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Tapas in Spain

Toma Jamon, a tapas place

Spain is probably best known around the world for its tapas culture. This is the practice of eating small plates of food  – pretty much always with drinks like beer, sangria or wine – before dinner. It’s a social thing as much as a food thing, but the food element is what makes it stand out from other countries that have a bar or pub culture where people simply meet up for a drink. With tapas, food is just as important as the drinks.

Guidebooks and food tv shows seem to imply that you can eat plates and plates of tapas, either as a meal or as a big snack before a late dinner. Although the plates are smaller than full sized dinners, I definitely couldn’t do this unless I had a big party. Two or maybe three plates, along with some bread and olives, were more than enough for dinner in just about every instance.

Ham and cheese with olive oil

Tapas is served in two ways: as small plate and as racions. Raciones are generally larger servings of tapas and places that have more sit-down tables in addition to the bar usually offer these. When you go into a tapas place, choose your drinks and pick one or two items off of the menu. Eat these, then order more if you’re still hungry, or try another tapas bar. Most bars don’t vary radically on menu choices, offering things like ham, cheese, olives (and dishes that combine these), spanish tortillas with various fillings, small portions of meat and egg dishes, fried calamari, grilled octopus, etc. You can find good eats anywhere where they have a full kitchen (some places just buy the food elsewhere and replate it ) and the deciding factor on whether you want to tapas hop should be whether you like the atmosphere and the prices of the place you’re currently at.

Artichokes and ham
I don’t have photos of all the tapas I ate in Spain (none of these are from the tapas restaurant pictured above, which I also ate at) , largely because crowded, smokey bars with low lighting are not always the best places to try and snap good photos, but I sampled a lot of dishes that featured ham and had some great pulpo a la gallega (octopus with garlic and olive oil), as well as classics like the ubiquitous-at-tapas-restaurants Spanish tortilla. Oh, and I also had some good sangria, too!

Tapas is something you’re bound to try on a trip to Spain because there are so many restaurants that serve it – and that’s a good thing. It’s a fun, social way to eat and, although I wouldn’t necessarily want tapas to replace all of my usual dinners, a great way to sample lots of tasty dishes in a short period of time.

Spanish Tortilla

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  • Cooking in Mexico
    June 6, 2010

    Enticing photos! And thanks for taking us on a little trip to Spain with you. We travel on our stomachs.
    Buen provecho!


  • Maria
    June 7, 2010

    I am from Spain and enjoyed reading your comment a lot…it remains me of homes.
    I don’t know if you had time to travel around Spain, but every region has its own typical “tapas”. I have to say though, that for me, there is nothing like San Sebastian (or Donostia, how we call it). It is the capital of the “pintxos” (how the tapas are called in the north of Spain). There you can walk into a bar that has an extensive offering of many pintxos, cold or hot.
    Glad you enjoyed your trip!

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