Together with paella, tapas is probably the best-known part of Spanish food culture. Typical tapas menu in Spain includes small snacks served together with a glass of wine or a pint of beer. Tapas etiquette is the easiest – no formal manners, no hassle with different cutlery. Just easy going finger food shared with friends.
Table of content
- History of tapas etiquette
- What kind of food is tapas?
- Typical tapas menu in Spain – top 10 tapas you should eat in Spain
- Try cooking Spanish tapas – it’s easy!
- Tapas bars in Costa del Sol
- Learn 5 easy words of Spanish
- Did you know this funny fact?
1. History of tapas etiquette
We could debate whether the tapas etiquette – the habit of eating small snacks – originates from the 13th century King Alfonso, who enforced a law for taverns to be obliged to serve food with drinks. Or was it just a practical trick to keep dust and insects out of one’s drink?
Either way, the old habit nowadays common all over in Spain was started in the taverns and bars in Andalucía.
What time do you eat tapas?
When we are on holiday in Spain, we usually order tapas as a small lunch or a snack before dinner, which is generally eaten fairly late between 9 pm and 11 pm in Spain (I know – seems so very late!).
In addition, if we are – on a rare occasion – having dinner with adults only, we might go “bar-hopping” – “ir de tapas”– and taste a different variety of tapas in 2-3 restaurants and skip proper dinner.
As part of the tapas etiquette are the old habits that sometimes, particularly in Southern Spain, you might get something small for free, like olives or chips if you ask the waiter ‘¿tienes alguna tapa?‘ (have you got any tapas?).
But pay attention – if they bring you a menu, it means you have to pay for whatever you choose. If they bring you a typical tapas menu in Spain: a plate of goodies – enjoy!
2. What kind of food is tapas?
What is tapas? Tapas – de tapeo – is a typical Spanish appetiser. Basically a small plate of food and full of flavour.
What is a tapas menu?
The tapas menu includes plates and dishes are either cold or hot. Sorry to tell you, but not too many traditional tapas plates are vegetarian.
Even mushrooms usually have ham in them, or stuffed courgette is filled with minced meat. The potato salad – ensaladilla – is quite often served with prawns, and mixed salad has tinned tuna on top.
Pintxos. Slices of bread with various & creative toppings like e.g. tomato and jamón, meatballs, chèvre cheese and fig jam, sardines and canned peppers. And a toothpick holds them together! They are more than just ‘bread with stuff on them’ – delicious!
Cheese and sausage/ham platters. Though manchego is probably the most famous Spanish cheese, there are many tasty kinds of cheese made out of different kinds of milk. Jamón serrano, chorizo and many other tasty types of meat are combined with the cheese plate.
Cold tapas. Salads, gazpacho (cold vegetarian smooth soup), olives, anchovies, and perhaps a slice of a Spanish tortilla.
Hot tapas. Now we are talking. This is where things get interesting. Some of very typical hot dishes are patatas bravas – potatoes with a spicy sauce, gambas al ajillo – shrimps in garlic and croquetas – deep-fried ham, cheese or fish croquettes.
3. Typical tapas menu in Spain – top 10 tapas you should eat in Spain
The list was first endless. Figuring out what is a typical tapas menu in Spain – in my opinion. Hence, I managed to squeeze it down to ten and defined my list of top 10 tapas you should eat in Spain – the ultimate tapas menu in Spain 😉 Writing this article makes me hungry. (And want to travel to Spain again, soon!)
The list ended up fairly “traditional”. Though I like to explore and try new things, I somehow end up embracing the old & the familiar…
10. Patatas bravas
They are served all over Spain, but the recipe might vary across the country. Cut and oil-fried slices of potatoes are served with either spicy tomato sauce or aioli.
Fried squid with a hint of lemon. So simple but tasty!
The Spanish meatballs are usually served with a hint of tomato sauce. Eaten with a toothpick or a small spoon.
7. Pimientos de Padrón
Peppers, mostly mild but some might be very, VERY hot. Quite often the peppers are fried in olive oil and served with plenty of sea salt.
6. Tortilla de patatas
An omelette made of potatoes, eggs and flavoured with onions. Served in small slices.
Olives served in a small bowl and sometimes filled with anchovies, carrots, cheese or peppers.
These are deep-fried “balls” of meat, fish or vegetable fillings.
It’is a cold soup originally made of garlic, onions, peppers and cucumbers. The soup is seasoned with oil and vinegar to create a refreshing taste! Great option on super hot summer months.
Bread slices with tomato, cheese, peppers or olives on top.
1. Gambas al ajillo
These are my ultimate favourite! Fresh prawns cooked in olive oil with garlic and chilli peppers. So yummy – the flavours take you out of this world!
If you wish to drink something else than wine or beer, try traditional sangria (including red wine, fruits, lemon soda and a hint of brandy) or Tinto de Verano (half & half red or white wine together with lemon soda).
What are the three most popular tapas?
I would say the three most popular are gammas al ajillo, albondigas and croquetas. But that is just my opinion. 😉
4. Try cooking Spanish tapas – it’s easy!
Do you like to cook? Take the tapas etiquette & tradition to your own culture! Invite friends over and create a tapas menu to share!
I hate it on a daily basis when the schedule is tight, but on the weekends I love to explore. I am obsessed with cookbooks – I have literally 1,5 meters of them on my bookshelf. And yes, of course, I have a couple of them for tapas.
Quite often when our friends come over, I try something new, since the tapas is a great way to bring up your appetite. I have few favourite books I most often pick from the shelf if you wish to take a look here.
5. Tapas bars in Costa del Sol
Over the years we have of course eaten a lot of tapas in many bars in Costa del Sol. We have gathered here few of our favourites offering very typical tapas menu in Spain.
In our opinion, do not think too much – just try different places. And remember that the outside does not necessarily tell everything.
El Pimpi – Málaga
El Pimpi Bodega Bar is a wonderful wine bar just next to the Alcazaba and they have a wonderful selection of wines and tapas. The tables are partly under the trees, and you can enjoy a tasty moment in a historic atmosphere.
Uvedoble Taberna – Málaga
A delightful small tavern near the Catholic church. Oh, their tapas makes me drool. Their fantastic menu is so full of many flavours, you’ll have a hard time deciding what to have.
El Gato lounge – Torremolinos
You can find this relaxing and easy-going tapas bar in the beach boulevard in Torremolinos. They have relaxing sofas and the menu is so tasty! Their selection of tapas is out of this world, whether you want to have just a small snack or share big plates with your friends.
Panorama Bistro Bar – Bénalmadena
This enchanting bar by the beach is fabulous! Excellent service & tasty food – what more could you wish for? Like the name of the bar hints, the panoramic view to the sea is so beautiful.
Tomaquet tapas y restaurant – Fuengirola
This tapas bar has many traditional Spanish tapas, but in addition, they have a variety of “new age snacks” with a little-twisted taste. And if tapas is not enough, stay for dinner. Or just keep on ordering the tapas – the menu is so long, it’s never-ending!
Do not worry about knowing the Spanish culture and correct tapas etiquette. You can’t go wrong if you go with the flow. You can always ask the waitress what is the most popular tapas in their bar and how many tapas you should order.
The typical tapas menu in Spain varies from place to place. Hence, they just love to show you off with their offering and the Spanish food culture.
7. Learn 5 easy words of Spanish
¿Habla inglés? (ahblah een glays)? – Do you speak English?
Por favor (por fah vohr) – please
Gracias (grah cee ahs) – thank you
Jamón – ham
Queso – cheese
8. Did you know this funny fact?
You have to be insane in order to eat at MacDonald’s when you are in Spain (or just travelling with kids 😉 But anywhere else in the world you cannot order tapas in MacDonald’s as you can in Spain: try a cold gazpacho!