If you check the meaning of Tapas, it is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine, usually in a small portion. However, the real meaning of Tapas is actually something that you do. Tapas can be anything, it is a way of doing thing, bar hopping and interacting with people.
The local in Spain usually eat tapas at the bar standing, that’s the local way of doing tapas. By standing up at the bar, you get to talk to the bartender and mingle with the person beside you.
(Below is one of the typical tapas called Croquettes – small breadcrumbed fried food roll, Japanese called them Korokke)
What is Tapas?
Tapas can be small or big portion and can be in the menu and not on the menu. Sometimes when you ordered your main meal, you could get the house tapas free. It depends on the restaurants that you go to and each region in Spain has a slightly different way of doing tapas.
On our first day in Madrid, after visiting the Royal Palace, we went for tapas instead of a real Spanish lunch because it is still early, slightly before 12 pm. Local Lunch usually served around 2 pm or even later. Tapas restaurant usually has the Jamón pronounce as “hamon” meaning big ham legs line at the top of the bar counter.
Jamon Jamon Jamon – the big fat leg of the pigs
You see Jamon hanging in most of the restaurants in Spain, it is the Spanish culture and cuisine. Two types of Jamon/ham you may want to learn when visiting Spain, the Serrano, and Iberico hams. The Iberico Jamon is more expensive as it is raised differently, it feeds on acorn and herbs and able to roam around freely in the pasture. (Something like the Japanese Kobe beef, the cattle are being fed with beer and massage daily.) Iberico pigs are lucky to have their freedom and eat on their special diet, acorn.
Let me show you what we ate for our first day in Madrid Lunch 🙂
Tapas no.1 – Mussels with Vinegar
This is a great appetizer if you love seafood. The vinegar tends to open up your appetite.
Tapas no.2 – Mushrooms with Chorizo/pork sausage & chili
This dish tasted not spicy but very salty. I eat them with bread. Most tapas are very salty as it goes well with alcohol I guess. Ordering alcohol beer or wines (just €2 for our wine) is the cultural thing to do, and it is cheaper than soft drink too.
Tapas no.3 – Gambas al ajillo
The shrimps are served in sizzling hot and plenty of garlic. You see most tapas in Spain are soak in olive oil. Probably olive oil is cheap and the olive tree can be found everywhere in this country.
We ordered some lamp chop and chips, this is not tapas. The restaurant does it for us even it is still early for Spain lunch time simply because the restaurant is located in the heart of Madrid and full or tourists.
Our final bill for 4 pax – Euro €52.60
If we divided into 4 – one pax is Euro €13.15
We have our tapas lunch sitting comfortably instead of standing at the bar, that is because we are so tired of walking the whole morning at the grand Royal Palace of Madrid.
Tapas for Dinner
Dinner is still tapas for us as we are eating early, before 7 pm. The local restaurant usually serves dinner from 9 pm onwards. Upon entering the restaurant, you see locals standing at the counter, ordering tapas and drinking, chit-chatting and having lots of fun. I see no local sitting but only us the tourists. As I said, local usually do tapas standing.
It is funny to see the table is well set like so (below picture) for us, the Asian tourists. Tapas usually eat with hands and toothpick and standing at the counter. Certainly not in such beautiful table setting. Tapas is eaten with carefree. This setting is certainly not for tapas. Since we are in a big group, the restaurant allows us to sit at their dinner section which usually starts to serve real dinner only after 8-9 pm onwards.
We are the only Asian tourists who sit and eat tapas with folk and knife and a clean napkin. You don’t spot any locals sit and eat tapas. So if you like to experience like a local, go to the counter and ordered from the bartender. Stand up and eat with the hand or little fork.
Dinner tapas no.1 – Jamon with cheese
This would be the iconic dish for tapas in Spain. You see Jamon with cheese every morning in the hotel breakfast spread. I suspect this is Jamon Iberico, the pride of Spain. Simply because the meat is darker. But then again, not possible! This can be just Jamon Serrano because a small plate of Jamon Iberico can cost up to €20.
Dinner tapas no.2 – Turkey with potatoes & Paprika Powder
Dinner tapas no.3 – Tortilla de patatas
This is an omelet made with potatoes, eggs, and onion. It is firm at the outside but soft and gluey at the inside. The size is big for 4 of us, we only manage to finish 1/3 of this huge omelet.
Dinner tapas no.4 – Deep-fried Pork Rib
This would be one of our favorites but it is super salty.
Dinner ended with dessert – Chocolate truffles
The people in Spain usually have their lunch (after 2 pm) & dinner (at around 9 pm) late but tapas is something you can do before the real dinner. The local love to hop from restaurants to restaurants to try out their house specialties. Tapas goes well with wine or beer. Similar to bar hopping, you should restaurant hop for tapas.
Have you tried any tapas and what are your favorite tapas?