How to order the best seafood in Spain

Eating great seafood with a chilled white wine or an ice-cold beer while looking out over the sparkling blue Mediterranean, 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, with English translations.

You’ll find most of these dishes served as tapas. 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 a garlic, onion and wine sauce)
  • Berberechos: cockles. Usually steamed (e.g. berberechos al vapor)
  • Bogavante: lobster (aka langosta). Langosta* and bogavante are different types of lobster; bogavante has large front claws, langosta has 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 (also translated in English as lobster) don’t have the claws, but do have long antennae.
  • Buey: crab (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. A buey de mar is a big red-brown crab; the ones caught here on the Costa Blanca tend to be a fair bit smaller.
  • Calamar*: squid (aka pota). 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 rubbery (probably cooked from frozen) with soggy batter.
  • Carabinero*: red prawn (beware – these are a lot pricier than normal prawns!)
  • Chipirones*: baby squid. Usually fried in a light batter a la romana or rebosada
  • 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 hedghog).  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
  • 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
  • Galera: mantis shrimp
  • Langostino*: king prawn. Again, langostinos a la plancha are quite something
    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 (clochinas: Mediterranean mussels). Often cooked a la marinera – in an onion, garlic and white wine sauce, or simply steamed (al vapor)
  • Navajas: razor clams
  • Ostras: oysters. Many oysters served in Spain are imported from France, or come from Spain’s north coast. But Valencia also produces delicious oysters too. In Villajoyosa, try them at Ca Barto in the Mercado Central.
Ostras (oysters)
A mixture of oysters from France, northern Spain and Ireland. Try Valencian oysters in Villajoyosa at Ca Barto in the Mercado Central. Great with cava!
  • 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 apparently delicious. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried them yet!
Percebes – goose barnacles
  • Pulpo*: octopus. Try pulpo a la gallega: sliced octopus on a bed of sliced potato with a sprinkling of salt and 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.
  • Quisquillas*: shrimps
  • 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)
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 (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)

If you fancy a fish dish to accompany your seafood, take a look at my blog 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

© Guy Pelham 2017. Updated and revised Nov 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s