Do you sometimes wish you had a tapas guide for beginners?
Eating tapas in Spain isn’t any different than ordering an appetizer before dinner, right? Or so you thought.
Because, actually, it is different. There are specific ways to approach an evening of tapas that can make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.
This beginner guide to tapas is here to get you ready for your delightful cultural adventure in Spain.
Tapas are a small bite of food or a little dish that comes along with a drink. It could be as simple as some olives or cheese. It could be larger dishes made to share.
Tapas were originally given with a drink so that people had some food in their stomachs while consuming alcohol.
The origin of the word tapas is debated. Tapa, meaning lid, referred to the lid of the wine barrel that people placed their glass on while they eat the snack that came with the drink.
Another theory was that years ago, a slice of ham was placed over each wine glass to keep out dust and flies. So that was referred to as the lid or the tapa.
Either way, drinking and tapas are an experience that is intertwined.
Aren’t Tapas Just Appetizers?
Spanish tapas are not appetizers. Appetizers are ordered before a meal and eaten as its own course.
Sharing Spanish tapas is more like an activity that goes along with having a drink with a friend or family.
It is just as much a social activity as it is a culinary one.
Where Do I Find Tapas?
Tapas are popular everywhere in Spain, but they are especially integrated into the culture of the southern region of Andalusia.
Large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona serve tapas as well.
The northern Basque region is known for pintxos, a type of tapas served on bread.
Tapas are served all over Spain in many restaurants and bars.
In popular tourist areas you’ll find them everywhere.
Some restaurants are completely dedicated do nothing but tapas.
When Do People Eat Tapas?
Traditionally, Spanish people will meet up with friends or family for a drink and a tapa will go along with it.
This might be at lunch time typically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The next typical time would be in the evening between 6 and 8 p.m. This could be on the way home from work which is a good time to stop and visit with a friend.
Are you noticing the pattern of socializing?
Dinner is served very late in Spain. Anytime from 9 p.m. till midnight.
Sometimes, before dinner, groups of friends or family will wander from location to location having a drink and a tapa at each stop.
There is a verb for this called tapear.
This can be a pre-dinner activity or may serve as the meal itself.
Beginner’s Guide to Ordering
As a beginner to ordering tapas you may feel intimidated by the process. Especially if you are not fluent in Spanish.
In a crowded tavern don’t be shy. It will be hectic and loud. The hustle and bustle is part of the atmosphere. The bartenders will seem like they don’t stop moving.
Look confident. Smile. Wiggle in and speak up if you wish to be heard.
Remember, if you find yourself in a place that seems very busy, that’s great because that means you’re most likely in an excellent establishment.
The tapas may be displayed on the bar or in a glass case. Possibly there will be a menu on a blackboard or laminated card.
If you don’t speak the language there is nothing wrong with just pointing to what you want.
When it’s not too busy go ahead and try out your Spanish. Pronounce from the menu as best you can. Most often people are appreciative when you try to learn their language.
What Do Tapas Cost?
Well, that depends where in Spain you are.
In general, a small tapa is a few Euros and a plateful of tapas are a few more.
When you order a drink at a tavern or bar, many places will bring you a small tapa for free.
With each drink you order you will receive another tapa.
This cultural practice holds true in southern regions of Spain such as Andalusia.
The cost can add up quickly but divided up between friends it can be a relatively inexpensive meal.
How Many Dishes Should I Order?
It’s best to start out with two or three. You could always order more.
Plates are sent out when ready and in no particular order.
It’s fun to try a couple and then try a couple more.
You may want to order certain dishes in addition to the one they bring with your drink.
Especially if you’re with a large group.
A larger dish of tapas are called media or ración, half or full portions respectively.
Many times people will have a drink and a tapa in one bar and then move on to the next place. Filling their evening by repeating the process.
What Do I Order?
Each different place you go to will have their own best dish. So, if you are adventurous, ask what the specialty of the house is.
I created a list of personal favorites below.
The jamon and vermouth (fortified wine) are at the top of my must haves.
Many places that I visited in Spain have their own homemade recipe for vermouth and it is outstanding.
Pintxos are a different style of tapa found in abundance in the northern Spain Basque Region.
This is where they originated and where they are wildly popular.
Most typically, Pintxos are small bites that are placed on bread and speared with a toothpick.
The counter will be filled with platters of self serve tapas.
Just fill your plate and then they will count the toothpicks at the end of the meal to tally your bill.
Heading to Spain soon?
I hope you enjoy some tapas and that you found this beginner’s guide helpful.
Here is the link to Spain’s official tourism site for more trip planning information.
Sharing drinks and Tapas are one of the most memorable experiences you can have while visiting Spain.
So don’t forget to bring home some food souvenirs with you when you leave.
If you have never traveled internationally check out this guide for first timers traveling abroad.
“Tapas.” Wikipedia, 27 Nov. 2022. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tapas&oldid=1124167193.