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How to order the best fish in Spain

Lubina; sea bass in English

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

Look no further – I’ve listed English translations (in alphabetical order) for every fish I’ve come across in Spain. I’m sure I’ve missed a few though!

To check out the different ways that fish dishes are cooked here in Spain, tap here. And for a few handy words and phrases on buying fish in a Spanish shop, tap here.

Que aproveches!

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.

A wonderful choice of shiny fresh fish; Mercat de l’Olivar in Palma de Mallorca
Pargo, aka snapper
Skate (raya in Spanish)

Fish cooking styles

OK, so now you’ve selected the best fish, but how would you like it cooked?

How to buy fish in Spanish 

In the supermarket or pescadería (fish shop), ask the staff to prepare the fish for you – it’s completely normal in Spain. 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:

More fishy terminology!

Un pescado azul is an oily fish (like mackerel or tuna). A pescado blanco is a white fish (like cod or hake)

Un pescado demersal is a fish that feeds near the sea bed (like hake or red mullet). A pescado pelágico feeds nearer the surface (like sardines or mackerel)

How was my fish caught?

A lot of people are asking this question nowadays because it affects the sustainability of fish stocks. Some methods are a lot less eco-friendly than others.

Look at the label in the fish shop  – arrastre or red de arrastre means caught with a trawl net. Most of the boats here in La Vila Joiosa are stern trawlers, which put the trawl net into the water over the stern and then winch the net back in the same way.

A few of the smaller boats use trasmallo nets, which hang vertically in the water like a wall (gillnetting in English). More on fishing methods here.

Fresh or frozen?

The label will also tell you whether the fish is fresh (fresco) or previously frozen (descongelado). If it says ‘cria‘ it’s a farmed fish, not caught wild. Lubina and dorada are usually farmed in Spain.

Stern trawlers moored up at dusk alongside the fish quay in La Vila Joiosa
‘Trasmallo’ boats in La Vila harbour with the typical reel in the bow, used to pay out the net which hangs in the water like a wall.

Want to know more?

© Guy Pelham


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