Tapas are just tops. I don’t care who you are, I know for a fact that there is absolutely no way you would turn down a delicious snack or mini-meal with your beer or wine. Having devoured these little plates of goodness in many different Spanish cities, I am confident that there is no method of dining that is more social and relaxed than tapas.
Ranging any where from olives to bread with jamón serrano (Spain’s famous dry-cured ham) or a stuffed red bell pepper to tuna with tomato, a couple of these dishes will fill you up fast. However, the idea is not to rush, but to enjoy your food and the process of choosing or awaiting your next surprise snack. These appetizers keep you focused on the company between bites, and not solely gorging on a huge meal. Spaniards are incredibly social and thrive on the wee hours of the night to catch up with friends. It is fitting then, to eat a round of tapas at 11 or 12 o’clock on a Friday night, rather than eat a bulky dinner before dancing the night away. (And I mean that in the most literal sense, as most Spaniards end their evenings out around 6 a.m.)
Every tapas bar has its own style. Some allow you to choose your tapa from a short or elaborate menu, others surprise your pallet with each new round. Taverna Basca Irati in El Barri Gótic (or Gothic Neighborhood) of Barcelona, offers a buffet style of tapas, each held together by a single toothpick. After perusing the dozens and dozens of options (including a section of rich dessert tapas) and enjoying every crumb, the server counts the lonely toothpicks left on your table to tally the bill. Unique. Efficient. Delicious.
The historical city of Córdoba is spotted with beer bars with very traditional Spanish tapas. Technically, you choose your own snack, but that’s if they are not overwhelmingly busy. In the latter case, you get what they dish up. If it weren’t for this traditionally Spanish way of working under pressure, I would never have tried blood sausage. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thank the food gods for the Spanish tortilla (warm and dense egg dish) that followed that first blood sausage experience.
Andalucía, the southern region of Spain, is well-known to serve tapas for free with each glass of wine, beer, sangria, or tinto de verano, thus making alcohol truly cheaper than water. Well, okay, at least it’s a better deal.
Granada is very famous for the variety of tapas, many of which are inspired by Arabic and other cultures that influence the city. Other bars are known for their sheer quantity. La Bella y La Bestia boasts two locations in Granada, both of which serve heaping rations of tapas with any drink ordered. It’s the hungry man’s tapas bar. Bar Poë in the center of Granada is popular for their Thai and Indian fusion tapas served in clay ramekins. Complete with a cozy ambience and warm lighting, Poë is also the place to visit if you’re an absinthe lover. Be sure to arrive early if you want to snag a table or a comfortable leather couch. Make your way up the winding hills of the Albaicín neighborhood and you will not be disappointed by the number of traditional tapas bars neatly squeezed into every corner and crevice. Much of this neighborhood also claims some of the best views of the Alhambra and the entire city of Granada.
I knew this country was serious about food when I ordered a shawarma at a tiny kebab shop and was gifted with three falafel while I waited. “Tapa, tapa!” the man said to me. Don’t mind if I do.