SHARE
COPY LINK

FOOD & DRINK

Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

In honour of World Tapas Day today on June 16th, we've put together a list of 14 Spanish tapas you absolutely must try at least once in your life.

spain's best tapas
Pulpo a la gallega, delicious octopus with potatoes, olive oil, paprika and rock salt. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Spain’s tourism agency Turespaña has declared the third Thursday of every June as World Tapas Day.

We’re sure anyone would agree that tapas deserve their own day of celebration, especially those of you who have feasted on melt-in-your-mouth croquetas in a little Spanish bar overflowing with people and food.

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

READ MORE: The stats that explain Spain’s love affair with tapas

A ‘tapa’ was then a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink. Centuries later, tapas have become a symbol of Spanish culture.

To mark World Tapas Day, we’ve put together a list of classics, from Spanish omelette to sliced octopus generously sprinkled with paprika.

Which is your favourite?

Patatas bravas

patatas bravas
Patatas bravas. Photo: leo gonzales/Flickr.

A classic, these bite-sized pieces of potato are typically pan-fried or deep-fried and then drizzled all over with a spicy tomato sauce. This brava sauce is a medley of red pepper, paprika, chilli, and other spices depending on which region of Spain you’re in. One of the cheapest and tastiest tapas Spain has to offer. 

Embutidos 

Iberian ham
Iberian ham with cheese. Photo: Hideya Hamano/Flickr.

Cold cuts or embutidos are a true Spanish classic. They are typically made from pork and include the beloved Iberian ham, as well as chorizo, the traditional smoked, spicy Spanish sausage. In many bars, the jamón is freshly cut into delicate slivers in front of you, and served by itself or with a bit of bread and cheese. While chorizo comes in many varieties including ones with garlic, honey, or a red wine glaze.

Croquetas

croquetas
Croquetas. Photo: gorka arcocha/Flickr.

Spanish croquettes are bite-sized, deep-fried snacks usually loaded with various ingredients mixed in béchamel, a sauce of butter, flour, and milk. They’re deliciously crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and loved for their versatility. A croqueta can be stuffed with any combination of cheeses, shellfish, potatoes, meat, and vegetables, making it the perfect go-to tapa for vegetarians. The classics are jamón, bacalao (cod), boletus (wild mushroom), queso cabrales (blue cabrales cheese), calamar en su tinta (squid in ink) and espinacas (spinach). 

Pimientos de padrón

Padrón peppers are a classic Spanish tapa. Photo: Jessica Spengler / WikiCommons
 
A plate of lightly fried and salted small green Padrón peppers is a great addition to any tapas order. They’re small enough to be eaten whole and typically have a mild flavour, however once in a while, you may be lucky enough to get a spicy one. 

Fried cuttlefish

fried cuttlefish
Fried cuttlefish. Photo: stu_spivack/Flickr.

Choco – the Spanish word for cuttlefish – is a tender, delicious fish usually cut into long slices and fried. This gives them a satisfying crunch on the outside and an incredibly soft texture on the inside.

Tortillas

tortilla
A tortilla with potatoes and garlic shoots. Photo: su-lin/Flickr.

The tortilla de patatas is Spain’s unofficial national dish. The simple yet hugely satisfying potato omelette is the staple of practically every Spanish menu, from the hole-in-the-wall bars to the fanciest of restaurants. But it’s also a dish that divides opinion like no other – onions or no onions? and runny or dry? being the two most debated questions when it comes to the popular dish.

READ ALSO Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas 

Calamares

Calamares should be sprinkled with fresh lemon juice. Photo: Bart-ter-Haar / Pixabay
 
Of course, you can’t have a proper tapas table without battered squid rings. These are traditionally from Andalusia, but can be found all over Spain on almost any tapas menu. However, they’re best eaten by the sea, sprinkled with lemon and served with a cold caña or glass of beer. 

Anchovies

anchovies with olives
Anchovies with olives. Photo: Javier Lastras/Flickr.

This fish is served in the form of tender filets known for their distinctly tangy, salty taste. This is because they’re usually fried or marinated in vinegar as well as liberally salted. They can also come in the form of boquerones, marinated vinegar, olive oil, and seasoned with garlic and parsley. This tapa makes a healthy dish with some Mediterranean olives because it’s packed with vitamins and beneficial fatty acids.

Tabla de quesos

A cheese board may come with fruit or jam. Photo: Volker Gröschl / Pixabay
 
Cheese boards are not only loved in France, but they feature on many Spanish tapas menus too. They typically feature the famous queso Manchego from Castilla La-Mancha, as well as a soft goat’s cheese (queso de cabra), a blue cheese such as the Cabrales cheese from Asturias and several hard and semi-hard cured cheeses made from either cow or sheep milk. 

Pulpo a la gallega

pulpo a la gallega
Pulpo a la gallega. Photo: Javier Lastras/Flickr.

Freshly-caught octopus is softened by boiling in salted water and then sliced up, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with paprika for flavour. Although often served as an entire plate, you’ve lucked out if you are offered it as a tapa. A typical dish from Galicia it can now be found all over Spain, but retains its distinct Galician-style flavour.

Gambas al ajillo

gambas al ajillo
Gambas al ajillo. Photo: Bill Couch/Flickr.

Fresh shrimp cooked in garlic and olive oil, lightly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, is a delicacy especially popular along Spain’s coastline. To add a punch, they’re sometimes finished off with a dash of red pepper and parsley.

Berenjenas con miel 

Battered aubergines drizzled in a dark sugar cane syrup, they refer to as honey, are a firm favourite from Andalusia. Crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle, their origins come from the Moors, who rules the southern part of Spain for many years. They’re a great option for vegetarians, who may feel like they’re missing out on many of the typical tapas dishes. 

READ ALSO: ‘What did the Moors ever do for us?’ How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

Albóndigas

albondigas
Albóndigas. Photo: ccho/Flickr.

An albóndiga is a rich, savoury Spanish meatball loaded with pork or beef. Ideal for warming up in colder weather, a couple of these make for a satisfying tapa, along with a sauce of lightly seasoned tomatoes, parsley, or almonds.

Flamenquín

flamenquín
Sliced flamenquín. Photo: Juanjo R/Flickr.

Popular in Córdoba and the rest of southern Spain, flamenquín is a long roll stuffed with slices of Iberian ham wrapped in pork loin. It’s breadcrumbed and fried to give it that perfect golden-brown colour.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

Granada

Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain

Almería

Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Jaén

The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 

León

It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 

Ávila

In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Lugo
Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).

SHOW COMMENTS