The word “tapa” is derived from tapar, which means “to cover”. It is said that during the early days in Andalusia, supposedly the origin of the Spanish tapa, locals covered their glasses of wine or beer with a piece of bread or slice of ham to keep away pesky flies. Hence, this delectable Spanish food served in little plates was born.
Nowadays, you see locals and tourists eat tapas anywhere, not just in Madrid, but all over the country. Whether it is simple olives, or an exquisite dish like rabo de toro, every tapa is a gastronomic delight. Now if you’re a tapa lover, the good news is that there are tons of them that you can try.
Most are eaten according to their purpose – as Spanish appetizers or starters to the main course. Also, the Spaniards love to drink their vino or tinta de verano, and often, they take this with their favorite tapa. The latter’s popularity is so immense that it brought about the proliferation of more food establishments in Madrid that serve nothing else but tapas.
Needless to say, you can never claim to have been in Spain if you didn’t taste even one of these tasty appetizers. Don’t worry, if you stay in Madrid, you won’t miss them since every café must serve these culinary delicacies.
In my case, I am proud to have created my own list of Spanish tapas that I have already tasted from all over, in various Madrid barrios like Lavapies, in nearby towns such as Toledo, and even in much farther regions like Barcelona in the north of Spain, and faraway Granada, which is down the country’s southern part.
Here is my list of favorite tapas; they not in any particular order. But I’m sure many, if not all of them, are also your favorite:
Lacon is one grilled Spanish food I could eat everyday. It can be a filling snack or light lunch, eaten without bread or as a bocadillo. With powdered paprika added on top, it’s perfect with iced-cold beer or refresco. Also, lacon is usually drenched in olive oil for added taste. Where to eat: Restaurante el Jamonal, Calle Jacometrezo, Callao
2. Grilled Sardines
As a fish lover, I wouldn’t mind going to El Rastro just to have a taste of what I thought is the finest grilled sardines in town. Grilled perfectly and sprinkled with sea salt before serving, it’s quite a filling tapa and eaten best with a trozo of pan and chilled beer or coca cola. I recommend Bar Sarturce, Plaza Gral Vara de Rey Madrid
3. Morcilla de Burgos
If you have an aversion to blood-based food, I suggest you have some morcilla de burgos, and perhaps this Spanish tapa might change your mind. This is a delicious sausage that dark color of which is caused by it’s main ingredient, pig’s blood. The grainy feel as you chew it must be caused by the rice ingredient, or the perhaps some bits of coagulated blood. Paprika, salt, pepper, oregano complete the ingredients. I had this at Cafeteria El Sueno de Gonzalo, Gral Moscardo 9 Madrid
4. Aros Cebolla
I love the aros cebolla at 100 Montaditos — it’s firm, crispy, not soggy nor oily that all you want to do is pop one after another into your mouth until your plate is done. Not to worry, aros de cebolla one costs 1 euro every Wednesday and Sunday at 100 Montaditos.
5. Jamon serrano
This Spanish ham is thinly sliced and cured, and made from the meat of a white pig. It is less expensive than the Jamon Iberico. My very first dinner in Madrid includes Jamon Serrano, at Museo del Jamon.
6. Boquerones Fritos
This is a popular tapa that’s not just served in Madrid but anywhere else in Spain. For me, boquerones is one of the sea food dishes to die for, together with calamares and gambas. A squeeze of lemon enhances the savory flavor further. Museo del Jamon serves some of the best Boquerones.
7. Salmorejo Cordobes
Salmorejo is a soup, or to be specific, a purée of tomato and other ingredients such as bread. And like gazpacho, salmorejo is also served cold; but instead of croutons, diced jamon is added. Originated from Cordoba, the salmorejo took off and is now found in every region of Spain. Tasted my first salmorejo at El Nuevo Templete, Ave. de Francia, Valencia.
Chorizo tapa goes well with cerveza, which you can order at any Spanish bar or cafe. In my case, I had my first taste at Museo del Jamon branch in Paseo del Prado, near Atocha station, Since then, I prefer Museo’s thin chorizo over ones served in other bars, which are often thicker. I love to pair this tapa with a bocadillo de queso.
Another common Spanish tapa is the croqueta. It’s known for being tasty, and for me, the best I’ve tasted is at Bar Melo’s at barrio Lavapies. Each croqueta is such a delight because of its hot, melted ham-cheese filling. When eaten together with the equally delectable zapatillas (humongous lacon sandwich), my occasional late-night trip to Melo’s means a hearty, heavy meal.
10. Salpicon de Marisco
Salpicon is spicy and full of flavor, and eaten best with a copa, which is why it is the perfect tapa during summer. It is a fine mix of various sea foods like mussels, clams, gambas (shrimps) and fish, with veggies like bits of tomatoes and onion added. I had my first salpicon de marisco at Santiago de Compostela, O Paris.
11. Pimiento de Padron
Your own tapa list would not be complete without a plate of deep-fried pimiento de padron At Bar Sarturce. it is grilled or fried, and sprinkled with sea salt to taste. It’s called the Russian Roulette tapa because at least one in a heap will be spicy hot.
The name is derived from the French term brochette, which is skewer. Here in Madrid, not a few restaurantes serve skewered meat, and include it in their list of regular tapas. I ordered grilled brocheta de pollo, or skewered chicken at O Paris in Santiago de Compostela. A dish that’s full of flavor.
13. Palomitas de Pollo
This one’s simply chicken pops, and also considered as a tapa or appetizer. Usual spices are added to the mix for a truly delicious and spicy pops like paprika, black pepper and soy sauce. Try some of these palomitas at 100 Montaditos — the dish is 1 euro a plate during Wednesday and Sunday.
Gazpacho is cold soup made of tomato, and so you get that tangy, sour taste, which is a delight to those who love tomato-based food. A refreshing appetizer on a hot afternoon. My gazpacho had croutons added, but other gaspacho dish have bits of veggies instead. Enjoyed this soup-tapa at Restaurante La Cava, Valencia Spain.
Hotdogs are great fillings for sandwiches, albeit that from Spain known as salchichas are served in bars in Madrid as tapas in cocktail form. I relished my first plate at 100 Montaditos at the corner of Bravo Murillo and Plaza de Castilla on a Sunday; hence, had it for only 1 euro.
If you want a tapa that can satisfy your hunger but won’t cause serious dent on the pocket, try Albondigas. Many Madrid restaurants and bars offer this Spanish tapa, which is simply meat balls in tomato sauce. One of the best-selling appetizers in town, it goes well with copas, although I had mine with coca cola and pan. Try some delicious albondigas at Cerveveria Don Simon, Hernani 57 Madrid.
A must-include in your list of Spanish tapas to taste, I had my first Callos at Museo del Jamon. A bit on the salty side, it was nonetheless a delectable dish. The main ingredient, the callos meat or tripe, must have been boiled for hours as it was so tender. Every piece just melted in my mouth. A must-have tapa!
18. Oreja a la plancha
I had this rich-tasting dish along Bravo Murillo. I swear the pig’s ear was so tender, and I love that it was served with a generous spicy sauce on top. Serious advice for those who want to taste as many Spanish tapas as possible — include this on your list. Enjoy some orejas at Casa Aurelio, along Bravo Murillo in Tetuan.
I had this tapas on my first night in Madrid, at . and that was 2 years ago. Chistorra is such a divine treat, whether eaten on its own with beer or with bread. It is similar to chorizo, although it is smaller and fattier. The chistorra at Museo del Jamon deserves to be on your top 5 list of Madrid tapas.
Alitas is fried chicken wings, and is one of my usual orders at 100 Montaditos. While most tapas at Montaditos are priced at 1 euro during Wednesday and Sunday, alitas cost 2 euros. Still, it is affordable, and great to chomp on with cold beer.
21. Tortilla de Patata
Spanish omelette is a simple dish with eggs and potatoes as its main ingredients. While many tortillas are a bit dry and firm from too much potato, the one served at a cafe near home at Capitan Haya is creamy, which for me is just perfect.
22. Gambas Pritas
Another rich and flavorful tapas served at Bar Sarturce. Gambas are fried, with skin (shell), and served with a liberal sprinkling of sea salt. I enjoy having this with pan, consuming everything, meat, shell, and all.
23. Rabo de Toro
A traditional Spanish tapa — I would order this Oxtail stew dish if served in the menu. Rabo de toro is from Andalucia, in Cordoba, and the tail ingredient is either from a bull or ox. Of course, it’s now available in many restaurants and bars all over the country. Had my first rabo de toro at Barcelona.
24. Torreznos Fritos
One of the typical tapas, and popularly requested as tapa in Museo del Jamon, Torreznos is pork cut in small cubes and fried to perfection, which means crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. I would just love to have some Mang Tomas (a Filipino sweet-sour-spicy liver sauce for roasted pig) on this.
25. Gambas al Ajillo
My salmorejo at El Nuevo Templete came with Gambas al Ajillo, and together with a trozo of pan, I finished everything off with a large glass of ice-cold cola, more than enough to cool myself down during my hot afternoon visit of Valencia. The gambas dish is oily but not too much, and has a strong garlicky flavor that made me love it all the more. Overall, a tasty Valencian tapa.