Most of us learn the hard way that drinking on an empty stomach never bodes well. The Spanish have created an entire culinary culture of tapas to ensure that people can enjoy a few cocktails or glasses of wine, knowing they have plenty of food to soak it all up.
Spanish Tapas are part of a treasured culinary tradition characterized by numerous small plates served with cocktails or wine in the evening.
They’re the original happy hour special. In certain parts of Spain, they come free with the purchase of alcohol.
Tapas encompass a wide variety of bite-sized proteins, fried delicacies, and comforting carbo-loaded dishes. Even if you’re not in Spain, you can find these beloved bar snacks in Spanish restaurants around the globe.
Best Spanish Tapas
I have compiled a list of the best Spanish tapas you’re likely to find at a tapas restaurant, so grab a glass of sangria and come hungry! These tapas are one popular type of Spanish cuisine you can enjoy.
Known as “croquetas” in Spanish, croquettes are the ultimate fried, bite-sized bar snack.
They are essentially fried bechamel sauce. Bechamel is a simple mixture of whole milk, butter, oil, and flour that simmer until reaching a thick gravy.
Spanish croquettes usually incorporate Iberian or serrano ham into the bechamel batter.
The batter then sits in a fridge until solid before chefs use a spoon to create bite-sized balls that they roll in breadcrumbs and deep fry.
Croquettes are incredibly rich and savory, acting as the perfect bite-sized snack that will absorb alcohol.
Their bite-sized nature also ensures that you can enjoy their richness without overeating. I love them with a glass of Spanish Cava.
Perhaps the most famous tapas plate in Spain, the Tortilla Espanola is also one of the most common household dishes. It’s a simple egg and potato omelet made with a specific strategy.
The dish uses a hearty portion of diced onions and thinly sliced rounds of potatoes fried in oil until fragrant and cooked.
The potatoes and onions are then poured into a bowl with raw scrambled eggs, coating and distributing the ingredients evenly before pouring the mixture back into the hot frying pan.
Once the omelet is ready, you can place a serving plate on top of the frying pan to flip the omelet over onto the plate. Even if it comes out in pieces, it’ll be delicious!
Patatas Bravas is a mix between home fries and French fries.
They are bite-sized potato chunks fried in olive oil until their outsides are light and crispy and the insides are fluffy. They’re usually served with a dipping sauce like garlic aioli or spicy red gravy called romesco sauce.
There’s no bigger crowd-pleaser than fried potatoes and dipping sauce, and patatas bravas are always on the menu.
You’ll also see them served with toothpicks, so you can share a plate without dirtying your fingers with oil or contaminating the potatoes with soiled hands.
I enjoy patatas bravas with a spicy pimento sauce.
Boquerones en Vinagre
If tinned fish doesn’t sound appetizing, Boquerones en Vinagre appeals to their freshest form.
Born from an ancient culinary tradition of conservation, Boquerones en Vinagre is whole anchovies marinated in vinegar.
The vinegar and olive oil marinade include fresh garlic and parsley for added flavor. The whole anchovies will partially cook through the vinegar, which will also act to preserve them like salting or pickling.
Anchovies are small, thin fish, making the perfect lean protein snack. They are salty and fishy, but the vinegar and garlic marinade offset the strength of the flavor.
I enjoy this tasty tapas dish with a pint of lager or a glass of sangria.
Gambas al Ajillo
Translated roughly as garlic shrimp, Gambas al ajillo are the most flavorful rendition of this most beloved crustacean.
It starts by frying copious amounts of diced garlic in oil with a touch of hot paprika or red chili flakes before throwing large, fresh shrimp and a splash of sherry into the mix. It takes all of one minute for the shrimp to cook.
Gambas al ajillo comes in a deep serving dish to continue soaking up the oil, garlic, and sherry in which it was cooked.
They’re sprinkled with roughly chopped fresh parsley for garnish. I always make sure to have some crusty bread on hand to sop up any leftover garlic sauce.
Ensaladilla Rusa is a creamy potato salad you’ll see as a tapas dish or side dish in any Spanish household or tavern.
Meaning “Russian Salad” in Spanish, Ensalada Rusa is the creation of a Belgian chef in a restaurant in Moscow.
Spaniards have added a special touch with the addition of country-specific ingredients like roasted red peppers, olives, tuna, and capers.
The most traditional preparation is cubed and boiled potatoes, peas, and carrots mixed with mayonnaise.
It’s a hearty and comforting dish that tastes wonderful with spicy dishes or a full-bodied glass of Spanish red wine. I like adding a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to add some tang.
While you might associate cheese plates with France or Italy, Spain has also perfected the art of cheesemaking.
Perhaps their most treasured claim to fame is Manchego cheese, a hard, aged sheep’s milk-based cheese.
Named for the La Mancha region of Spain from which it originates, Manchego cheese comes in various forms.
In its freshest form, Manchego Fresco is mild and creamy in flavor. Its more common forms are aged from three months (semicrudo) to two years (Viejo).
The longer it’s aged, the sharper the flavor. Manchego is usually served on its own for diners to cut slices for themselves.
I like to eat Manchego with assorted marinated olives and herb-covered table crackers.
If you’ve ever wandered the streets of Spain or dined in a Spanish household, you’ve surely seen whole legs of cured ham hanging from the rafters of a warehouse or sat atop the kitchen counter.
This super savory, highly marbled cured pork is known as Jamon Iberico.
Jamon Iberico comes from a species of pig known as the black Iberian pig, a native of the Iberian Peninsula.
Spaniards feed the piglets well with a special feed of barley and aromatics to fatten them up, giving their meat high-fat content and plenty of flavor.
For classy parties, I love to serve a Spanish tapas board with slices of Manchego, thin slices of Jamon Iberico, olives, and pickled white asparagus.
Meaning “broken eggs,” Huevos Rotos is a sort of deconstructed Spanish Tortilla, originating as common peasant food.
It originated in the Canary Islands but has since become a household dish around Spain.
Huevos Rotos describes the dish’s technique of breaking an egg over hot oil to create the ultimate fried egg dish.
It starts with frying bits of Jamon Iberico and large chunks of potato in oil. Eggs are then cracked over the frying potatoes and cooked until sunny-side-up.
The runny yolks add richness to this luxurious dish of fried potatoes and ham. I like it for breakfast as much as for an evening tapas dish.
Pulpo a la Gallega
Gallega refers to Spain’s Southwest region of Galicia that shares a border with Portugal, and lies upon the seafood-rich shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pulpo a la Gallega is a boiled and seasoned octopus dish originating in Galicia.
Using fresh octopus from the day’s catch, chefs traditionally dip the octopus in boiling water to curl its tentacles before adding the whole octopus to a boiling cauldron until al dente.
The octopus is then roughly chopped and served with a sprinkle of olive oil and hot paprika.
I highly recommend this dish in a restaurant located near the ocean because the fresher the octopus, the tastier the dish, and the less likely it will be rubbery.
Pimientos de Padrón
Pimientos de Padron are another household staple in Spain that has become a global sensation in recent years.
Pimientos are peppers and Pimientos de Padron are peppers from the Padron region of Spain.
They’re small, mild green peppers that are blistered or fried and served with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. They’re the perfect prelude to a meal with a light and flavorful tapas snack.
I like to serve the peppers with a garlic aioli dipping sauce. While these peppers aren’t spicy, you’ll get the odd zinger every now and then.
The creamy aioli will complement the peppers’ flavor and safeguard against the occasional heat of those unpredictable zingers.
Tigres or Mejillones Rellenos (Stuffed Mussels)
Mejillones Tigre or Mejillones Rellenos are an utterly decadent Spanish tapas dish that will surely become your favorite regardless of whether you like mussels or not.
They are a combination of croquettes and steamed fresh mussels in their shell.
Mejillones Rellenos are made by steaming fresh mussels in their shell, removing the mussels from the shell to combine with a homemade bechamel sauce, onions, and garlic.
Once the mixture is finished, you spoon it back into the mussel shells, drowning them in egg wash and breadcrumbs before deep-frying them.
I love the creaminess of the mussels bechamel with the chewy bits of mussel meat and the fried crunch that slides off the shell when you extract the stuffing.
Pan con Tomate
Originating in the Spanish region of Catalunya, Pan con Tomate is a staple in all Spanish households.
It’s simply grilled bread with tomato. However, unlike Italian bruschetta, the tomato isn’t just diced, but is instead grated to a chunky pulp.
Pan con Tomate usually involves a crusty bread like ciabatta that has been toasted for a few minutes with a drizzle of olive oil under the broiler.
You then rub the toasty bread with cloves of split garlic, then top it all with the pulpy tomato mixture.
In my opinion, pan con Tomate is perfect in its simplicity and has a rich flavor from the olive oil and garlic, mixed with the acidity and juiciness of the tomato with that hearty crunch of the bread.
Calamari is as popular in Spain as it is in Italy, and it’s prepared in much the same way.
Calamari is a typical Mediterranean delicacy, made by battering and frying rings of squid. In Spain, you’ll see calamari Frito (fried calamari) and calamari a la plancha (grilled calamari).
Battered and fried squid are the most popular tapas form. In Spain, calamari often comes sprinkled with hot paprika and lemon juice and served with garlic aioli.
I prefer the battered and fried calamari Frito because the crunch complements and complexifies the chewy texture profile of the calamari.
Chorizo a la Sidra
Chorizo comes cured and fresh, but for this dish, fresh chorizo is best – this is a perfectly simple dish you can make at home by simmering whole chorizo sausages in apple cider, and serving the food in a bowl, so it continues to soak up the flavor.
You can eat the chorizo on its own with a toothpick or have it over crusty bread.
I love how the sweetness from the cider infuses into the garlicky, spicy chorizo.
I like to make a skewer of chorizo a la sidra with a salty olive and a slice of Manchego cheese.
Salmorejo and Gazpacho
Both gazpacho and slamorejo originated in Southern Spain, where the temperatures are hottest.
However, Salmorejo is a simple three-ingredient emulsion of garlic, tomato, and crusty bread, while gazpacho has far more vegetables.
Gazpacho can have cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, garlic, onion, and bread. All ingredients are blended into a smooth silky soup.
I like serving the gazpacho in espresso-sized cups topped with a crusty crouton and a drizzle of olive oil.
Albondigas are Spanish meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, served as a hearty tapas plate or main course.
Spanish albondigas are traditionally a mix of ground pork and beef with onion, eggs, panko breadcrumbs, flour, olive oil, milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and parsley.
The meatballs are browned in a skillet and then tossed into a tomato sauce, made with onion, carrot, olive oil, tomatoes, chicken stock, and cooking wine.
They are delicious and flavorful, whether you eat them alone or with crusty bread.
They taste even better the next day. I like to make saffron rice with green peas as a base for the saucy leftover meatballs.
Best Spanish Tapas
- Tortilla Española
- Patatas Bravas
- Boquerones en Vinagre
- Gambas al Ajillo
- Ensaladilla Rusa
- Manchego Cheese
- Jamón Ibérico
- Huevos Rotos
- Pulpo a la Gallega
- Pimientos de Padrón
- Tigres or Mejillones Rellenos (Stuffed Mussels)
- Pan con Tomate
- Chorizo a la Sidra
- Salmorejo and gazpacho
Spain is famous for its laid-back lifestyle, including lavish lunches and long afternoon siestas. Such post-meal naps prepare Spaniards for an active nightlife.
Instead of a heavy dinner, Spaniards enjoy cocktails and wine with delectable small, shareable plates we all know today as Spanish tapas.
For your next evening out or old-world cocktail night, you can use the above list of the best Spanish tapas to pair with tasty pitchers of sangria, a bottle of Rioja, and the company of good friends.
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