I bet everyone has heard about tapas: it is an inseparable part of the Spanish culture. Tapas in Spain are perfect appetizers and their small size allows tasting more varieties and sharing it with others. Patatas aioli and tortilla are probably the most well-known traditional Spanish tapas, but there are so many more.
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What does tapas mean?
I guess many people ask this question. I would like to give my explanation, hoping I understood it correctly.
In some places you might see three different prices next to each dish in the menu. Usually, the most expensive one is racion or full portion, the cheaper one is 1/2 racion or half portion, and the cheapest one is tapas, and, naturally, it is the smallest portion. Basically, tapas are a smaller portion of Spanish food, they are a kind of appetizers and come in small quantities. It is very convenient as you can try different types of Spanish food just by ordering a couple of tapas.
But there is something you have to remember: the size of tapas varies and depends on the place: sometimes they are quite big and two tapas are more than enough to satisfy your needs. For example, a piece of tortilla de patatas and croquettes was more than enough for me as both of them have potato is a basic ingredient and are quite filling. Consider this ordering your tapas.
Now back to the tapas themselves. Of course, there are more than I list below as my knowledge is limited by the places I have visited, and I am sure that there many local varieties as well, but these are the tapas I have tasted myself in Spain.
Tapas in Spain
1. Marinated anchovies
This! This is the best thing I ate in Spain! Anchovies are small fish, and usually they are deep fried and crispy, but this restaurant in Cordoba served the marinated version. Frankly, when I ordered them, I did not know what to expect, but these anchovies exceeded my expectations. They were tender and flavourful, and I regretted that tapas is a small portion 🙂
2. Pimientos de Padron
It is just fried peppers, but they were the best ones I have ever had. They are small in size, usually of green color, and come from Padron in Galicia. In a restaurant in Cordoba they came with pieces of jamon that definitely made them even more delicious.
I love seafood, and since trying grilled octopus for the first time in Istanbul many years ago, I never miss the opportunity to order them. I had octopus in Cordoba, Salamanca and Madrid, and this tender goodness came with shrimps and mashed potatoes or with fried potatoes, which made it a very filling dish.
Croquettes are some of the best tapas in Spain I have ever tried. Frankly, their look is not very appetizing, but they are delicious. Basically, croquettes are deep fried mashed potatoes mixed with different filling like fish, jamon, meat, etc. I noticed that they serve three or four croquettes as tapas.
5. Oxtail stew/rabo de toro
Well, as the name suggests it, it is a stew where oxtail is the main ingredient. Before I came to Spain I had not explored its cuisine, so I tried almost everything from the menu. This one was completely unknown to me, but turned out to be really good. The meat is cooked till it almost falls apart, and it is served with fries. The result is truly yummy!
6. Russian salad
Russian salad is not the healthiest tapas in Spain, but it is tasty nevertheless. Just like many other tapas in Spain, this one has potatoes in. In addition, it has carrots, eggs, some other vegetables, and, more importantly, tuna that gives it a specific taste. And all of them are generously covered in mayonnaise 🙂 In Salamanca it came with something crispy made of corn flour: I have no idea what it is called 🙂
7. Tortilla de patatas/Spanish omelette
I bet this is the most famous tapas 🙂 And it is very simple, delicious and filling: trust me, even one piece – which is served as tapas – is enough to feed a not very hungry person.
I guess the classical recipe is this one: you should fry an onion with thinly sliced potatoes, then add them to eggs and fry the mixture. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? 🙂 But please, don’t just listen to me, watch a video before you cook it 🙂
8. Veal tripe stew
Yeah, I know how it sounds 🙂 While I had doubts ordering the oxtail stew, the thing with this one is that I just could not understand what it was 🙂 English is not my mother tongue, and I speak Spanish much worse than English, so I simply had no idea what it was 🙂 But the word ‘veal’ made me think that this was something healthy 🙂 Well, when it came to my table and I tasted it, I realised immediately what it was 🙂 Still, I do not regret ordering it as it turned out to be delicious. Just keep in mind that it is spicy as well. I am not sure how well spread it is, I remember seeing it in Cordoba only.
9. Marinated pork cheeks
I still don’t know why I ordered pork cheeks 🙂 Unlike the anchovies I mention above, the cheeks had a strong acidic taste of vinegar – well, at least to my taste – so I am glad they serve it with bread in Salamanca. In addition, they were mixed with onions and peppers: vegetables are always nice 🙂
10. Morcilla/blood sausage bites
I guess many cultures around the world have a variety of blood sausage: think of black pudding in the UK. In Spain it is called morcilla and it is my understanding that it is cut in thick pieces, fried and served with bread. Frankly, it was delicious, but I remember seeing it in Salamanca only.
Eggplants or berenjenas in Spanish are quite popular in Spain, or, I guess, more in the south of Spain. Keeping this in mind, I ordered them in Cordoba, and it was the only time I did it. As I ordered tapas, I expected just several pieces of fried eggplants. Now, imagine my surprise when I saw a huge plate of fried eggplants:
It was too much, considering that silly me ordered tortilla and croquettes as well 🙂
There is something called eggplants with honey or berenjenas con miel: honey is added to fried eggplants and gives it a specific taste.
12. Patatas Aioli
Patatas aioli (or alioli) are potatoes tossed with aioli sauce. They are extremely popular in Spain, I have seen them offered in Andalusia, Madrid and Barcelona.
The main ingredient here – in addition to boiled potatoes – is the famous aioli sauce, which consists of garlic, olive oil, an egg and salt. The result is yummy creamy potatoes 🙂
13. Patatas bravas
Another one of the Spanish tapas (they in the picture above next to patatas aioli) where potato is the main ingredient 🙂 Unlike aioli, here they are fried and served with spicy tomato sauce. Well, it would be fair to say that in some parts of Spain the sauce does not include tomatoes. Anyway, just give it a try 🙂
This one is very easy: take anchovies, olives and guindillas (Spanish chili pepper) and thread them onto skewers and you are all set. It is simple and delicious.
15. Calamares fritos (fried squid)
Well, here everything is in the name and nothing to add: it is just deep fried squid. First the pieces of squid are floured and then fried in a lot of oil. Nothing too fancy 🙂 And, I guess, they go really well with cerveza 🙂
Salmorejo and gazpacho are relatives 🙂 Both are tomato soup, but there are differences in preparation.
When it comes to salmorejo, it is made mainly of tomatoes and bread with a clove of garlic that are pureed till they are smooth. Naturally, salmorejo is thick. Frankly, I did not like it, it tasted too bland for my taste.
Gazpacho has more ingredients like peppers, onions, cucumber, and no bread, so it is not as thick as salmorejo. Some add water if it is too thick to their taste. In my opinion, gazpacho is more savoury, and I opt for it 🙂 But tastes differ 🙂
Well, technically, jamon may not be tapas, but still it is served everywhere. Jamon is cured ham, and the most well-known types are jamon iberico and jamon serrano. Jamon iberico is made from black Iberian pigs, while the meat of white pigs serves as a basis for jamon serrano. I think the latter is cheaper than the former.
Sometimes in restaurants they serve just thin slices of jamon, in other cases it is put on bread, or added to other tapas as with pimientos de Padron. In any case, it is truly traditional Spanish food and you should definitely try it.
These are basically all the tapas I tried during my travels to Barcelona, Madrid, Salamanca and Andalusia. And I will keep updating this list 🙂
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