. If you’re in the historic center of Madrid, we recommend visiting the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Botín, for their world-renown cochinillo asado.
Other savory dishes enjoyed as Spanish Christmas foods are roasted lamb and various kinds of fish and seafood.
In the region of Extremadura, where Amalia’s mother lives, they especially love making a roasted leg of lamb for Christmas Dinner. Usually slow-cooked in the oven, it’s a common dish that is deliciously seasoned by local herbs and accompanied by potatoes and other roasted vegetables.
The Sweets (Dulces) of Spanish Christmas Foods
Above Image – The Agulló bakery; one of the best in our town of Denia, Spain.
#4 – Buñuelos de Calabaza
These are some of our favorite Spanish pastries, and we could eat them any time of the year. They’re a kind of doughnut made from flour and pumpkin. In Spanish the word buñuelo means fritter (or what we Americans know as doughnuts), and calabaza is pumpkin.
The doughy yummy goodness of buñuelos de calabaza comes from just the right mixture of flour and pumpkin. A local, older woman in Denia told us that the really good ones are made with more pumpkin and as little flour as possible. They’re then fried in olive or sunflower oil and served with sprinkled sugar on top. Or, as we had at a friend’s home here in Denia recently, alongside a bowl of sugar and you dip the buñuelos in yourself, getting sugar on either side to your liking.
Buñuelos de calabaza are not found in stores, although sometimes in restaurants. Instead, they’re typically made at home and usually by the older generations, the grandmothers and mothers. But during Valencia’s huge Fallas Festival in March of each year, they’re even more popular and can be found being made fresh by street vendors. Overall, they are very traditional to the Valencia Community.
Read More: Fallas in Valencia and Our ‘Falla’ About It
#5 – Pastissets de Moniato and Pastissets de Almendra
What a mouthwatering new discovery these have been for us. We are hooked! This season has been the first time we’ve ever had Pastissets de Moniato, although we’ve yet to find and try their twin, Pastissets de Almendra. And let us tell you, they are delectable and addictive.
Pastissets is a Valencian word for empanada, which is what these perfect little pastries are. But while some cultures know empanadas to be savory, they are in this case sweet. They are both made of a dough and then stuffed with a particular confit. Don’t let the names deceive you though; what’s inside may be more than what you think.
The Pastissets de Moniato are made with a dough of flour and licor de anís (liquor of anise). They are then stuffed with a confit of sweet potato, which is very much in texture like marzipan, but a little lighter. In the Valencian language, the word for sweet potato is moniato and in Castilian it is boniato. So sometimes, you can see them named either way, but throughout the region of Valencia they are known more so by moniato.
For the Pastissets de Almendra, the dough is made with almendras (almonds) and then stuffed with cabello de ángel, which is a confit of pumpkin and sidra (natural hard cider). These are also traditional in the southern area of Murcia.
Both types of pastissets are then sprinkled with a light dusting of cinnamon and spices, and baked. The result is a gorgeously, scrumptious bronzed outer crust and sweet, jam-like inside. They are just bursting with flavor, which if done traditionally, are not the processed sweet, but a natural, delicate sweetness that is just divine.
By early and mid-December, the local bakeries here start making the pastissets. We found that most of the traditional panaderías or pastelerías (bakeries), offer them, like one of our favorites in the Mercado Central of Denia.
But our favorite in Denia, for this and other pastries and breads, is the Forn Sapena. This bakery has been run by the same local family for over 45 years, and they have their own ovens, that are just as old. At Forn Sapena is where we found the best Pastissets de Moniato are made.
#6 – Coques Cristina
This is a fun one to learn about, but at first glance can be confusing when visiting the area. You see, throughout the Valencia Community, coques (or cocas in Castilian) can be savory or sweet. The savory ones are like little personal pizzas. And the sweet kind (which we’re talking about here) is like a pound cake, but lighter and made with ground almonds, flour and egg.
The Coques Cristina are also referred to as Cocas María, and are typical pastries year-round. Yet at Christmas time, they are even more in demand. There can also be different flavors, like Coca de Manzana, with apple slices and cinnamon baked into the top. But for Christmas, the Coques Cristina are the more typical sweet coques to enjoy. It was not a surprise to us that the Forn Sapena in Denia also makes these very well.
#7 – Panfígols
This particular pastry is described in Spanish as a ‘bread’, but to us it is more like a fruit cake and way better. There’s no flour and instead, it is made of dried figs (higos secos) pressed together with almonds and other nuts.
Sometimes they’re in the shape of a round circle, or square or rectangular bars. For serving, people will cut it into bite-size wedges and serve after a meal with liquors and coffee.
We have found there to be similar versions of this throughout Spain, but otherwise can find very little information on it because it is traditionally from the Marina Alta area of the Valencia Region. It’s name is also in Valencian.
#8 – Coquetes de Sagí
Above Image – Photo credit to Dulces Frivolidades on WordPress.com.
When learning about the Coquetes de Sagí, we were told that they are muy calórico, which pretty much means a calorie bomb. And it’s easy to see why.
Their main ingredient is manteca de cerdo, which is pig lard or butter made from pig fat. Add to that olive or sunflower oil, sugar, flour, cinnamon and egg whites, and you have these buttery cookies that melt in your mouth. For us, it’s the shortbread cookie meets the butter cookie, and had delicious babies together.
While they are typically round in shape, during the holiday season you can find them in the shape of stars or hearts, or round with a cross-shape or hashtag-shape pressed into the top.
#9 – Turrón
Ah, the Turrón. Now here is the most typical, iconic candy of Spanish Christmas Foods. Going all the way back to the 15th century, Turrón was originally derived from the Muslim culture, and is a very traditional dessert of toasted almonds and honey.
Known as a Valencian confection, it is enjoyed all throughout Spain. The area it came from, and still does today, is the town of Jijona (or Xixona in Valencian), which is located north of Alicante in the Valencia Region. Today, it is especially made and savored in countries that were under the Spanish Empire before, like Italy, Portugal, and even Brazil.
There are different varieties of consistency and appearance, but all are made in the form of a brick-like bar. Although the main ingredients are the same, the final product is either hard and crunchy or soft and chewy.
The two different kinds of traditional Spanish Turrón are classified as the following:
- The Jijona variety is the soft kind and contains more almond (at least 64%), along with eggs, honey and sugar. It is made by reducing the almonds to a paste with the other ingredients, and adding oil to make the mixture more soft and chewy.
- The Alicante variety is the hard kind, where the almonds are whole within a brittle consistency of the ingredients, and only made of 60% almonds.
Today, it has become popular throughout Spain to add new ingredients to Turrón, making even more varieties. There’s chocolate, marzipan, coconut or caramel, with or without liquor, with puffed rice, candied fruits or whole nuts. Take your pick! Even sugarless variations now exist.
Our favorite is the soft kind, from Jijona, that is more simple and traditional. It’s referred to as Turrón a la Piedra, because it’s made the artisan way in a stone bowl. This variation usually has a slight touch of lemon zest and cinnamon, but otherwise remains true to using only the basic ingredients.
One of the most authentic places to get it from, is our favorite Turrón makers in Denia, Miquel Gelater, which is located on the Marques de Campo in the center of town. We especially love the story of this family owned business. The owners, Marco and Inma Miquel, each come from families that for generations have been carrying on the artisan recipes for ice cream and for Turrón. Combined, they have their shop in Denia, Miquel Gelater, where they sell their handmade varieties of both sweets.
In the winter, Miquel Gelater is closed, except for two weeks in December when they open just to sell Turrón for the holiday season. Then they go to their hometown, Jijona, for the holidays and to make more Turrón, because for it to be true, Spanish Turrón, it must be made in the designated origin of denomination (D.O.). This is the classification system used to designate the authenticity of products, like wine, Spanish jamon, and even the delicious Turrón.
For every Christmas now, we buy our Turrón from Miquel Gelater, especially for giving as gifts to our family members. Every year, our families just go nuts for it and are hooked. It’s so good, that it never lasts long, and rarely makes it to New Year’s.
#10 – Mazapán
Above Image – Photo credit to MadridFoodTour.com.
Who doesn’t know Marzipan, or in Spanish, Mazapán? But you may not know of it as the Spanish do. While marzipan is well-known throughout the world for being used in other pastries and recipes, during Christmas time in Spain, it is primarily enjoyed by itself as small candies.
In Spain, this traditional sweet is made of sugar or honey, almond meal, and sometimes almond oil or extract. There are also different variations of it, like chocolate covered mazapán or molded into different shapes.
One of the most prestigious recipes is from where it originates, in Toledo. Here, it is protected by the designation of origin (D.O.), although it is also made in many other cities throughout Spain. While in Toledo they enjoy it year-round, it primarily known as a Christmas treat and is most popular for the holidays.
#11 – Rollitos de Limón or Naranja
Rollitos are round cookies that are the consistency of shortbread cookies. They have a hole in the middle and resemble a ribbon formed in the shape of an ‘O’. While we’ve come across some recipes online that describe them as ‘lemon curd rolls’, beware that these are not the same. Those are usually soft and thick, like cinnamon buns.
The rollitos we’re talking about are very common throughout the Valencia region, and while they’re made year-round, they’re especially popular during Christmas. Typically, the flavor is of anise, but during the holidays they make them with lemon or orange flavor. The ingredients are flour, sunflower oil, sugar, yeast, and either orange juice or lemon juice, and sometimes anise as well.
#12 – Arrop i Talladetes
Above Image – Photo credit to La Cunina i el Menjar Alicanti on Blogspot.com.
An ancient recipe of the Valencia Community, Arrop i Talladetes is not made as much any more, but can be found in artisan markets and especially at Christmas time. It is quite unique, and made from the syrup of arrope, which is a reduction that remains after boiling figs and grapes. A little bit of lime is added while it cooks to counteract the acidity.
Then to this concoction is added the chunks or slices traditionally of pumpkin, which is first soaked overnight in water with lime. Today, they also make it with other fruits instead, like peach, melon, plum, or even white pieces of watermelon.
There’s a Valencian expression that something is as sweet as the arrop, or a person is that sweet. It’s no surprise, since its syrupy texture and sugars make it one of the sweeter of Spanish Christmas foods.
#13 – Polvorónes y Mantecados
Polvorónes and Mantecados are another very old and traditional sweet that you will easily find throughout Spain. Among the most popular of Spanish Christmas Foods, they are savored all throughout the country during this season. What’s different from them versus other sweets, is that they are most commonly found in the supermarkets, individually wrapped in different colored wrappers.
Their recipes also date back to the 16th century, and originate from the region of Andalusia. However, today the Mantecados more commonly come from the towns of Toledo, Antequera, and Valladolid. Like small, sweet biscuits, the Mantecados are essentially shortbread cookies that are made with lard.
The Polvorónes are a type of mantecado, but the difference is that they are a little more dry and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Some of the most famous Polvorónes come from the cities of Cádiz, Tordesilla and Almería.
Eating these while perusing Christmas Markets in Spain, can be quite the challenge. They easily crumble and fall apart at one bite, so put as much in your mouth as you can. Otherwise, they are delicious, especially if you like shortbread cookies, and they come in varieties of flavors.
#14 – The Casca or Roscón de Reyes
Above Image – Photo credit to Pastelería La Marina in Madrid.
This has been referred to many times as Spain’s Christmas Cake, but it is actually more typical for Three Kings Day, which is the Day of Epiphany on January 6th. We have experienced that throughout other parts of Spain, particularly Madrid, the Roscón (or Casca in Valencian), has become popular for Christmas Eve and Day as well.
It is like a sweetbread, shaped like a large ‘O’ and topped with sugar and candied fruits. Sometimes they are stuffed with whipped cream or cream, and then topped with different edible decorations. The most popular toppings are candied fruits. But best of all, they have a surprise hidden inside.
Some lucky eater will discover in their slice either a tiny three king figurine or baby Jesus figurine, signifying good luck for the new year. There’s also a dry bean hidden inside, and tradition goes that whoever finds that in their piece, has to pay for the Roscón.
#15 – Arnadí
We’ve saved the most unique and remarkable for last (well, at least we think so). The Arnadí is a dessert that we just learned about from a dear friend who is local to the Valencian area of La Safor. Considered one of the oldest of Valencian recipes, it is very rare today and is mainly made in homes.
The Arnadí consists of pumpkin, sugar, ground almonds, a vegetable oil, eggs, cinnamon and lemon zest. Some variations use a combination of pumpkin and sweet potato, which is what our’s was. It was delicious!
Typically, it is topped with a light, fluffy mascarpone style of frosting or just powdered sugar, and then whole, toasted almonds. Throughout the Valencia Region, it is enjoyed all year round, but also for Christmas and especially on Holy Thursday during Semana Santa (Holy Week).
Surprisingly enough, we just discovered that one of our favorite local restaurants in Denia, Bodega Casa Benjamin, serves Arnadí on their dessert menu. The other night we tried it with friends, and it was pretty good, especially with the cinnamon ice cream that they serve it with. But nothing is like the homemade piece we had brought to us by our friend. That was superb.
The Season for Spanish Christmas Foods
Above Image – One of our favorite bakeries in the Mercado Central of Denia.
When first visiting Spain during Christmas, it can seem overwhelming to learn about the countless Spanish Christmas Foods. But this should give you a good head start. And if you’re living in Spain, you know what we mean – it just takes a matter of time, more Christmas’ spent in Spain, and then you get to know firsthand the gastronomic delights of the holiday season, Spanish style.
Our favorites from all of these, is definitely the Puchero de Navidad for the savory, and for the sweets the Pastissets de Moniato and the Arnadí. We could say that their uniqueness and background adds to their taste. But truth is, their taste alone is incredible and unforgettable, giving that gastronomical touch to the Christmas holidays.
What Spanish Christmas foods have you tasted before? Which ones here would you want to try the most? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
A huge thank you to Toni and his colleagues at Denia’s Office of Innovation and Creativity, for taking time to teach us about these Spanish Christmas foods. ¡Muchísimas gracias y bones festes!
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who are living a traveling lifestyle. Do you love to travel? Perfect! Come along…