I think you will agree with me when I say that trying dishes of other countries is another way of exploring the world, a way of traveling and expanding your mind that you can enjoy even without leaving your own town if you wish.
I’m quite a foodie myself and I love learning all sorts of stuff about the everyday life of a culture by getting a bit adventurous when it comes to putting food in my mouth (pig intestine and snake in China, scorpions in Thailand, catfish straight out of the Amazon,…)
Are you an adventurous foodie yourself too? I’m sure I’m not alone here! Comment and let’s chat!
I am also a Spaniard and I’ve been living the expat life for quite some time now. This does not mean I have forgotten the flavours of my country though. In fact, I think I appreciate them much more now that I cannot enjoy them every day. Probably that’s why my Spanish blood freezes and my neck hair rises when I read a self-proclaimed Spanish recipe that calls for a fat other than virgin olive oil.
So trust me, I know what I’m talking about here.
Let’s start this one with a question. What is the first image that comes to your mind when you hear anyone talking about Spanish Tapas?
Is it simply something like this?
Or maybe like this?
Or you just have no idea what Tapas are?
Well, in any case just keep reading because in this post you’re going to learn a whole lot about them.
You are welcome
Nowadays, tapas (or bocas in Mexico) are any sort of savory dish (never sweet) served in small portions normally together with a glass of red wine or a cold beer. In the North of Spain you might also see pinchos which are even smaller savory portions pinchadas with a toothpick on a piece of bread.
Yes, olives and potato chips are tapas, but also cured cheese, sliced ham, cured meats, or more elaborate ones like Spanish omelette, fried Padrón peppers, garlic prawns,… More on all those later.
Hungry yet? Anyone?
One can actually have a full meal out of several tapas and you have the chance to sample different delicious dishes and to share them with the girl or gal sitting besides you at the bar or even with a big group of awesome friends as we did for this post. Thank you guys!
Anything can happen at tapas time! Well, almost anything, don’t get too crazy here.
However, tapas have not always been like this.
A little bit of history
Nobody in Spain seems to agree on when and why tapas were served for the first time. Some believe tapas appeared during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs (XV century) after a series of quarrels between drunk people at the exit of taverns, as a little something to eat before drinking wine and thus lightening the effects of alcohol.
According to another myth, a witted waiter of the XIX century covered the glass of wine of King Alfonso XIII of Spain with a slice of cured ham as a lid (a tapa, in Spanish) to keep dust and insects from spoiling the liquor. After that, the glass of wine with the tapa became fashionable amongst all members of the Court and after that amongst everybody else.
Whatever the origin of tapas, they might be the most exported iconic element of the Spanish cuisine. And they are delicious! All of them!
Still today in some regions of Spain (say for example Andalucia, in the south) you get a tapa for free every time you order a drink, as a courtesy to the patrons or in the hope you’ll not get drunk too soon and will keep consuming, you never know. However if you’re not lucky enough to get your free tapa don’t worry too much, you can always order from the endless variety on the counter of every bar. Easy!
The lingo around spanish tapas
So, say you didn’t get your free tapa. Let’s order some then! Unless you like risky choices, when it comes to tapas you better have an idea of what you’re ordering.
You can guess of course, tapas are not rocket science but it’s always helpful to have a little idea, specially next time you join the crowd at lunch time in any given bar in Spain and you find yourself having to decide your order in a split second when the waiter behind the tapas bar faces your way and says –Qué va a ser?!-
No pressure here!
Here you have a few options to get you started with confidence:
- Tortilla de patatas (Potato omelette, aka Spanish omelette): a thick omelette filled with fried potatoes and onions although the onion part is still debated by the purists. I wouldn’t think twice, just try and cook it yourself at home with this recipe! It’s delicious!
- Pan a la Andaluza (Andalusian bread): slices of slightly toasted bread rubbed with raw garlic, spread with a mix of chopped raw tomato and olive oil, and topped with slices of cured ham.
- Queso Manchego (cured cheese from the Spanish region of La Mancha): sliced sheep’s cheese, cured between 2 months (semi-firm) and 2 years (aged) with a side of picos (a traditional cracker specialty).
- Croquetas (ham, chicken, cheese,… you name it): Little deep-fried bites filled with a mixture of a rich and thick béchamel sauce and the ingredients of choice. The ham variation is my favourite!
- Gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns): delicious prawns cooked in garlicky olive oil, Michelle’s personal favourite and one of the staple recipes in every true Spanish home. Feel adventurous? Prepare them yourself with this recipe from Lauren at Spanish Sabores!
- Fritura de pescado (fried fish): just small fish and seafood flour-dusted and deep-fried until crispy. As easy as that!
- Deditos de pollo (chicken fingers): here the name cannot be more misleading. No chicken fingers, hands or feet whatsoever. Only strips of chicken breast, battered and fried in olive oil.
And if you think tapas are not for vegetarians, think twice!
Besides the Gazpacho Andaluz (cold tomato and vegetable cream), its thicker cousin the Salmorejo (creamier, with added stale bread and olive oil) or the Ajo blanco (a chilled soup of blanched almonds and garlic), as a vegetarian you can go for croquetas filled with leek and mushrooms, spinach and pine nuts, cheese and walnuts, chickpeas and garlic, potato and saffron… If you allow eggs in your diet, the Tortilla de patatas I mentioned before is perfect for you too, or even the Pisto Manchego (a stew of tomato, onion, eggplant and courgette, normally decorated with a friend egg on top).
- Patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy tomato sauce): chunky parboiled and fried potatoes only with a spicy tomato sauce or together with green Canarian mojo sauce and mayonnaise if you prefer variation.
- Champiñones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms): just mushrooms, olive oil, dry sherry, chilly and garlic, tooooones of garlic. Such a simple recipe so full of flavor!
- Pimientos del Padrón (Padron peppers): These little green peppers from the Spanish town of Padrón (Galicia) are just delicious when fried in a cast iron pan and seasoned with a simple pinch of rock salt. But beware, about one in ten of these little delicacies are wildly hot and there is no way to tell until you put them in your mouth! Fancy some pepper roulette?! Just be brave and try them!
What to drink, you say?
Right! You have a couple of tapas in front of you. Now what? You might wanna get something to wash them down. A glass of wine, a beer, some sangria,… The options are endless.
With Michelle and our friends we recently discovered that our favourite Spanish restaurant in Munich (yes, you read correct, in Germany) has sangria with red and white wines, AND champaign! So tempting!
Probably that’s why some of the pictures in this post are a bit blurry hahaha.
And what about a shot (a chupito in Spanish) after the feast? ¡Salud!
Before you start digging in
If you’ve ever been to Spain you’ve surely had a tapa or two. What you might not have realized is that tapas are much more than delicious little dishes. Tapas are the Spanish take on fast food. Tapas are one more reason to get social. Just part of the Spanish culture and one more reason to visit Spain again and again.
My final advice?
All those tapas on display at the bar look definitely awesome, so yummy all of them! But don’t get too crazy with the orders! 3 tapas per person is a good starting point, don’t let your eyes get bigger than your belly!
If you read till here I bet you feel hungry now! Have you ever tried Spanish tapas? Where was it and which was your favourite one! Just let me know in the comments section!
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