A cornerstone of Spanish cuisine, the tradition of eating tapas has become one of the country’s greatest cultural exports. It is a fun and easily adaptable way to dine, as it allows the eater to build each meal—from a light snack to a hearty supper—to suit his or her tastes and appetite. In recent decades, the mix-and-match small plates can be found across the globe—but of course, there is no better place to go to for authentic tapas than the great cities of Spain and Catalonia. The options vary from city to city, and from even from bar to bar. However, there are a few mainstays that can typically be found in virtually every tapas bar in Spain.
If there is a bar in Spain that only serves one tapa, that tapa is probably a dish of olives. Far and away the most popular snack in the country, it can be seen as Spain’s version of beer nuts. Sidle up to any bar frequented by Spaniards, and odds are that you will find aceitunas on the menu. Some of the many olive varieties available in Spain include empeltres, arbequinas, and the ever-popular manzanillas.
Catalan cuisine heavily features seafood of many kinds, but especially cod. The fish is commonly served in tapas form as bacalao, salty and usually atop slices of bread with tomatoes.
Boquerones en vinagre
You can tell the caliber of a tapas bar’s cuisine by the quality of the boquerones en vinagre (filleted anchovies in vinegar.) In a more upscale establishment, the tiny fish will be fresh from the sea. However, in a cheaper place, they may just be fresh from the tin.
Spanish calamares, or calamari, are battered and fried, crispy on the outside and chewy inside. The tasty circles of squid are sometimes served with a dipping sauce, but also simply divine with just a squeeze of lemon.
Chorizo al vino
Just as tapas have been embraced by eaters around the world, so has chorizo—that most delicious of cured sausages. A traditional tapa, chorizo al vino is just what its name implies—generous chunks of chorizo cooked in red wine. In some parts of Spain, the sausage is also served al sidra, or cooked in cider.
One thing you probably won’t find a lot of in classic tapas bars are fresh vegetables. In fact, ensaladilla rusa (“Russian salad”) is often one of the few vegetarian options available. It is also one of the most popular dishes among the locals, perhaps because it provides the perfect complement to all of that meat. The salad’s main components are potatoes, eggs and mayonnaise; common additions include chopped green beans, carrots and pickled cucumbers.
Pa amb tomaquet
So simple and easy to replicate at home, pa amb tomaquet is a staple of the Catalan diet—and one that many locals hold close to their hearts. The dish is comprised of rustic bread rubbed with tomatoes and sprinkled with salt, olive oil, and sometimes garlic. It can be served as a side dish, or topped with cod (bacalao) or ham to make a tapa.
Another starchy favorite is patatas bravas, fried cubes of potato in a spicy mayonnaise sauce. No, it’s not healthy—but it is most certainly delicious, and an essential component of a traditional tapas meal.
Pimientos del Padron
Pimiento peppers—yes, those little red peppers commonly found stuffed into green olives—take on an entirely new identity in this tapas dish. The thumb-sized fruits are fried in hot oil, salted, and served as pimientos del Padron (named for the region in Galicia where they come from.) While most are fairly mild, some pimiento peppers are quite spicy—so savor with caution!
The name pinchos or pintxo comes from the Spanish word for “spike.” The dish, typically Basque in origin, includes a small (ie. toothpick-sized) skewer of meat served on a slice of bread.
… Of course, that’s just the beginning! There are many other tasty tapas served in Spanish cities, from Madrid to Barcelona. To find the perfect hotel in Spain to pair with your food, be sure to check out Eurobookings.com—The European Hotel Specialist!