One of my favourite things about Spain is the food – fresh ingredients, often straight from the sea, simply cooked.
Eating at tapas bars allows you to try lots of small dishes with the premise that if you like it, you can order more but if you don’t then, not to worry, you can move on and try something else. This is ideal when you consider that some tapas only cost €1 or €2 each and, in many places, come free with your drinks.
Below you’ll find some of my favourites as well as the top choices from some fellow travel bloggers.
TORTILLITAS DE CAMARONES
These crispy, crunchy fritters made with tiny whole shrimps (camarones), chopped spring onions and parsley are, quite possibly, my favourite of all the delicious tapas that Spain has to offer.
Tortillitas de camarones are an Andalucian speciality and are most commonly found on the Costa de la Luz in one of the many freidurias (fried fish restaurants) popular in the region. If you ever visit Cadiz I’d recommend a visit to Freiduria las Flores where you can people watch over a plate of tortillitas while enjoying an ice-cold beer or sipping a sherry.
GAMBAS PIL PIL
There’s nothing quite like dipping fresh crusty bread into a sizzling terracotta dish of gambas pil pil (prawns cooked with slices of garlic, chilli and olive oil) to soak up the spicy infused oil.
This is another Andalucian speciality but, if you don’t like garlic, you’ll want to give it a miss! The oil should still be bubbling when it’s brought to your table so, although you’ll want to dive straight in for a plump juicy prawn, caution is recommended if you want to avoid burning your mouth!
Sometimes the simplest foods are the tastiest and the humble anchovy definitely falls into this category. You’ll generally find them served one of two ways on a tapas menu.
Boquerones en vinagre (anchovies in vinegar) are fillets which have been marinated in vinegar, seasoned with garlic and served with a drizzle of olive oil (and a cold beer).
Boquerones fritos are tasty little fried anchovies which have been coated in flour, fried in olive oil until crisp and then served with a squeeze of lemon. They’re usually eaten whole (the bones are soft) and, again, are perfect washed down with an ice-cold beer.
Russian salad is a staple of just about every tapas menu in Spain. The recipe varies from region to region and even from bar to bar but is, essentially, a mixture of potatoes and eggs (boiled and chopped) in creamy mayonnaise, sometimes with peas and carrots, sometimes without. The most common addition to the mix is tuna, but you might also find it with prawns.
As you can probably guess, Russian salad started life, not in Spain, but in the kitchens of Moscow where it was invented by a Belgian chef, Lucien Olivier, in the 1860s. Over the years the original recipe, which contained expensive gourmet ingredients, has been adapted to suit the times leaving us with the Russian salad we know and love.
ESPETOS as chosen by Joanna from The World in my Pocket
There is no better way of spending a Sunday on Costa Tropical than on the beach, at a chiringuito, having a cold beer and a plate of espetos – fish on a stick.
Becoming popular in Spain in the 1950s, the chiringuitos are now part of the Spanish beach culture and a must go to when on vacation on any of the coastal towns in the country. The chiringuitos are practically simple beach bars with plastic tables and chairs set right on the sand, which serve grilled fish. The grills are usually in the shape of an old boat filled with sand and covered with olive tree wood. The tapa espetos consists of 10 sardines pushed onto a skewer which is then grilled over the open fire at a 45 degrees angle. The only seasoning these sardines have is a little bit of olive oil and some sea salt. It is served with a wedge of lemon on the side.
The espetos are meant to be eaten whole, with the head and the tail. They are absolutely delicious! A plate of espetos with 10 sardines on it costs around 5 euros.
PULPO A LA GALLEGA as chosen by Campbell and Alya from the Stingy Nomads
Spain is a real paradise for food lovers, every region has its specialties it’s always a fun thing to go out and try different tapas. One of my favourite tapas in Spain is Pulpo a la Gallega – a traditional Galician dish. The first time I tried this dish was in a bar in Ferrol we were about to start the Camino Inglés one of the Camino de Santiago routes. I’m a big fan of seafood and always try new things in different countries, but Galician Pulpo is something very special.
Pulpo a la Gallega or Polbo á Feira (the local name) means a “fair-style octopus”. It is not difficult to guess that octopus is the main ingredient of the dish. The cooking process is the following; first octopus is boiled in a big copper pot for 50min. to 1 hour. After that it’s left in the pot for another 20 minutes – the octopus must be ready but not overcooked. When it’s done it’s cut into pieces, usually, only the tentacles are served, seasoned with salt, herbs, and paprika and sprinkled with olive oil. It’s a great tapa to have with beer or wine when we go out in Galicia we always order Pimientos de Padrón with it as well.
PIMIENTOS DE PADRON as chosen by Laura from Travelers Universe
Pimientos de Padrón (aka Padrón peppers) are some of the most simple vegan tapas you can eat in Spain. They are original from a municipality in Galicia that also gave them their name and are incredibly easy to prepare. You just heat some olive oil in a pan, add the small, green peppers and toss them occasionally until the skin starts to soften. The result is a delicious side dish that can accompany fried eggs, potatoes or meat.
I like to think of these peppers as a surprise on a plate. That’s because while most of them are mild, a very small percentage of them are really hot. So you never know. First time I tried them was years ago at San Miguel Market in Madrid. This is a wonderful foodie meeting place and a real must-see even if you spend even as little as 3 days in Madrid. But you can also order them in most tapas bars around Spain.
CROQUETAS as chosen by Sam from Alternative Travelers
Croquetas are one of the most traditionally Spanish tapas and certainly a “must eat” for visitors to Spain. Also known in English as croquettes, croquetas share an origin story with many dishes in Spain, as a way to repurpose leftovers. For this reason, these breaded and fried balls of deliciousness can be filled with any number of ingredients, mixed with a creamy béchamel sauce. Traditional fillings include jamón (cured Spanish ham), chorizo, or cod. Vegetarian fillings such as mushroom, leek, spinach, and squash are also popular.
Our favourite croqueta, which also won “best tapa” in a neighbourhood tapas festival, can be found at Distrito Vegano, one of the best vegan restaurants in Madrid. But since croquetas are so common, you can try them in practically any traditional Spanish restaurant or bar. This finger food is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of Spanish wine or a caña (small beer). They’re usually served in a sharing plate, so make sure to go with eating companions!
PATATAS BRAVAS as chosen by Vicki from Vicki Viaja
One thing you have to try before leaving Spain is its delicious tapas. Even after living in the country for more than 3 years now, I am enjoying the delicious tapas at least once a week. My absolute favourite and one of the “Tapas Basics” are Patatas Bravas. Even though the recipe might be pretty simple, the taste is amazing. It’s basically just fried pieces of potato (“Patatas”) served with Brava Sauce. The sauce is a mixture of tomato sauce and mayonnaise. And even though, the sauce is so easy to make it tastes different in every place you might try it.
The best Patatas Bravas I’ve ever tried I found in my hometown Barcelona. Actually, there are quite some bars and restaurants in which they taste amazing. Often it’s those little places that are rather hidden in which you can find the best ones made following traditional family recipes.
HUEVOS ROTOS as chosen by Maggie from The World Was Here First
You can find a lot of iterations of egg and potato dishes in Spain, but one of the best is undoubtedly huevos rotos. Literally translated, this dish means “broken eggs” and, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most delicious tapas to eat in Spain.
In its most basic form, huevos rotos only uses two ingredients: eggs and potatoes. Many restaurants will make this dish in their own unique way but it typically consists of a couple of gooey fried eggs set atop a bed of potatoes. More often than not, you can also get this dish with any number of toppings. Some of the most common you will see are huevos rotos con jamón (with ham), con chorizo, con pimientos (with peppers), or con morcilla (with blood sausage).
Unlike many Spanish dishes that are strictly regional, you can find huevos rotos on many menus in any city that you may visit on a Spain itinerary.
If you fancy trying to make your own tapas why not check out some of these tapas recipe books?
What are your favourites? Leave a comment with your choice and I’ll try it out!