The most typical gastronomy of Santander is based on sea products. Fish and seafood in this place enjoy a well-earned reputation for their quality and freshness, and these dishes predominate in the menu of many restaurants.
Good food is reason enough to visit this city which, on the other hand, has great attractions apart from its gastronomy. The offer is so plural that it can be adapted to all kinds of pockets: from fish taverns and cheap bars with dishes, daily menus and tapas at popular prices to smart restaurants with the most exclusive menus. In any case, the product, if it is local, will be of good quality.
There are fantastic catering establishments distributed all over the city, without exception. However, there are some areas where the offer is a bit more concentrated. For example, the Barrio Pesquero neighbourhood is a long-established place to taste all kinds of sea dishes, especially grilled sardines or seafood paella. La Maruca, on the North coast, would be a good option to try its famous rice with lobster, sardines and mussels in sauce. This last dish is also very well cooked in the premises of Vargas and San Fernando streets, also specializing in a sort of fried squid known as rabas – typical dish of Santander par excellence – and always linked to vermouth and white wine.
A good fellow diner should not leave the city without trying the scorpion fish pie, a tasty soft appetizer which is usually served with mayonnaise or cocktail sauce, and the squids with onions, small tender squids cooked with onions over low heat.
Seafood is another star product thanks to the rough and cold waters of the Cantabrian Sea. The most special shellfish to eat are crayfishes, edible crabs, barnacles and lobsters.
As this is the capital of Cantabria, typical regional products can be tasted in almost every restaurant of Santander, like the anchovies from Santoña, peppers from Isla, clams from Pedreña and tuna from Laredo, among many others.
The region also has high-quality meat, given its long livestock tradition, so you can also enjoy delicious ox steaks, heifer’s entrecotes and minced pork meat known as jijas or chichas, usually served with French fries.
As for the drink, Cantabrian spirits can also be tasted in Santander, including its flagship liquor, the orujo from Liébana. The production of other beverages such as cider, very important in former times, was lost when apple orchards were replaced by meadows to feed the livestock. The same thing happened to txakoli wine, whose production in Cantabria a century and a half ago exceeded that of the Basque Country, which is practically the only place that produces it nowadays.
In recent years tapas have reached the highest levels of perfection and they are a good option for those who want to have an informal lunch or dinner trying the very best food of each house. There are tapas of all types and sizes, from rustic and traditional-flavour to fusion cuisine, depending on the place. The best snacks of this kind can be found in the area going from the City Hall to the neighbourhood of Tetuán. A peculiarity which can be noticed in almost every bar in Santander is that tortillas are stuffed with a wide variety of ingredients (tuna, ham and cheese, Bolognese sauce, mushrooms, prawns…) and then coated with a very thin French omelette. This custom has already spread to other Spanish cities, but Cantabrian people swear it was born here.
The most remarkable watery dishes are fish soup and cocido montañés, a traditional stew with white beans, pork and vegetables. A marine version of this dish would be white beans with clams or chickpeas with prawns and squid, mouth-watering.
For dessert, a good option would be to try some sobaos pasiegos, the little cheeses or quesucos from Liébana, the quesada pasiega or the cheesecake, which is cooked differently in each restaurant. This region’s good milk, the product par excellence in Cantabrian recipes, can also be tasted in curd, fried milk or mantecado ice cream, which is especially popular in the city. In addition to dairy products, desserts made with puff pastry, as polcas from Torrelavega, pantortillas from Cabezón and corbatas from Unquera, are also worthwhile.