Typically Spanish, tapas are a little bite sized snack served with a glass of wine or beer. The history of the Spanish tapa is shrouded in mystery and will have some people tell you that King Alfonso X came up with the idea as a way to nibble between meals, while other will tell you it was a way to sustain workers in the field before a late afternoon lunch.
The literal translation of the word tapa is lid and was probably coined from the habit of placing a slice of bread over the wine to stop flies from getting in it. Anyway, whatever you choose to believe is fine just so long as Spanish bars continue to serve these delightful snacks.
If you have only eaten tapas in a restaurant outside of Spain your misconception of what a tapa is could be clouded by the fact that in Spain they tend to be made from ingredients that are economical, readily available and require minimal preparation.
As a general rule, when searching for the perfect tapa bar I always try to get away from the tourist traps, find a noisy place full of people eating and drinking and then join in the fun.
For the true tapa experience, we have selected some of our favourite places to stop for a beer and tapa while travelling in Spain.
Basque country and in particular San Sebastian is well-known for their pincho’s which comprise a small slice of bread topped with meat, fish or cheese fastened with a toothpick.
For the genuine Basque tapa experience head down to the Parte Vieja (old town) where you will find a plethora of bars displaying their pincho’s on long counters. Just help yourself to the tapas you want remembering to keep the toothpicks on your plate so that the waiter can see what to charge.
Everywhere you turn in the Catalan capital you will see blackboards listing a variety of mouth-watering tapas, yet just like every city with a vibrant tourist trade finding the best place can be a little daunting. The Gothic Quarter is where I always begin my tapa tour in Barcelona, also the bars in make use of the freshest produce.
Again, thronged with tourists Madrid offers so many choices that it is hard to choose where to go. If you want to avoid fellow travellers, check out the area around La Plaza Dos de Mayo where the locals go to party. Don’t be put off if it seems a little quiet as things do not get going until late in the evening.
Recently Palma has seen an upsurge in boutique hotels and trendy restaurants opening up, with the San Juan Market being turned into a foodie paradise that has 17 stalls serving up food from around the world.
The last time I went to Palma, we had a late flight and I was so hungry. Fortunately our taxi from Palma airport transfers was owned and driven by a local, friendly man and he knew a perfect spot where to get tapas late in the day. Since then, I always return to Ruta Martiana in Palma’s popular Gerreria district. Each Tuesday and Wednesday, many bars in the vicinity serve tapas and also pintxos, which I call little open triangular sandwiches, with each beer or glass of wine for an amazing two Euros.
If it’s tapas with a view you are after, try one of the many bars around the marina where you can sit outside and watch the world go by.
The birthplace of Picasso is no stranger to tapas with Andalucía renowned for offering free tapas with ice-cold Cruzcampo beer. When on holiday in the Costa Del Sol, to sample the best of the local seafood, head down to the area around the cruise port where smart gastro-bars compete with family run establishments to see who serves the best-grilled anchovies.
Seville has to be the best place in Spain to go bar hopping for tapas. It has such a huge variety of venues offering tapas, making it hard to select one over the other. If you fancy tapas with a good tale to tell the folks back home, head to the historic El Rinconcillo where tapas have been served since 1670. As a special treat visit the American Bar at Hotel Alfonso XIII for its Art Deco 10-metre bar that was frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Eva Peron.