Spain is one of my favorite places in the world. Mostly because of the amazing people I've met there, but also for the fantastic food and booze. So naturally when I'm in Spain, I feel the need to stock up on my favorites. Here are my personal recommendations:
Olive Oil - I must say I'm spoiled in this department because my friend's mother makes her own olive oil and I steal it. But there are so many amazing options in markets and shops throughout the country. I try to pick up a new kind every time I visit.
Jamón Ibérico - If you haven't been to Spain, it might be a bit of a shock at first when you see the amount of pig legs that hang from the ceilings of establishments. This is normal. Don't let it discourage you from trying the best cured ham in the world.
Before I went vegetarian, the very first thing I did when I got off of the plane in Spain was stuff my face with serrano. I would just roll up to a shop, grab a cone of shredded meat, and start walking around the city snacking on it. Then I'd go have Huevos Roto, which is potatoes/fries topped with jamon and a fried egg. It is so simple, yet so delicious.
Although I've seen people go through airport security with a whole pig leg (not kidding), I usually just settle for a small package or two from the market.
Saffron - The first dish that usually comes to mind when people think about Spain (especially Valencia) is paella. But paella is nothing without saffron. So when I began recreating this dish at at home, I quickly learned that high quality Spanish saffron is the key. Since this precious spice is super expensive in the states, I try to grab some when I visit Spain.
Manchego - Ok, so taking cheese back is unrealistic, but I eat as much manchego as possible while I'm there.
Ribera del Duero - Wines produced in the region of Ribera del Duero are some of the most flavorful, full-bodied wines I've ever had grace my palate. If you want the very best from the region, go with a Tempranillo.
Cava - I'm a huge fan of Champagne, but not it's price tag. That is why I always go for Spanish Cava. It is made to the same rigorous standard as its French counterpart, but is sold at a fraction of the cost. I can leave with a top shelf Cava for just $20. It's a beautiful thing.
The most popular Cava style amongst locals is the Brut Extra. It's crisp, dry and works wonderfully in cocktails or as an aperitif.
Gin de Menorca - I spent just over a month in Menorca and drank my weight in this delicious local gin. Gin de Menorca, or Gin de Mahon, is one of the only gins in the world to have a geographical indication and allowed its own DO. It is not easy to find outside of Spain (and under $45), so I pick up a bottle whenever I'm in the Balearic Islands.
Estrella - Ok, it's not the best beer in the world, but I have so many fond memories associated with this Barcelona lager that I always have to bring some back home with me. It reminds me of birthday bbqs, sunning in the park, swimming in the sea, and partying until 8am. I crack one open whenever I'm feeling nostalgic.
NON-EDIBLE MUST HAVES
El Caganer - If you're in Catalonia, you gotta grab the pooper for your next nativity scene. It's literally a figurine with its pants down, defecating. It's a symbol of fertility and good fortune, but it also represents equality. (We all gotta poop.)
You can get a traditional figurine of a peasant wearing a barretina (seen above). Or a modern figurine like the queen or Obama. The options nowadays are endless.
Friends - Most people would say that you gotta grab espadrilles (shoes) or a fan, but friends are a must-have for me. I wouldn't have been able to have such amazing experiences in Spain without the help of new and old friends around the country. They've thrown birthday parties for me, shown me what a real street festival looks like, and introduced me to all of the fabulous things above. Don't leave Spain without one.