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Culinary Culture: Tapas in Spain

by Megan Longerbeam
Culinary Culture: Tapas in Spain | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Barcelona, Spain

Last Updated on June 17, 2024 by Megan Longerbeam

Tapas are a culinary staple and a huge part of Spanish culture. There are so many different types of tapas in Spain that you are bound to find a few that you like.

Stories about how tapas originated vary, but the most famous one is that back when King Alfonso X was recuperating from an illness in the 13th century, he could only eat small plates of food at a time. These are what we now refer to as tapas! Tapas are small plates of food that can be eaten as a snack during the day or for a full dinner, if you get more than one plate.

When I first came to Barcelona, I thought tapas were just plates of food. However, after living here for a few months, I’ve realized tapas in Spain are part of the social culture. It’s very normal to go out with friends for tapas and sangria and talk for hours. You can order a wide variety of tapas and the whole table can share. In Spanish culture, it’s normal and encouraged to be social, more often than not you meet out at a tapas bar instead of inviting friends over for dinner.

Patatas bravas!

Here are four of the most common tapas I’ve seen while studying abroad in Barcelona:

1. Patatas Bravas

Patatas bravas is probably the most popular tapa I’ve seen in Barcelona. This plate consists of fried pieces of potato served with a sauce, which is sometimes spicy. Every restaurant has their own version of the sauce, but they’re all usually pretty good.

2. Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelette)

This dish is not for breakfast! Spanish omelettes can be eaten at any time of the day and consists of eggs, potatoes, and onions. I’m not a fan of onions, but don’t let that stop you from trying this one, because it’s really good!

3. Croquetas

There are many different types of croquetas (the most famous is ham), but my favorite is the simple cheese version. Croquetas are any food encased in breadcrumbs and fried. Looking at them, you would assume the whole thing is crispy, but the inside is actually very soft.

4. Cured Iberian Ham

This is a famous Spanish food that I have tried on sandwiches but have not found myself to be particularly fond of. Iberian ham is ham that has been dried and cured for at least twelve months before coming to your table. This ham is usually served on sandwiches or with a side of cheese.

These are not even a quarter of all the tapas available in Spain — they’re endless — but they are some of the ones I’ve seen everywhere I’ve gone out to eat. My advice to you is to try a variety of things! Just because you find out you love patatas bravas doesn’t mean you should stray away from trying a Spanish omelette or something else next time. When I go back to the United States, I will definitely miss the tradition of tapas nights out with friends.

This post was contributed by Megan Longerbeam, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain.

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