EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater Matt Robson from Spain Guides shares with us the tastiest and most authentic Spanish tapas that you need to try on your next trip to Spain.
Welcome to our comprehensive guide to Spanish tapas! This one-stop guide will explain everything you need to know about this integral part of Spanish gastronomy.
Like Spanish food as a whole, tapas have become an essential aspect of tourism in Spain, with visitors eager to explore the unique regional variations and flavors of tapas and pintxos.
There’s a wide range of Spanish tapas that you need to try in Spain, but some of the most popular include patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), tortilla de patatas (Spanish version of a potato omelette), gambas al ajillo (Spanish garlic prawns), and croquetas (croquettes filled with ham, cheese, or fish).
If you’re like us and don’t want to miss out on the most delicious and interesting food a destination has to offer, then this Spanish tapas guide will be very useful to you.
And don’t worry. If you can’t go to Spain just yet but would like to throw a tapas party, then we’ve compiled a list of the most popular dishes with authentic Spanish tapas recipes. Recreate them at home and get even more excited for your future trip to Spain!
SPANISH TAPAS QUICK LINKS
If you’re planning a trip to Spain and want to learn more about tapas and Spanish food, then you may be interested in going on a food tour or taking a cooking class.
- Food Tours: Food and Wine/Drinking Tours in Spain
- Cooking Classes: Cooking Classes in Spain
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WHAT ARE SPANISH TAPAS?
Tapas are basically small dishes that are served as a starter to the main course in tapas bars, taverns, and restaurants across Spain. Although they were originally thought of as appetizers, nowadays it’s very normal for people to eat a selection of tapas instead of one large plate of food.
The tradition of tapas is believed to have originated in the southern region of Andalusia, where bartenders would place a small piece of bread over the glass to keep the flies out. Then tapas bar owners started putting snacks on the plate to accompany the drink, and this is how Spanish tapas were born. The word tapar in Spanish means “to cover”.
In the Basque Country, in northern Spain, tapas are called pintxos. They’re the region’s unique take on these famous little plates of food.
The history of pintxos is closely linked to the development of the Basque Country’s gastronomic offerings, which is world renowned for its emphasis on innovative cooking techniques using only the freshest of local ingredients.
Pintxos bars in San Sebastian offer an incredible range of flavors, with ingredients ranging from seafood and cured meats to cheese and vegetables. Popular pintxos served in San Sebastian include olives, anchovies, cured ham, and idiazabal – an award-winning Basque cheese.
Tapas and pintxos have become an integral part of the Spanish gastronomic scene, with many people enjoying them as part of their daily routine. Over time, tapas and pintxos have evolved from simple snacks to complex and diverse dishes, reflecting the cultural and regional diversity of Spain.
HOW TO ENJOY TAPAS IN SPAIN
Hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar is always fun, but perhaps an even better way to enjoy and learn all about tapas (and Spanish food in general) is to use a local guide. Joining a guided tapas tour is the perfect way to discover the diverse range of tapas and pintxos that each region has to offer.
A knowledgeable guide can take you to hidden gems and recommend Spanish dishes that you may not have tried on your own. They can also provide insight into the history and culture of the region, making your culinary experience more enriching.
Plus, with a guide, you don’t have to worry about getting lost or struggling with the language barrier!
TOP TRADITIONAL SPANISH TAPAS BY REGION
Depending on where you are in Spain, tapas will reflect local ingredients, culture, and culinary traditions. In some areas – such as Granada, Castilla y Leon, and Galicia – Spanish tapas are often served at tapas bars for free with drinks, while in most other areas, they are paid for separately.
Each region has its own unique take on tapas, such as boquerones (marinated anchovies) in Andalucia, ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad) in Madrid, and pintxos de tortilla (potato omelette skewers) in the Basque Country.
Pintxos are the Basque region’s version of tapas, particularly in the city of San Sebastian. The word “pintxo” comes from the Spanish word pinchar, meaning “to pierce”, as the small bite-sized Spanish dishes are usually served on a skewer or toothpick.
Some of the most classic Spanish tapas found in Andalucía include gazpacho, a cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic; tortilla española, a Spanish tortilla or omelette made with potatoes and onions; and croquetas, small fried rolls filled with a variety of ingredients such as ham, fish, chicken, or cheese.
Other popular Andalucian tapas include fried fish (pescadito frito), grilled shrimp (gambas a la plancha), and cured ham (jamon curado).
In the Balearic Islands, Spanish tapas are known as pa amb oli, which translates to “bread with oil.” This classic Spanish dish typically consists of toasted crusty bread rubbed with garlic and tomato and drizzled with olive oil, then topped with a variety of ingredients such as cheese, ham, and anchovies.
Another classic Spanish tapa in the Balearic Islands is ensaimada, a sweet pastry that is often filled with cream or other sweet fillings (people familiar with the Filipino pastry snack will want to try this). Calamares a la romana, or Spanish fried calamari, are also popular.
In the Basque Country, you’ll find the famous pintxos, the region’s own version of Spanish tapas. The pintxos culture in the Basque Country is very important, with many tapas bars and restaurants specializing in creating unique and delicious combinations of ingredients.
Popular pintxos include gilda, a classic pintxo made with a skewer of olive, pickled pepper, and anchovy, often served with a spicy kick. Another is txalupa, a mini boat-shaped slice of bread topped with a variety of ingredients such as seafood, meats, or vegetables, and then finished off with a sauce. A third is tortilla de bacalao, a traditional Basque-style cod omelette that is often served as a pintxo.
In the Canary Islands, Spanish tapas have a strong Canarian and Latin American influence. Popular tapas include papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) with the local spicy mojo sauce, gofio escaldado (toasted flour with fish broth), pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus), queso asado (grilled cheese), and albondigas (Spanish meatballs).
Other Spanish tapas you may find on the islands are pimientos de padron (padron peppers), tortilla española (Spanish omelette), and churros con chocolate (fried dough with hot chocolate sauce), which are typically eaten as a dessert.
Castilla a la Mancha
Typical Spanish tapas found in this region include the famous Manchego cheese, spicy chorizo sausage, and marinated olives. Other popular tapas include patatas bravas, which are fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce; and migas, a dish made from fried breadcrumbs, garlic, and paprika.
Catalonia has a rich culinary heritage, and this is reflected in the variety of tapas available throughout the region.
Some of the classic Spanish tapas you might find in Catalonia include patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), escalivada (grilled vegetables), bombas (potato croquettes filled with meat), pa amb tomàquet (crusty bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil), fuet (a type of cured sausage), and coca de recapte – a type of flatbread topped with roasted vegetables and cured meats.
Catalonia is also known for its seafood dishes, so you can expect to find tapas using ingredients like fried baby squid, Spanish shrimp, fried anchovies, and marinated sardines.
Galicia is famous for its fresh seafood, and tapas in Galicia reflect this. Octopus (pulpo) is a popular tapa. It’s usually boiled and then drizzled with olive oil and Spanish paprika. Mussels (mejillones) and razor clams (navajas) are often served in a simple broth.
Galician empanadas (savory pastries) are also a must-try. They’re usually filled with tuna, cod, or chicken. Cheese (queso) is another staple in Galician tapas.
Some of the most typical tapas in Madrid include tortilla de patatas, a delicious potato omelette; and bocadillo de calamares, a type of sandwich made with fried squid rings in a bread roll.
Other popular tapas in Madrid include croquetas, a fried breadcrumb ball filled with ham, cheese, or chicken; huevos rotos, which are broken fried eggs typically served with ham and fried peppers; and patatas bravas, deep-fried potato chunks served with a spicy sauce.
Murcia is famous for its seafood so it’s no surprise that a number of the most popular tapas use fresh fish and shellfish.
Some of the most delicious tapas in Murcia include ensalada murciana (a salad of tomatoes, onions, and salt cod), pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus with potatoes), and calamares a la Romana (fried squid rings).
Another popular tapa in Murcia is zarangollo, a dish made with eggs, onions, and courgettes. Additionally, many bars in Murcia offer a variety of local cheeses, cured meats, and bread as tapas.
Valencia’s tapas scene is influenced by its location on the Mediterranean coast. You will find a variety of seafood tapas like sepia con alioli (cuttlefish with garlic mayonnaise) or gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic).
Valencia is where paella was first created and is a popular tapas dish. Other regional specialties include esgarraet, a dish made with roasted red peppers and salt cod.
AUTHENTIC SPANISH TAPAS RECIPES FOR 20 OF THE MOST POPULAR TAPAS IN SPAIN
If you can’t fly to Spain just yet, then how about creating a Spanish tapas board or throwing your very own tapas party? Listed below is a brief description of twenty of the most popular tapas dishes in Spain, along with links to their recipes.
1. Tortilla de Patatas
An authentic Spanish tapas recipe for this classic Spanish omelette made with potatoes and onions is a must for any tapas party.
RECIPE: Tortilla de patatas
These Spanish ham croquettes are another crowd-pleaser. They’re small fried bites made with a creamy filling, usually ham or cheese.
3. Patatas Bravas
Are these fried potato chunks served with a spicy tomato sauce better than french fries? We think so.
RECIPE: Patatas bravas
4. Pan con Tomate
This tapa consisting of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and then topped with tomato and olive oil is one of my personal favorites.
RECIPE: Pan con tomate
5. Gambas al Ajillo
Sautéed Spanish garlic shrimp served in a sizzling hot skillet? Yes, please!
RECIPE: Gambas al ajillo
6. Calamares a la Romana
These deep-fried battered squid rings will always be everyone’s favorite squid dish. Serve them with lemon wedges for a punch of acidity.
RECIPE: Calamares a la romana
7. Pimientos de Padron
Turn up the heat with these fried small green peppers sprinkled with coarse salt.
RECIPE: Pimientos de padron
8. Pulpo a la Gallega
This Galician-style octopus dish served with boiled potatoes, paprika, and extra virgin olive oil is a guaranteed showstopper.
RECIPE: Pulpo a la gallega
9. Ensaladilla Rusa
Russian salad is delicious. This Russian-inspired Spanish potato salad made with potatoes, carrots, peas, and tuna may be even better.
RECIPE: Ensaladilla rusa
10. Pincho de Tortilla
Want tortilla de patatas that’s easier to eat? Served on a toothpick, these pinchos de tortilla are the answer.
RECIPE: Pincho de tortilla
11. Montadito de Jámon
Toasted bread topped with Iberian ham is your new favorite finger sandwich. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil to make them even better.
RECIPE: Montadito de jamon
Grilled Basque sausages served sliced on bread will definitely grab people’s attention.
13. Boquerones en Vinagre
This tapas dish of marinated white anchovies served with garlic and parsley is one of the best things we’ve eaten in Spain. Your guests will love it.
RECIPE: Boquerones en vinagre
14. Huevos Rotos
Fried eggs served on top of crispy fried potatoes. Enough said.
RECIPE: Huevos rotos
15. Chorizo a la Sidra
You may have heard of Spanish chorizo cooked in red wine (chorizo al vino tinto), but have you heard of Spanish chorizo cooked in Asturian cider?
RECIPE: Chorizo a la sidra
16. Solomillo al Whiskey
Tenderloin steak cooked in whiskey sauce because whiskey makes everything better.
RECIPE: Solomillo al whiskey
17. Cazón en Adobo
Bring your guests to Andalusia with this Spanish tapas recipe for deep-fried marinated dogfish served with alioli.
RECIPE: Cazon en adobo
18. Tostada con Tomate y Jamón
Simple but tasty, it’s hard not to like toasted bread rubbed with garlic and then topped with tomato and Iberian ham.
RECIPE: Tostada con tomate y jamon
19. Pintxo Gilda
This classic Basque-style pintxo made with olives, pickled peppers, and anchovies is sure to grab eyeballs.
RECIPE: Pintxo gilda
20. Almejas a la Marinera
Last but not least is this recipe for clams cooked in a white wine and garlic sauce.
RECIPE: Almejas a la marinera
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SPANISH TAPAS
Tapas and pintxos are an essential part of Spanish gastronomy and culture.
The tradition of sharing small plates of food with friends and family is a way of life in Spain, and visitors to the country should definitely experience it for themselves.
Whether it’s classic dishes like tortilla de patatas and croquetas or more unique regional specialties like Basque pintxos or Galician pulpo a la gallega, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
So if you’re planning a trip to Spain, don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample some of the best and most authentic Spanish tapas the country has to offer.
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