How To Eat Tapas Like a Spanish Local

How to eat tapas like a spanish local

How to Eat Tapas

Tapas. Probably my favorite part of Spanish culture. While many people associate tapas with appetizer-sized dishes, the tradition of tapas in Spain is truly a cultural ritual that combines eating, drinking, and good company. How to eat tapas like a local? I’ve got you covered…

how to eat tapas

the basics

Traditionally, tapas are meant to be an event spanning multiple hours and locations. Instead of thinking of it as a sit-down dinner, consider it a tour or bar crawl. You’ll have the opportunity to try one or two plates with a drink, enjoy the new flavors and good company, and then move onto the next bar. While it can be exciting to see a menu full of things to try, give yourself an authentic tapas experience by ordering modestly. Save room for more dishes to try at the next stop. Some waiters may even steer you away from ordering more plates than you’ll be able to finish – they expect that you’ll be visiting different places and trying more food after!

Spanish Olives
I was never an olive person until I tried Spanish olives - a very popular tapas dish!

One of my favorite tapas experience was on a trip I took to Seville. I remember exploring bars in the Barrio Santa Cruz, trying a few new plates at each stop. My friend and I enjoyed a huge array of food and drinks from the region. Highlights included pork cheek, croquettes, paella, a glass of sherry, and delicious red wine. After our tapas bar crawl, we ended the night at a flamenco show.

Tapas Paella
A tapas portion of paella - possibly my favorite Spanish food in the world.

How to Spot a Winning Location

see where the night takes you

How to find a good tapas spot? I think the best way to experience tapas is to avoid planning too much in advance and seeing where the night takes you. Although you can certainly research places ahead of time, I’ve found some of my favorite tapas bars to be hidden gems. These spots are loved by locals, but off of the typical tourist’s radar. Wander around a plaza, or pick a street to walk along – you’ll be able to identify good spots immediately. There almost certainly will be people standing outside, drinks in hand, or loads of people crowding the bar  inside. 

tapas is a cultural spectacle

enjoy the show

Don’t let the crowds put you off – some of my favorite memories of enjoying tapas took place in packed bars. While you’ll have to be strategic about making your way to the bar to get your order taken, there is something exciting about watching a team of bartenders handle pouring drinks, serving food, and taking orders at a fast pace. They move around each other in such a confined space with a speed and finesse that I find absolutely captivating! A packed tapas bar is also the perfect place to bump elbows with and meet someone new. I’ve met countless people at tapas bars, whether that be locals, ex-pats, or fellow travelers. These experiences are the reason I travel!

Spanish Tapas Bar

Some Red Flags to Watch Out For!

sometimes less is more!

Avoid restaurants or bars that have picture menus or hosts trying to chase you down. The most authentic tapas bars and restaurants will probably seem pretty unassuming. Look for “hole in the wall” spots. A bar counter that looks like it’s seen better days is a sign of a well-loved tapas spot, and menus with little to no English are an indicator that the place is frequented by locals. If you don’t know any Spanish, the camera feature on Google Translate is your best friend! Just point your lens at the menu and Google does all the linguistic heavy lifting for you!

Understanding the Menu

tapas, raciones, pintxos... Oh my!

You might notice that the menu has options for tapas as well as raciones. Tapas are smaller plates – such as slices of jamón, bite-sized pieces of pork cheek or carrilladas, or gambas al ajillo. Raciones usually refer to a slightly larger portion – perfect for sharing. If you’re in the north of Spain you might also come across pintxos – pieces of bread heaped with all sorts of different toppings.

How to Eat Tapas

My Favorite Kind of Tapas Bar

get cozy...

Tapas bars and restaurants come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, with different locations, and prices. Some are a bit more formal, with sit down tables where waiters will come to take your order. Others may be just a bar where you’ll come up to order and eat while standing at a portion of the counter. I’ve done both and I’ve gotta say I love the spontaneity and the intimacy of enjoying tapas at the bar. It feels slightly more authentic in the sense that you get to see all the action behind the bar up close and personal, plus you can lean over if you see something interesting being poured or served and ask the bartender for a plate. If you stumble upon a bar that is a local-favorite, standing at the bar is the perfect place to practice your Spanish and ask a local Spaniard what they’d recommend you order. “Que me recomiendas para comer?” Looking to start learning Spanish? Read more about how I taught myself Spanish in a year.

How to Eat Tapas Like a True Spaniard?

viva la buena vida

One of the most important elements of authentic tapas culture – take your time, enjoy the company you’re with, and relax. Generally speaking, Spaniards are never in a hurry anywhere, and tapas culture exudes this island-time vibe. Savor the flavors, get lost in good conversation, and don’t be afraid to hang out. You’ll see Spaniards hanging out over the drinks for hours. The bartenders will keep track if you feel like ordering another round, don’t worry, you’ll pay at the end.

everything you need to know about how to eat tapas covered....

now go out a perfect your craft!

Tapas is an incredible way to dive into the wonderfully vibrant Spanish way of life. Trust the Spanish on how to live the good life and take the time to experience tapas authentically – I promise you, it’ll have you going back for more!

If you have any favorite tapas dishes or places in Spain, leave me a comment! And if you have any questions or need recommendations, shoot me an email, I could talk about Spanish food all day!

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How to Eat Tapas
How to Eat Tapas
How to Eat Tapas

Hi! I’m Char 🤗 I’m a lover of all things travel, art, and design. You can find me jumping at any chance to dance, drink wine, or learn a new language. When I’m not designing buildings – you can find me drawing, painting, writing, or planning my next adventure. There is nothing more I love more in this world than discovering new places, people, and culture. Drop me an email and say hello! I’d love to be adventure buddies!

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