Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day

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Shwetali Sapte - [email protected]
Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day
Pulpo a la gallega, delicious octopus with potatoes, olive oil, paprika and rock salt. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

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 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. 


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. 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.


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 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 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. 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.



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.



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