tapas in barcelona

What are Spanish Tapas? Everything You Need To Know

Tapas are a Spanish cuisine that are traditionally served as small plates of food in bars and restaurants. They can be served hot or cold, and can range from simple dishes such as olives or nuts, to more complex dishes such as croquetas or tortilla española. The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb “tapar,” which means “to cover,” and it is said that the tradition of serving tapas began when bar patrons would place a small plate of food over their drink to keep it from becoming fly-covered.

The origins of tapas can be traced back to medieval Spain, where it is said that King Alfonso X of Castile ordered that a small plate of food be served with every drink in order to prevent his subjects from becoming overly drunk. This tradition eventually spread throughout Spain, and tapas became a staple of Spanish culture and cuisine.

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture and cuisine, and are often associated with socializing and spending time with friends and family. Many Spanish bars and restaurants have a selection of tapas on offer, and it is common for people to go out for a “tapas crawl” (bar hopping) on weekends or after work. Eating tapas is also a great way to try a variety of dishes, and to experience the local flavors of a region or city.


Popular and well known tapas


  1. Patatas bravas

Patatas bravas are a popular dish consisting of deep-fried potatoes that are usually seasoned with a spicy tomato sauce. The sauce is usually made with chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil, and can vary in spiciness depending on the recipe. Patatas bravas are often served as a side dish, but can also be enjoyed as a standalone dish.


  1. Croquetas

Croquetas are a popular tapas dish consisting of small fried balls of a creamy béchamel-based mixture, that is usually filled with meat, fish, or ham. They are often served as a starter and are a common dish in Spanish bars and restaurants. They are also a popular dish to make at home and are often served as party food.


  1. Gambas al ajillo

Gambas al ajillo, also known as “shrimps in garlic,” is a dish that consists of shrimps sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and white wine. The dish is usually served hot, and the shrimps are often cooked in their shells for added flavor. It is a simple but delicious tapas dish that is perfect to pair with a cold beer or a glass of wine.


  1. Tortilla española

Tortilla española, also known as tortilla de patatas, is a traditional Spanish dish consisting of a thick omelette made with potatoes, onions, and eggs. It is usually served at room temperature and can be eaten as a main dish or as a tapa. It is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed hot or cold and is a staple of Spanish cuisine.


  1. Other popular tapas dishes

In addition to the dishes mentioned above, there are many other popular tapas dishes in Spain, such as:

  • Calamares fritos (fried squid)
  • Aceitunas (olives)
  • Boquerones (anchovies)
  • Mejillones al vapor (steamed mussels)
  • Empanadas (savory pastries filled with meat, fish, or vegetables)
  • Chorizo al vino (chorizo sausage cooked in wine)

These are just a few examples of the many delicious dishes that can be found in Spain. The variety available can vary depending on the region. It is always a good idea to ask locals for recommendations as they will know the best places for the most authentic tapas experience.


How to order tapas

Ordering system in tapas bars

In traditional Spanish tapas bars, it is common for customers to order their food and drinks at the bar, rather than at a table. When you enter, you will usually find a selection on display at the bar. You can order your food and drinks by pointing to what you would like and indicating how many you would like. It is also common to order drinks first, and then order food as you go along. Some places also offer a menu to order from.


Etiquette for eating tapas

When eating tapas, it is considered good etiquette to share dishes among your group and to not order too much food at once. This allows you to try a variety of different tapas and to pace your eating. It is also common to stand and eat at the bar, rather than sitting at a table.


Tips for ordering tapas in Spanish

Learn some basic Spanish phrases, such as “Hola, quiero una cerveza, por favor” (Hello, I would like a beer, please) or “Quiero probar el plato de croquetas” (I would like to try the croquettes dish) will help you to order with confidence. Be aware of the Spanish custom of “tapear” (bar hopping for tapas) which is very common especially on weekends, it is a great way to try different tapas in different bars. Be prepared to be flexible, as these places can get crowded, and you might have to wait for a spot at the bar or table.

Remember that it is common to pay after you finish your order. If you are unsure about the tapas to order, ask for recommendations from the staff, they are usually knowledgeable about the local specialties. Keep in mind that this culture is all about sharing and socializing, so be open to new experiences and enjoy the company of the people around you.



Tapas are an essential part of Spanish culture and are deeply ingrained in the country’s social and culinary traditions. From small plates of patatas bravas to hearty plates of tortilla española, they offer a delicious way to sample a variety of Spanish flavors and ingredients.

Barcelona is an excellent destination for tapas lovers, with a wide variety of bars and restaurants offering delicious and authentic dishes. Some recommendations for trying tapas in Barcelona include visiting traditional bars in the Barri Gòtic and El Raval neighborhoods, trying local specialties such as Gambas al ajillo and Croquetas, and being open to trying new and unfamiliar dishes.

Trying different types of tapas and exploring the city’s scene is a great way to experience the local culture and cuisine. Whether you’re a foodie or just looking for a fun and casual dining experience, tapas in Barcelona is an experience not to be missed.

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