Special Foods for Special Days (Foods of Spain)

Spaniards celebrate their favorite holidays with special foods, many of which the Spanish people have been eating for centuries. Treats like turron (toor-rown), rosea de reyes (roh-scah day ray-yes), and torrijas (tor-ree-has) are beloved and traditional parts of holiday celebrations.

A Classic Christmas Treat

Christmas is a festive time in Spain. Street vendors sell hot roasted chestnuts that fill the air with a delicious aroma. Bakeries and sweet shops are filled with flaky pastries, crumbly biscuits, spongy cakes, and delicious jams that are eaten during the holiday season. What is served for Christmas dinner varies by region and may feature sweet almond soup, turkey, roast lamb or pork, bacalao, crabs, or lobster. But no matter what else is served, in Spain, Christmas would not be Christmas without tur-ron. Spaniards consume 35,000 tons of the sweet every year, almost all of it during the Christmas season.


Turron is a fudgelike candy made from almonds, honey, sugar, and egg whites that Spaniards have been eating for about 1,000 years. The origins of the delectable sweet are uncertain. Historians believe that the Moors, who were known to make a paste of almonds, which is the basis for turron, created the feather-light confection. And, since honey and almonds have been symbols of good luck and prosperity since ancient times, the delicacy became associated with Christmas. In fact, turron has been a part of Spanish Christmas celebrations for so long that in 1584 when the Japanese ambassador visited Spain during the holiday, he was served the traditional sweet. An article on Spain-recipes.com, a Web site dedicated to Spanish cooking, explains, "without a doubt the consumption of turron is intimately linked to the Christmas season in Spain and it could be said that turrones are essential in the menus of these celebrations."13

Special cooks, who are considered highly skilled craftspeople, use ancient recipes that have been passed down for generations to create the confection. These cooks are members of 30 families who produce all the commercially available turron in Spain. To make the sweet treat, the ingredients are slowly cooked. When the mixture thickens and turns brown, it is placed in a rectangular or round wooden mold and left to cool.

Fruit compote can be made with practically any fruit. It can be served right away or put up in jars as gifts.

Fruit compote can be made with practically any fruit. It can be served right away or put up in jars as gifts.

The resulting confection can be hard or soft. Soft turron is made in the Spanish city of Jijona (hee-ho-nah), while the hard variety is made in Alicante (ah-lee-cahn-tay). These two cities have been the world capitals of turron production for 500 years. Turron is so important to these cities that there is a turron museum in Jijona

Fruit Compote

A compote is composed of stewed fruit cooked in syrup. Many Spaniards serve a fruit compote for Christmas dinner. It may feature one fruit such as pears, apples, or peaches, or it may be composed of a number of different fruits, including figs, prunes, raisins, and cherries. This compote features pears and apples.


2 apples, peeled and cut in chunks

2 pears, peeled and cut in chunks % cup sugar

2 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks


1. Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the fruit is soft.

2. Put the fruit in little bowls. Remove the cinnamon sticks. Pour the syrup over the fruit. Serve warm.

with exhibits on the history of the sweet. Museumgoers can visit the factory and see soft turron being made. Because it contains minced almonds, it is light and fluffy. Whole almonds make hard turron crackly and crunchy.

Earning a Gold Seal

Whatever the texture, turron is always made with locally grown almonds and orange blossom or rose-mary honey, which gives it an irresistible taste and fragrance. Only the finest ingredients in specific proportions will do. That is why the Spanish government carefully regulates turron. The best turron earns a gold seal. This proves that the sweet is composed of at least 60 percent nuts and 10 percent pure honey, and that only the highest quality ingredients have been used.


Twelve Grapes

Eating twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve is a Spanish tradition. At midnight, as clocks in city centers chime, celebrants put one grape in their mouth for each clock chime. Everyone is supposed to have eaten all their grapes by the last chime,but they rarely do. The sight of friends and family with their mouths stuffed with grapes makes everyone laugh, which starts the new year off on a happy note.

This custom began centuries ago, when Spain had an especially large grape harvest. Rather than waste the grapes, the king gave them out to everyone to eat on New Year’s Eve.

Traditionally, the nuts are almonds. But peanuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts may be substituted. And although plain turron is very popular, chocolate, coconut, egg yolks, and candied fruit may be added. No matter the variety, according to food writer Brett AllanKing who lives in Madrid, "every Spaniard can expect their Christmas to include turron."14

The King’s Crown

In Spain the Christmas season doesn’t end on Christmas day. Presents are not exchanged until January 6, a day known as Three Kings Day. On this day, most Spaniards believe that three gift-bearing kings visited the Christ child more than 2,000 years ago. According to legend, every January 6 since then, these same kings travel to Spain on camels carrying gifts for Spanish children.

Saints’ Bones

All Saints’ Day, which falls on November 1, is another important Spanish holiday. On this day, Spaniards honor deceased love ‘ ones by visiting their graves.

They also commemorate the day with a delicious and interesting-looking sweet treat known as huesos de santos (way-sos day sahn-toes), which means saints’ bones.

Huesos de santos are made from marzipan, a sticky white almond paste that can be sculpted into many shapes. For huesos de santos, the paste is formed into a hollow cylinder, similar to a piece of bone. Traditionally, the "bone" is filled with yellow cream, which resembles bone marrow, although chocolate is also used. Eating the treat honors deceased religious figures and family members, as well as reminding Spaniards of the sweetness of life.

Rosea de reyes is a delicious sweet bread that is eaten on Three Kings Day. It contains a surprise that is supposed to bring the finder good luck.

Rosea de reyes is a delicious sweet bread that is eaten on Three Kings Day. It contains a surprise that is supposed to bring the finder good luck.

To celebrate the kings’ arrival, people all over Spain eat rosea de reyes, which means the kings’ round bread. Spaniards have been doing this for hundreds of years.

Rosca de reyes is a delicious spongy ring-shaped sweet bread that is said to resemble a king’s crown. It is made from sweet yeast dough with ingredients such as flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, grated lemon rind, butter, and orange blossom water. The last is a liquid that is made from the essence of the orange flower. The incredibly fragrant bread ring, which looks like a giant doughnut,is decorated with colorful candied fruit and silvery almonds. The decorations resemble the jewels on a royal crown.

Rosca de reyes may be plain or filled with cream, chocolate, or syrup. Regardless of what else it contains, the perfumed ring always contains a surprise. This is usually a bean or a small ceramic figure. Finding the item is said to bring a person good luck.

The tradition of hiding a surprise in a bread or cake began with the ancient Romans. By the 3rd century, Spaniards were hiding a fava bean in rosca de reyes. It represented the Christ child. Over time, the surprise changed. In fact, 15th century Spanish royalty often hid a jewel inside the pastry, which the finder kept. Although modern Spaniards are not likely to find a precious gem in their rosca de reyes, its good taste is a treat in itself. And it is still fun to find the prize within. Marimar Torres recalls, "I remember, as a child . . . hoping to find the prized fava bean and goody. And I still keep in Spain my enviable collection of prizes gathered over the years."15

Spanish Toast

Easter is another important holiday in Spain. As with Christmas, Easter dinner varies throughout the country. There is only one dish that is eaten everywhere: torrijas.

Torrijas are slices of bread that are soaked in milk, sugar, and eggs. They originated in medieval Spain as a way to use stale bread. Because of their plentiful use of eggs, they became associated with Easter. This is because Christians consider Easter a time of religious rebirth, and throughout history the egg has been symbolic of new life.


Torrijas are not difficult to make. Use thick crusty bread. The cooked torrijas can be topped with honey, jam, or syrup.


8 slices of Italian or other crusty bread

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup olive oil


1. Put the milk and sugar in a pot and heat until the sugar dissolves.

2. Put the bread in a large bowl. Pour the milk mixture over the bread. Let the bread sit in the milk for 15 minutes.

3. Heat the oil in the frying pan.

4. In another bowl mix the eggs. Dip the bread in the eggs and fry in the oil, turning so both sides of the bread cooks. The torrijas are done when they are golden brown. If desired, torrijas may be rolled in more sugar before serving.


Although torrijas are quite similar to French toast, food historians say that torrijas were created first. The first written recipe for the Spanish version goes back to 1599, while the first French recipe was not written until 60 years later. And there are differences in taste.

Torrijas are fried in olive oil rather than butter, which gives them a rich, fruity flavor. Once they are golden, diners dip them in sugar, cinnamon, wine, syrup, and/or honey, which adds variety to the basic crisp egg-and-bread flavor. The results are sweet and delectable. "You should definitely try torrijas at Easter," a chef at Spain-recipes.com, advises. "They are eaten all over Spain."16

Special holiday foods like torrijas, rosca de reyes, and turron are indeed eaten all over Spain. These traditional holiday treats have helped make Spanish holidays more memorable and fun for centuries and probably will continue to do so for many years to come.

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