How to order the best fish in Spain

We reckon the Spanish cook fish better than anyone. But how do you know what you’re ordering?

Here in Villajoyosa (aka La Vila Joiosa) on Spain’s east coast, there is a bewildering variety on offer, much of it caught locally. Many restaurants have menus in English, but the fishy translations below should help you find your way around any language difficulties.

A spectacular display at a Spanish supermarket fish counter

FISH (pescados) * signifies fish landed in La Vila port. Look for the Cofradia de Pescadores logo to buy locally.

  • Atún*: tuna. Ventresca, a cut from the belly, is common on menus in La Vila. Pebrereta, a stew with salted tuna, pumpkin, peppers and tomatoes is a local speciality
  • Anchoas*: anchovies 
  • Bacoreta*: tunny/little tunny
  • Besugo*: red bream
  • Boquerones*: anchovies (often marinaded in olive oil, or fried – fritos)
    Boquerones: anchovies

    Boquerones fritos
    Boquerones fritos: fried anchovies
  • Bacalao: cod. There’s a great tradition of salted cod, especially in the north of Spain.
  • Bonito: skipjack tuna
  • Caballa*: mackerel 
    Corvina:aka stone bass
  • Corvina*: stone bass or meagre. Often wrongly translated as sea bass, but it is a different species.
  • Congrio*: conger eel
    Cofradia de Villajoyosa
    The ticket that shows the catch was landed on Villajoyosa fish quay
  • Dentón*: dentex. No, I’d never heard of it either, but it’s common in the Mediterranean and similar to bream.
  • Dorada*: gilt head bream
    DORADA (1)
    Dorada: gilt head bream
  • Emperador*: swordfish (see also pez espada)
  • Gallineta*: redfish or ocean perch
  • Gato*: dogfish or catshark (also known as musola)
  • Jurel*(or Jurel Grande): horse mackerel or scad 
  • Lenguado*: sole  
  • Lisa (or llisa): mullet
    Lubina: sea bass in English
  • Lubina*: sea bass (often farmed; the fish farm off Villajoyosa breeds lubina)
  • Maragota: ballan wrasse (a new one on me, but a distinctive red-coloured fish)
  • Merluza*: hake
  • Musola*: see Gato 
  • Morralla*: assortment of small fish
  • Mero*: grouper 
    Pargo, aka snapper
    Pajel, aka sea bream
  • Pajel*: sea bream
  • Pargo*: snapper
  • Pescaditos fritos: assortment of small fried fish
  • Pez Espada*: swordfish
  • Pez de San Pedro or Pez de Gallo*: John Dory. According to legend, the name Pez de San Pedro (St Peter’s Fish) came after St Peter picked one up from the Sea of Galilee, but then returned it to the water. The black mark on the fish’s side is his thumbprint. The name Pez de Gallo (rooster fish) comes from the spines which look a little like a cockerel’s comb.
    John Dory
    John Dory: Pez de Gallo or Pez de San Pedro
  • Platero*: a small white fish, similar to anchovy (boqueron). Platero in Spanish means silversmith; bite into this fish and you’ll see its insides are silver. From waters around Ibiza.
    A small white fish from waters around Ibiza, similar to anchovy (boqueron), with silvery insides
    The silvery insides that give Platero its name
  • Rape* (pronounced ‘rap-eh’): monkfish  

    Rape: monkfish. Probably the ugliest fish in the sea, but also one of the tastiest!
  • Raya*: skate (ala de raya: skate wing)
  • Rodaballo*: turbot
  • Salmonetes*: red mullet  
  • Salmón: salmon
  • Sardinas*: sardines 
    Trucha arco iris: rainbow trout
  • Trucha: trout
  • Trucha arco iris: rainbow trout


  • A la plancha/a la parilla/parillada: on the grill
  • A la brasa: on a charcoal or wood grill (usually meat)
  • A la romana: in a light beer batter (e.g. calamares a la romana)
  • A la andaluza: in a light batter (without the beer)
  • Rebosado: in batter (could be either romana or andaluza)
  • A la marinera:  cooked in white wine + onions (e.g. mejillones a la marinera)
  • Al vapor: steamed (e.g. berberechos al vapor)
  • Fritos: fried (e.g. pescaditos fritos: an assortment of small fried fish)

    Pescaditos fritos
    Pescaditos fritos; an assortment of small, fried fish

For a guide to Spanish seafood, take a look at my blogpost here

For a guide to rice dishes and paella, take a look my blogpost here

© Guy Pelham 2018


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