How in the world does one “do” Spanish tapas?! Ladies and gents, despite common belief, there is a science. After giving countless tapas tours over the past two years, I’ve realized that there’s a few consistent misconceptions about what tapas actually are, and how to do them. Recently named “Intangible UNESCO Cultural Heritage“, in order to understand Spain’s oh-so-famous foodie claim to fame, you’ve gotta know the basics. Remember these simple 6 tips, and you’ll be tomando cervecitas y tapitas side by side with the locals in no time!
1) Expect to be on your feet
Don’t be intimidated when you see a packed bar with no tables. Standing while you eat is part of the experience! Scope out a skinny-lil’ bar ledge to stand at and colonize it! If you’re really lucky, you might even find a wooden hightop table to plop yourself at. Chairs sometimes included. So, wear comfy shoes, as you’ll be doing lots of walking and standing!
2.) Want something? Yell and/or tackle down the waiter.
A good Spanish tapas place is usually bustling with people, and the waiters are usually running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Don’t expect that they will come to you. If you want the attention of a waiter, you’ve got to push your way through a clusterfuck of people, make your way to the bar and YELL. Yell like you’ve never yelled before: “PERDONA! ME DAS UNA CAÑA Y CROQUETAS!” …Respect ✌🏼
3) It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.
The fun doesn’t stop at your first tapas joint! On average, you will go to three different bars. Chances are, at that first bar you’re going to be hungry. Realllll hungry. RESIST. One place, 1-2 tapas. When you reach the last spot, that’s when you have “tap-permission” to go loco.
4) Don’t forget your caña!
It’s unspoken tapa-regulations. Whether your drink of choice is beer, wine, tinto de verano, water… it’s a cultural must that you’re drinking something! Here’s a few important drinks to keep in your glossary:
Caña: a small, cold beer from the tap. This is the most typical drink choice to accompany your “tapitas”.
Vino tinto/ vino blanco: Red wine/ white wine
Tinto de Verano: Red wine mixed with with orange or lemon Fanta soda (sounds weird, I know…)
Vermouth: Many bars make their very own. If they do, try it!
5) Tapas are simple.
Classic tapas aren’t an elaborate demonstration of fine Spanish dining, like we might be led to believe in “Spanish” restaurants at home. It’s really the Spanish version of bar food; munchies to pick on as you socialize with friends. It’s the quality that makes tapas good. Not necessarily the presentation, nor the complexity. For example, the finest queso, the tastiest jamón, the crispiest croquetas, and the most tender solomillo.
6) It’s not as much about the food. It’s about the experience.
See those funny lookin’ guys in the pic above? I was tapeando with a friend in Sevilla, they heard my American accent, and invited me over to try their jamón, claiming “it’s the best jamón I’ll ever try.” And just like that, a tapalicious friendship was born. Tapas is about sharing. Sharing delicious food with your favorite people, while sharing laughs, stories and creating memories. It’s a way of eating, more so than what you’re eating. The Spanish culture is built around community and sharing, and tapas is the best way to experience just that.