anchovy and tomato on bread

Eating out in Spain – Tapas 101

Tapas are not a particular type of food but a fun and casual style of eating out and socializing in Spain. A tapa is simply a small snack that is served with your drink, and several tapas can make a meal. Bonus – in southern Spain, tapas are usually free with your drink! Often people will visit a few different tapas bars in one night.

At a tapas bar you will usually find:

  • tapas: snack-size portions
  • raciónes: larger portions, good for sharing. (these are not free)
  • media ración: half a raciónes. If this isn’t offered on the menu, you can still ask
  • pintxos: also called pinchos, little open face sandwiches, spiked with a toothpick. (usually not free, but inexpensive)

The cost is generally about €1.50 for drink plus a tapa. The drink doesn’t have to be wine or beer – you can order a water or soft drink with a tapa also. Sometimes we might order a raciónes of one item, then round out the meal with a variety of tapas. To find a good tapas bar, try walking a street or two off the main tourist areas or ask locally for recommendations. The best tapas bars are often the busiest, and may seem intimidating at first, but go for it!  Sometimes it seems that there is no room, but somehow a space opens up eventually. You will find all ages in tapas bars, and they can be a great place to meet locals and fellow travelers.

You usually order your drink at the bar. You might be offered a tapa, but if not just ask. Often at the bar there is a display of food on offer, some of which is served cold, and some will be cooked for you. Some tapas bars specialize in one type of food, such as seafood, ham, or pintxos. You pay at the end when you are ready to go. In the case of pinxtos, the toothpicks will be counted to keep track of the bill.

Below is a sample of popular tapas

  • habas con jamón: broad beans with ham
  • huevo cocido: hard-boiled egg
  • jamón Serrano: thinly sliced, cured ham
  • jamón Iberico: thinly sliced, cured ham from free-range acorn-fed pigs
  • magro con tomate: pork with tomato
  • mejillones: mussels
  • patatas alioli: potatoes in garlic mayonnaise
  • patatas bravas: fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce
  • pimientos: peppers
  • pinchitos: spicy pork kebabs
  • pisto: ratatouille
  • pulpo: octopus
  • rabo de toro: oxtail stew
  • sardinas: fresh sardines
  • salchicha: sausage
  • sepia: cuttlefish
  • tortilla Española = Spanish potato omelette (served hot or cold)
  • pan: bread
  • pan con tomate: bread with tomato
  • queso Manchego: cured sheep cheese (specifically, cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed)
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