Tasty, cheap and uncomplicated!
All words David and I would have never used to describe Spanish tapas until after our visit to the Andalusian region of Spain. Here in Denver, tapas are BEAUTIFUL little bits of yummy food served up so prettily on small plates coupled with HUGE price tags. It’s not unusual for about three bites on a plate to cost $9 or more. And we’ve paid it! And enjoyed it!
There’s something to be said for enjoying so many different tastes and flavors in one sitting. And the social fun of sharing those bites with others, thus everyone experiences the joy. But a few weeks in Andalucia, Spain, the birthplace of tapas, changed our perspective so much.
We ate tapas in Seville, Cadiz, Medina and Chipiona, Spain. And OMG, our taste buds did the happy dance for weeks. My mouth is watering right now, just thinking about those beautiful little plates of food.
Everything we thought we knew…was WRONG.
Spanish tapas aren’t expensive. And they equal more than three bites of food. Nor are they an appetizer. AND not all places in Spain serve you tapas when you order a drink. In fact, in the Andalusia region, we never received free tapas with a drink order and now know it’s a regional thing. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying tapas or the education we received while eating them.
In Spanish, tapa means lid.
The story goes that back in the day, a barman served the small plates of ham covering his customer’s drinks to keep flies and bees out. Serving food on the little plates caught on and today is one of the many reasons for visiting Spain. And while still served in bars, today, they are rarely served on top your drink.
Depending on the region of Spains, tapas also go by pinchos or pintxos. You’ll also find tapas served with toothpicks. Keep your toothpicks because that’s how to barman counts what you’ve eaten for charging you when you’re done eating.
In the Andalucia region, tapas are eaten for lunch and the evening ritual of meeting up with friends at the bars for a snack to hold the tummy until dinner. In Chipiona, where we were staying, people met at the bars along the promenade to enjoy tapas and drinks while watching the sunset over the ocean.
For us, the Spanish snack time is more like our regular dinner time here in the US, around 7 pm. Because the Spanish don’t usually eat dinner around 9 pm, which is closer to our bedtime, David and I would often enjoy tapas for dinner. Not a bad thing at all! We eventually did adapt to the late European dinner hours, but two months into our travels we weren’t there yet.
Types of Spanish Tapas
Spanish tapas range from small bowls of olives, nuts, and cheese to seafood and slow-cooked meat stews. Recipes and techniques depend heavily on the region, city, town and even restaurant you’re in. They’re served both hot and cold and eaten with either the fingers, toothpicks or silverware.
The sizes are much larger than those served in the US. David and I could make a meal out of 4 to 5 plates, whereas in the US, that would be the order for each of us. I really wasn’t kidding about three bites being a tapa plate here in the US. It’s the unfortunate truth.
In the authentic tapas bars, you order your tapas and drinks standing at the bar from a menu written on a chalkboard. David and I made a game of just ordering something random to see what we ended up with. And on days we were tired, we asked the barman to send out his favorites. It was an amazing experience because we ended up trying foods, like the mantis shrimp, we would never have tasted otherwise.
And the prices! The average price for the tapas we ate around Andalucia was $2 to $4 a plate, with a few more expensive ones running up to about $8. Here in the US, those three bites I’ve been mentioning, range from $4 to $20. Tapas were more expensive in the tourist areas, but we avoid those areas like the plague. The food is always average tasting, overpriced and lacking in quality and creativity.
But what beautiful food. We ate Spanish/Asian fusion tapas in Cadiz and loads of traditional flavors in Chipiona, Seville, Medina, Jerez, and several of the other little towns around the region. Our average bill with four glasses of wine/beer and four to five plates of food ran around $18. Our most expensive, $50 for the fusion tapas from El viajero del MERKAO in Cadiz, which would have cost us at least $200 here in the US.
Such fantastic food, people, and culture. We can’t wait to return. In the meantime, we satisfy ourselves with the photos we took of the Spanish tapas we ate while in Spain. My mouth is watering just looking at them. Isn’t yours?