Eating Your Way Through Murcia: A Guide to Spain's Gastronomic Capital
Updated: Jul 12
Murcia, the capital of a region that shares the same name, is a sun-drenched city on Spain's southeastern coast. It is a humble city that hosts 50,000 university students and an endless array of plazas and terraces. Murcianos are pictures of the warm Spaniard that welcomes the wide-eyed traveler into their home - embracing them with kindness, a certain elegance that time has yet to take away from the city, and of course, savory dishes native to the region.
In 2020, Murcia was named the Gastronomic Capital of Spain, and deservedly so. Newcomers sitting at their first local restaurant in the city will find themselves faced with a flood of vocabulary not to be found in the average Spanish 101 textbook, and they could spend a good half an hour pulling up images of the weird jargon covering their menu.
Give yourself a head start and become familiar with the staples of Murcian cuisine (and where to try them) by reading on!
What's for Breakfast?
A morning in the city starts slowly as bars and cafes all around begin to open shop for breakfast. Have one look at the locals' tables during the morning hours and you will notice the sheer dominance of tostada con tomate - a blended tomato spread served over toasted bread and eaten with olive oil and salt.
The idea itself of such a thing for breakfast was strange to me at first, but I have been hooked since my first try. Tip: order a Catalana to have the dish come topped with Jamon Serrano (cured Spanish ham) and wash it down with a glass of freshly made orange juice.
A hidden gem in the Vistabella neighborhood, head over to the Churrería Picoesquina for homemade churros and chocolate to accompany your tostada.
La Marinera or La Bicicleta?
No, we are not talking about sailor tops or bicycles here, we are talking about the age-old choice of the Murcian - which tapa to choose. The slightly more popular Marinera is a rounded crispy breadstick typical to the region, topped with Murcia's famously executed Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian Potato Salad), and a final slice of anchovy laid on top.
The Bicicleta foregoes the anchovy for those who aren't seafood fanatics, but both are a classic choice at any given tapa bar. Head over to the CafeBar on Alfonso X to try the best one in the city!
Gran Vía Alfonso X el Sabio, 1D, 30008 Murcia, Spain
There is an infinite amount of tapas to try and places to try them. If on a budget, venture to La Paloma, located in the Santa Eulalia neighborhood for tapas so good and so cheap you won't have any reason to stop ordering.
If you're a little more flexible in the money department, work your way towards La Plaza de Las Flores, a frequent hangout spot for the Murcian upper class. Decorated in iconically European architecture at every inch, the open square is home to countless quality restaurants.
El Pulpito is one of these many restaurants, and here you can try signature tapas cooked to justice. Start with a Caballito - battered and fried shrimp that finds a way to remain light on the tongue. Move on to a classic ostra, or a zamburriña marinated in garlic sauce. If you're still hungry, the restaurant makes a top-notch tuna and avocado tartar. Don't forget to ask what bottles of white wine they're carrying at the time. You can't go wrong with ordering whatever they have from the local region of Jumilla.
Lunch It Out at a Hidden Beer Garden!
Spanish culture is a culture that prioritizes lunch as the most important meal of the day, and Murcia is no exception. Put away on the outskirts of the city, a stroll through the Malecón Gardens will take you to La Casa Vieja, an open-air restaurant that serves delicious and reasonably priced tapas and paella.
Here, you can try the Murcian twist on the Spanish staple by ordering a Paella con Conejo (rabbit). Only available on weekends, a plate of the golden rice from La Casa Vieja will leave you planted in the beautiful gardens of the restaurant, unable to move and forced to enjoy their dirt-cheap jars of beer.
Wine and Dessert
The region of Murcia is home to some of the best vineyards in Europe, and this is reflected in the abundance of choices once in the capital city. All restaurants will have high-quality wine for very doable prices, but if you feel like skipping the food and just going for drinks, make your way to the Mercado de Correos - a gastronomic indoor market with its very own bodega inside. The bartenders are always super helpful and will recommend whatever is in season, but if there happens to be a Juan Gil available, a red from the local Murcian city of Jumilla, you must order it! It's the best bottle of wine I've tried in the entirety of my time living in Spain.
If you find yourself in the mood for some dessert, ask the waiter if they are serving a Tarta de Whiskey, an ice cream cake made with whiskey that wraps up just about any meal perfectly.
Photo Credit: Sakke Suominen
Some Final Thoughts
An older woman of about sixty once explained to me that life in Murcia happens outside. People flock to cafes and terraces, under the simple understanding that "comer es un placer" (eating is a pleasure). A pleasure to be enjoyed with good company, and with no regard to the passing of time.
The city is a proud holder of the title of Gastronomic Capital, and the above-mentioned places to go are simply a snapshot of all the wonders spread throughout the city. Murcia is a city that lends itself to wandering and strolling, so have a go yourself at finding a hidden gem filled with cuisine good enough to write home about.