Spanish food doesn´t always mean tapas. Often misunderstood some refer to all Spanish food as Tapas. However there are lots of other kinds of Spanish food to discover. The serving style, portion size and the type of dish determines it´s name. (rather than the actual ingredients)
It could be a
- Plato (dish)
- Racion (portion) or Media Racion
- Tapa (snack)
- Pintxo (food on a stick)
- Montadito (food on bread)
Tapas vs Raciones
Tapas are snacks offered alongside a beer, wine or soft drink. Usually a small quantity of food, offered to accompany the refreshment. This tradition goes way back in time, although it is unclear exactly when. Tapas may even pre date the 15th century. Cervantes mentions snacks called llamativos in Don Quixote. The word tapa itself is relatively new, perhaps from the turn of the century. The first printed appearance of the word from the Alhambra magazine is in 1911.
Without doubt the tapa is an Andalusian custom. Originating in Southern Spain, perhaps Cadiz but no-one really knows the true origin.
The word Tapa means lid. Its thought that the snack was used to cover the top of the glass. Creating a barrier to prevent flies going into the wine or drink. The first tapas were simple slices of salchichon, served on top of the wine glass. Later became increasingly elaborate as time went on.
To find out more about Spanish Tapas and Andalusia Food culture join me on my Like a Local Food tour.
World Tapas Day
The third Thursday in June is World Tapas Day and this typical Spanish custom is celebrated across the world with show cooking, special events and menus. Lookout for it if you like Spanish cuisine.
The next one is on Thursday June 20th 2024.
In Southern Spain there are some cities which are known for their free tapas. I´m lucky to live in one of them: Granada. Also nearby the cities of Jaen & Almeria also offer complimentary snacks with drinks.
Choosing your tapa
When you go to a tapas place serving free tapas, you get what that have that day. Sometimes there isn´t a choice. As you drink a second or third round the tapa is different. This photo above of Guacamole on white bread with some cold cuts and olives was a complimentary tapa in Granada we didn´t choose it.
Then some other places have a different system. Blackboards or menus on tables with tapas lists of their selection. You choose. This menu pictured above is from a tapas bar in Almeria. The free tapa I choose is called a Tuna Cherigan. Depending on the bar, some don´t like to prepare four different tapas for four people. They may suggest two kinds of tapa for one group or family.
It depends if they are busy and how they are organised.
Tapas in Andalusia
The ´free´ tapa is usually accompanied by beer or wine which costs anything from 1.50 euros to 2.20 euros depending on the place. (Current prices I´ve seen in Granada) But you can also purchase tapas separately in most places. Referred to as a ´Tapa Extra´ This is great if you are hungry or don´t want to drink too much.
Some places don’t offer a free tapa at all. However they may offer tapas to buy separately from the drinks. This is a good way to have a taster of something and try new food. Or have an aperitif before dinner.
This is a double edge sword as some diners just stick to the free tapas and don´t ask for other items from the menu. This style of dining often does not scratch the surface and you are not getting the house speciality or the best quality food from the kitchen through the complimentary tapa.
Be sure to ask the waiter about the most popular dish in the restaurant, once you have had the first tapa. It may be a delicious ´racion´ for 8-10 euros. Usually locals have the tapa as they intend to go home for lunch or dinner.
It´s just a social thing to have a quick beer on the way home with a friend or colleague. It’s not something they do everyday.
Racíon or Media Racíon
This is a portion of a food. Spanish ham, jamón iberico is typically served this way. Selecting raciones is a good way to have lunch or dinner with a group by ordering in this way as people share the dishes in the centre of the table.
You can eat a little bit of what you most enjoy.
Raciones are ordered after having some tapas in a bar or restaurant. If you decide to stay and are hungry for more than a tapa.
Choose a few raciones or half raciones. Raciones are usually varied and typically have fish, meat and vegetable dishes.
In the North of Spain, you will often see the typical Pintxos. Similar to tapas they are usually more elaborate. The name originates from the stick they typically may have in them. (but not all of them do now) Pintxo is the basque word, but in Spanish it is Pincho.
The price of each pintxo is usually the same. You pay according to the number of sticks left on you plate. There are many bars around Spain selling this type of food.
One of my personal favourites used to be Maitea in Barcelona. When I lived in Barcelona I spent many evenings there with friends.
What is a Montadito ?
Something on top of a slice of bread. The photo below is a perfect example of a montadito. Although this was served in Granada, you can find montaditos all over Spain. Perhaps topped with Ham, cheese or even guacamole as the one seen on the top of this post.
It´s like an open sandwich really, served on white bread, similar to baguette bread. These are most typical in Northern Spain and it´s where you will most easily find them.
Across Spain chain restaurants like Lizarran and other Basque eateries have made them more popular and available outside of San Sebastian.
I hope that you´ll be less confused next time you head out for tapas. This guide may avoid surprises when you order next time…..
Want to read about even more food?
Check out my Spain foodie posts
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