Iconic Dishes to Order When Visiting a Tapas Restaurant in Spain
Often out-shadowed in terms of cuisine by its neighbor across the Mediterranean of Italy, Spain is not to be overlooked, offering one of the most flavorful and vibrant spreads of food around the European continent. When you arrive in Spain be sure to head to a tapas restaurant, usually consisting of a number of different small bite-sized dishes perfect for tasting the local cuisine and sharing with friends. The locals usually eat late, often starting from 9pm and washing their meal down with local rioja wine.
table of contents
Tortilla de Patatas
There's nothing quite as Spanish as the iconic tortilla de patatas, often just called a Spanish omelette. It's comfort food at its best and yet so simple to make. Onions and potatoes are usually fried together until soft and then added to a mixture of eggs before cooking in a pan until heated through. The omelette is often eaten cold and while it might sound a little unappetizing, somehow it just makes it taste even more comforting that way.
The Spanish do wonderful things with pork, a fact that is perfectly represented in Carrillada. Using quality Iberian pork cheeks, the meat is braised in a delicious sauce at low temperature until it's almost falling apart. It's a must-try for anyone visiting Seville, but can often be found elsewhere around the country.
Often a favorite among foreigners introduced to Spanish cuisine, patatas bravas is fried potato taken to another level. After frying in olive oil until crispy, the dish is topped with a spicy tomato sauce. It's also often augmented with aioli, a kind of garlic-infused mayonnaise, nothing like the stuff you'll find on the shelves however, this is made fresh with garlic and olive oil and tastes phenomenal.
Gambas al Ajillo
With many of the country's cities and towns spanning the Mediterranean coast, Spain has a variety of delicious seafood dishes you ought to be trying. One of the most iconic is gambas al ajillo, shrimp cooked in a garlic-infused oil and often finished with chili flakes or smoked paprika. The garlicky, oil sauce is simply divine - you'll want to scoop every last drop up with some fresh bread.
Pan con Tomate
It's rare that you'll enter a Spanish restaurant that doesn't serve pan con tomate, especially common in Catalonia, it's so simple and yet somehow so comforting. Freshly baked bread is grilled and then covered with a salty paste made of tomatoes, olive oil and garlic.
Similar to the more famous gazpacho, salmorejo is a chilled soup that's thicker and tastes creamier than its culinary cousin. The dish is actually extremely simple, fresh tomatoes are blended with garlic, bread, high-quality olive oil and vinegar. There's something so comforting about salmorejo, especially on a hot summers day, which makes us prefer it to gazpacho. Often restaurants will top the dish off with jamón serrano or crumbled cheese to give it that extra comfort factor.
This popular Spanish cured ham is a whole level above ordinary hams found around Europe. Once you start eating this succulent ham it's really hard to stop. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of the fatty sliced meat comes with a explosion of umami from the curing salt. Almost every Spanish tapas bar will have a leg or several of jamón serrano for you to order. It's best eaten with some local bread and cheese.
Most tapas restaurants will feature dishes that are local to the specific area and is a great way to eat your way around the country, sampling the different cooking styles and local ingredients. So be sure to ask for recommendations at each place you visit. Usually restaurants will also feature the classic dishes like those listed above, so if you're not sure which to go for then stick to those we've recommended.