If you want a taste of authentic Spain on your holiday then you can’t leave without trying tapas. These dishes, simple but tasty, are not just part of Spanish cuisine but of Spanish culture and are widely available in local bars.
Tapas or Pinchos?
Tapas and pinchos are essentially small food portions such as olives, meat or fish, salad, potato or bread that can be shared with friends. The differences between tapas and pinchos, or pintxos in northern Spain, vary from area to area. In northern Spain, bars only serve pintxos where the portions are skewered and waiters use the number of cocktail sticks left at the end to calculate the bill.
In other parts of Spain, tapas – which are not skewered – are traditionally free and given by the bar in thanks when you order drinks. You also don’t have a choice about what tapas you receive. Unfortunately this free food is getting rarer, with some bars only offering a small dish of olives or nuts with drinks, and you usually have to head away from the main tourist trails to find a suitable Spanish tasca or tavern.
If you select portions from a ‘lista de las tapas’ or by pointing to food samples laid out on the counter, then you will have to pay and generally these paid portions are called pinchos. Larger portions which can feed up to three people are called raciones.
Although you have to pay for pinchos and raciones, it is not actually that expensive, with a portion of pinchos costing between 1.20 and 2.40 Euros and raciones between 6.50 and 9 Euros.
Eating tapas is a sociable experience and best in a group where a selection of half a dozen pinchos and a few raciones can make a decent meal. The bars are generally busy and noisy places so don’t be shy about finding a spot standing at the counter, especially as you pay extra to sit down and eat at a table or out on the terrace. It is also worth ordering the bar’s local special as many locals will only eat one dish at a bar – what they consider to be the best on the menu – before moving on to the next.
Many of the dishes are basic, rustic but tantalising. For example, Pan con Tomate is fresh bread served with olive oil, rubbed with a ripe tomato and salt.
Other popular dishes include Tortilla Española (potato omelette fried in olive oil), Gambas al Ajillo (sizzling shrimp in olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes) and Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy sauce with red pepper, paprika and chillies).
If you’re feeling adventurous try out Boquerones en Vinagre which are tiny fish fillets served on bread with olive oil, or Pimientos de Padron, peppers fried with salt which are normally mild but the odd one can be very hot!
What’s your favourite type of Spanish food? Let me know in the comments below.