How to order the best seafood in Spain

Eating great seafood by the sparkling blue Mediterranean – preferably with a chilled white wine or an ice-cold beer – just has to be one of the finer things in life. 

But there’s a huge amount of choice on offer; here’s how to find your way round a Spanish seafood (mariscos) menu, complete with English translations.

You’ll find most of these dishes served as tapas – small dishes to share. If you want a bigger serving, order a ración, and you’ll get a decent plateful. For a translation of cooking styles, see the section at the end of this post.

The * symbol signifies seafood landed in our town, Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca.

  • Almejas: clams (also known as chirlas). Often served as almejas a la marinera (in a garlic, onion and white wine sauce)
  • Berberechos: cockles. Usually steamed (berberechos al vapor)
  • Bogavante: lobster (aka langosta). Langosta* and bogavante are different types of lobster; bogavante have large front claws, langosta have long antennae. When they’re alive, langostas are a dark orange colour, while bogavantes look dark blue.  They both turn pinkish when cooked.
Bogavante (lobster) easily identified by their giant claws.


                                             Langostas, identified by their long antennae

  • Buey: crab, big and red-brown (see also cangrejo)
  • Cañaillas: sea snails. Usually boiled in salt water and served in their shells, with a pin to extract them, rather like eating French escargots.
Cañaillas: sea snails
  • Cangrejo*: crab. The ones caught here on the Costa Blanca tend to be a fair bit smaller than the red brown buey de mar. See also nécora.
  • Calamar*: squid (aka pota on the Costa Blanca). Calamares a la romana is a classic Spanish tapa; squid rings fried in a light beer batter. Freshly fried calamares are a joy. Sadly, the tourist version is often a rubbery nightmare, probably cooked from frozen, with soggy batter.
  • Carabinero*: red prawn. Beware – these are a lot pricier than normal prawns. But delicious!
  • Centollos: spider crabs. From Galicia on the north west coast of Spain. They can reach a fair old size!
  • Chipirones*: baby squid. Usually fried in a light batter a la romana or rebosada

    A delicious plate of chipirones
  • Chirlas: clams (see almejas)
  • Cigalas*: langoustine (sometimes called Norway Lobster or Dublin Bay prawn)
  • Clochinas or clochinas malla: smaller Mediterranean mussels from Valencia and Sagunto
  • Erizos de mar: sea urchins (literal translation, sea hedgehog).  A speciality of Cádiz in southern Spain. See the pics below on how to eat them.
Sea urchins from Cadiz: no, you don’t eat the spines!
Erizos de mar
Sea urchins (erizos de mar) ready to eat
  • Galeras: mantis shrimp, not unlike a Dublin Bay prawn/langoustine. The meat is delicious, but getting to it is hard work – once you’ve prised off the outer shell and the tail, there’s not a huge amount left.
Galeras: mantis shrimp
  • Gambas*: prawn. Gambas al ajillo – prawns with garlic, usually cooked in an earthenware dish – is another classic tapa. Gambas a la plancha – grilled prawns – are delicious too.
  • Gambas blancas: a paler colour, as the name suggests and (I think) a sweeter flavour. Huelva on Spain’s Atlantic coast is famous for them.
Gambas blancas
  • Langostino*: king prawn. Langostinos a la plancha (from the grill) are unbeatable for flavour
Gambas: prawns. Try them grilled (a la plancha) or al ajillo – in garlic sauce. On the left are red prawns – a lot pricer.
  • Langosta*: lobster (see bogavante)
  • Mejillones: mussels) Often cooked a la marinera – in an onion, garlic and white wine sauce, or simply steamed (al vapor)
  • Navajas: razor clams, so called because they look like an old fashioned cut-throat razor.
  • Nécora:  a small crab, most common in Galicia in the northwest of Spain

    Nécora, a small crab
  • Ostras: oysters. Many oysters served in Spain are imported from France, or come from Spain’s north coast. Valencia also produces delicious oysters too, but they’re usually smaller. Nothing wrong with the taste though. 
Ostras (oysters)
A mixture of oysters from France, northern Spain and Ireland.
  • Percebe: goose barnacle. Scraped off the rocks in Galicia, percebes don’t look like anything you’d ever want to eat. But boiled briefly in salt water, they’re delicious. They’re also expensive, mainly because harvesting them by hand from the rocky shoreline is a dangerous job. Try with a glass of Ribeiro white wine from Galicia. For a fascinating insight into the world of the percebeiras – women percebes gatherers – and the discrimination they’ve had to deal with, watch this BBC report.
Percebes – goose barnacles
  • Pulpo*: octopus. Try pulpo a la gallega: sliced octopus on a bed of sliced potato with a sprinkling of salt and pimentón (paprika). Yet another classic Spanish tapa. But try also pulpo a la brasa – a tentacle of octopus on the grill. It’s a tricky dish to cook well, and to achieve a perfect tenderness along the length of the tentacle – thick at the beginning, very thin at the tip – is not easy. 
Pulpo (octopus). Pulpo a la brasa (on the grill) is a real treat
Pulpo a la Gallega: a classic tapa. Octopus spiced with pimentón and served on a bed of potato, a speciality of Galicia in Spain’s north west, but served everywhere.
  • Quisquillas*: shrimps. Often boiled (quisquillas hervidas)
  • Sepia*: cuttlefish. Usually served a la plancha (on the grill), often with a little garlic and parsley sauce. Similar texture to calamares
Sepia aka cuttlefish
Sepia (cuttlefish). Delicious a la plancha…on the grill
  • Sepionet: small cuttlefish
  • Vieira: scallops, often served in their shells (see below). I’ve also seen scallops called Zamburiña on the Costa Blanca.
Scallops (aka vieras) have an unbeatable subtle flavour


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

For more, take a look at my post here on how to choose the best fish in Spain, especially here on the Costa Blanca.

The great seafood in this part of Spain helps make the Valencia/Alicante region the real home of paella. Find out more about rice dishes and paella in my blog here

This excellent guide from the Marine Conservation Society has even more fishy translations from around the world.

© Guy Pelham 2018

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