How to order the best fish in Spain

Here in Spain, we reckon the fish and seafood is the best in Europe. But how do you know what you’re ordering when the menu is in Spanish?

There’s a bewildering variety on offer, but the fishy translations below should help you find your way around most language difficulties. I’ve included a guide to the various styles of cooking at the bottom of this post.

A spectacular display at a Spanish supermarket fish counter

FISH (pescados) 

* signifies fish landed in our town, Villajoyosa (La Vila Joiosa) on the Costa Blanca. Look for the Cofradia de Pescadores logo to buy from local boats.

  • Anguila: eel (often sold as ‘angulas’ – baby eels/elvers)
  • Arenque: herring. Not a fish I’ve ever come across in Spain
  • Atún*: tuna. Ventresca, a cut from the belly, is common on menus in Villajoyosa. 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. Try kokotxas (cocochas) de bacalao – cod cheeks – a Basque speciality. Try bacalao al pil-pil, also a typical dish from the Basque Country. The pil-pil sauce is made with olive oil, garlic and a little chili. There’s also a great Spanish tradition of salted cod, especially in the north.
  • Bonito: skipjack tuna
  • Caballa*: mackerel 
  • Cangrejo del rio: crayfish (literal translation – river crab)

    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. The label will tell you where, when and how the fish was caught
  • 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. Often farmed. One of my favourites: lovely delicate flavour.

    DORADA (1)
    Dorada: gilt head bream
  • Emperador*: swordfish (see also pez espada)
  • Fletán: halibut
  • Gallineta*: redfish or ocean perch. Also known as Cabra on the Costa Blanca. Cabra also means goat, so some room for confusion there!

    Gallineta or cabra in the middle, with dorada (gilthead bream) on the left and salmon on the right.
  • 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 our town of Villajoyosa breeds lubina. Try lubina a la sal – lubina cooked in salt and cooked in the oven (see the section on ‘cooking styles’ below).
  • Maragota: ballan wrasse. A new one on me, but a distinctive red-coloured fish.
  • Melva: frigate mackerel. Nothing to do with mackerel, even though the skin has a similar distinctive pattern. Melva is bigger and is actually part of the bonito family.

    Melva: frigate mackerel, a kind of bonito.
  • Merluza*: hake
  • Musola*: see Gato 
  • Morralla*: assortment of small fish, often used for preparing caldo (fish stock)
  • Mero*: grouper 
    Pargo, aka snapper

    Pajel, aka sea bream
  • Pajel*: sea bream
  • Palometa: Atlantic pomfret, best described as a kind of bream
  • Pargo*: snapper
  • Pescaditos fritos: assortment of small fried fish
  • Pez Espada*: swordfish. Often served as a swordfish steak. We avoid ordering this fish as the World Wildlife Fund says stocks are declining because of overfishing.
  • 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 alternative 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. 
    Platero: a small white fish from waters around Ibiza, similar to anchovy (boquerón), with silvery insides

    The silvery insides that give Platero its name
  • Rape* (pronounced ‘rap-eh’): monkfish. Firm white meat with a distinctive texture. Often cooked ‘al horno’ – in the oven. 

    Rape: monkfish. Probably the ugliest fish in the sea, but also one of the tastiest!
  • Raya*: skate. Ala de raya: skate wing. Delicious in black butter sauce (a la mantequilla negra) with alcaparras (capers).
  • Rodaballo*: turbot. A really handsome flat fish which can grow to a fair old size.
  • Salmonetes*: red mullet. Delicious grilled on a parrillada.
  • Salmonetes: a distinctive pink-coloured fish, roughly the size of a sardine
  • Salmón: salmon. Almost always farmed in Spain.
  • Sardinas*: sardines. Sardinas a la plancha (on the grill) – highly recommended!

    Trucha arco iris: rainbow trout
  • Trucha: trout
  • Trucha arco iris: rainbow trout
Skate aka raya
Skate (raya in Spanish)


  • A la plancha/a la parilla/parillada: on the grill
  • A la brasa: on a charcoal or wood grill (this usually refers to meat)
  • A la romana: in a light batter with egg (e.g. calamares a la romana)
  • A la andaluza: in a light batter without the egg
  • Rebosado: in batter (this could be either romana or andaluza)
  • A la marinera:  cooked in white wine + onion sauce (e.g. mejillones a la marinera)
  • Al vapor: steamed 
  • Al a sal. A whole fish encased in coarse salt and then baked in the oven. The salt makes sure the fish doesn’t dry out, so it emerges from the oven moist and full of flavour. The salt is mixed with water, so it is slightly damp (some recipes recommend egg white) and it’s then packed around the fish. During cooking, the salt forms a hard crust around the fish. It’s then cracked open and discarded when the fish is done.  The skin can be lifted away easily with a knife, leaving you a perfectly cooked fish. And no, it doesn’t taste salty at all! Lubina al a sal is a favourite on the Costa Blanca. 
  • Dorada (gilthead bream) covered in salt and ready for the oven.

    The salt shell is cracked open to reveal a perfectly cooked fish!
  • Fritos: fried (e.g. pescaditos fritos: an assortment of small fried fish)

    Pescaditos fritos
    Pescaditos fritos; an assortment of small fried fish

If you are buying in a pescadería (fishmonger), or a supermarket fish counter to cook at home, staff will normally prepare the fish for you. There’s a level of expertise and pride in the job that you usually don’t find in the UK, especially in supermarkets.

Some handy words and phrases:

  • Me puede limpiar el pescado por favor? Literally, ‘can you clean the fish for me please?’ – this means scaling, removing the fins and the guts.
  • Escamar: to remove the scales from a fish (las escamas = the scales)
  • La tripa: the guts
  • Me puede quitar la espina? Can you remove the bones?
  • Me lo prepara en filetes? Can you fillet it for me? (i.e. divide the fish into two fillets)

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

3 thoughts on “How to order the best fish in Spain

  1. I dream about moving to Spain! I think it’s a sign that I found your post. Maybe I will make it happen when this pandemic is over. And will definetely will use your advice when I will be eating fish in Spain. Thanks!


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