Spain Travel and Culture: Tapas Etiquette

by Jules on April 29, 2014

You cannot visit Spain and not indulge in a few tasty bite-size morsels, aka tapas, and whilst picking and nibbling from the array of dishes is generally accepted, there are a few tapas etiquette tips to bear in mind.

First up is the actual definition of ‘tapas’ which is a small dish of food which is purposely designed to be shared. These foodstuffs can range from the simple yet ubiquitous bowl of olives, though to a dish of steaming shell-on king prawns.  If you’ve got a hunger on or if you’re in a large party, order the ‘raciones’, which is simply a larger plate of the tapas.

Tapas are usually displayed under glass or on top of the bar at various dining establishments across Spain. Eating at the ‘barra’ (bar) is usually the cheapest option, with many establishments adding a cover charge to eat at the ‘mesa’ (table). Or opt to take your tapas outdoors on the ‘terraza’ (terrace).

Tapas bars are often lively – which in itself is a great sign of the delights to come – but the downside is that you’ll need to nudge your way to the front of the bar and speak up otherwise you’ll never get served. A few words of Spanish go a long way – ‘por favor’ (please) is a great place to start.

Most bills tend to get presented at the close of the meal, so you can snack on and on. When you’re full, or ready to move onto the next bar, simply ask for ‘la cuenta’ or mime the international squiggle for the bill!

Tapas Menu

There are hundreds of different tapas on offer right across Spain, and local regions all have their own interpretations, depending on their local produce.  These are a few of the commonly found tapas dishes;

Aceitunas: olives
Boquerones: anchovies
Caracoles: snails
Croquetas: potato cubes containing ham, fish, chicken or spinach in sauce and deep fried
Frituras: fried dishes
Gambas: prawns
Jamón Iberico: prized ham made from black-footed pigs which have enjoyed an acorn-fed diet
Navajas: razor clams
Pan con tomate: crusty bread infused with tomato, sea salt and garlic, drizzled with olive oil
Patatas bravas: found all over the world; the true Spanish version is made of crispy potato wedges, topped with aioli (garlic mayonnaise)
Pisto: tomato, pepper, courgette and aubergine stew
Pulpo: octopus
Revuelta: scrambled eggs
Salchichon: cured pork sausage
Tortilla Español: Spanish omelette with potato and onion
Txpirones/Chipirones: deep fried baby squid are a true Spanish delicacy

The best tip is just to get stuck in and if in doubt, just point to order! Read our travel and culture guide for more tips.

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