There are many reasons to visit Barcelona, one of Europe’s most exciting and popular cities, including the architecture, the art, and the distinctive Catalonian culture. One of the highlights of any visit is to sample the local cuisine, and Barcelona’s tapas should not be missed, providing an affordable and accessible way to sample some of the region’s best food offerings.
Tapas are small appetizers or snacks, served hot or cold. The idea of serving small snacks dates back to pre-19th century Spain when a sample of the meal was offered at inns and taverns to travelers, most of whom couldn’t read or write. The small samples served to indicate what was on offer on the menu that day. Another possible origin is a way of providing much-needed snacks to workers toiling in the fields, during the often-lengthy period between lunch and the customary late dinner. Legend also has it that Spain’s King Alfonso ordered a glass of sherry, which came with a slice of ham covering it to keep out dust and flies. The impressed king requested another drink, also with a covering; the word tapa means to cover in Spanish. Today, tapas options vary between regions; arguably Barcelona’s tapas are some of the tastiest in the country.
One of the appeals of tapas is how affordable they are. Although the cost can vary, a typical plate of tapas costs around $3, with seafood tapas sometimes costing more. They also come in different sizes, and as in most other parts of Europe, food and drink cost less if you stand at the bar or counter and eat it, rather than sit down in the restaurant or outdoor terrace. Add in a glass of the local wine, and you can substitute tapas and a drink for a full meal, and pay no more than $14 to $20. Some tapas bars in Barcelona still serve free tapas; you can find these places away from the touristy areas and in the city’s more working-class neighborhoods. If you are paying for your tapas, unless you specify otherwise, many establishments will give you a larger – and more expensive – plate than a smaller one. Just make sure you check the establishment’s happy hour menu. The number of tapas you eat is added up by the bartender; you only pay for all your snacks when you have finished eating. Early evening before dinner, and around midday are the two most popular times for Spaniards to enjoy tapas.
Enjoying Barcelona’s tapas is an excellent way to enjoy some of the many flavors and dishes commonly found in this cosmopolitan port city. The Catalonian cuisine is well known for its many delicious flavors, and locals will tell you that the food tastes so good because the same recipes have been followed for countless generations. Most dishes use only fresh ingredients, including the freshest possible seafood, and olive oil with fresh tomatoes are also widely used. Spices are a common feature of many of the region’s dishes, and the use of spices reflects the Arabic influences that are still noticeable today. Cured pork, salted cod, snails in tomato sauce, and anchovies are some favorite local specialties, and many dishes make use of garlic, saffron, and paprika.
Tapas are quick and easy to prepare and serve. Many of Barcelona’s tapas bars don’t bother with a printed menu; instead, the dishes are displayed in a glass case near the door or the counter, or in some cases, it’s simply a question of asking what’s available. If you order a hot snack, be prepared to wait a few minutes while it’s prepared for you. One of the pleasures of eating tapas in Spain is that you are confident that the food, almost without exception is freshly prepared and won’t have been sitting around for days. It can be intimidating going in a noisy and crowded tapas bar for the first time; you certainly have to push your way to the counter and make yourself heard when ordering. Many locals will tell you that the noisier and more crowded a bar is, the more authentic an experience you will have, as well as finding better tasting food. If you aren’t sure what to order, just take a chance and if you don’t like it, order something different the next time around.
Of course, you need a drink or two to wash down your tapas. Spain is well known for its wines, which have helped shape the country’s culture for centuries, and you can easily find the perfect rose, red or white to complement what you are eating. Sherry is associated with Spain more than wine, and excellent, a dry pale sherry is an ideal accompaniment for many kinds of cheese or ham tapas. Manzanilla sherry is often chosen to accompany the spicy chorizo sausage, as well as nuts, anchovies, olives and other saltier snacks. Albariño is a dry white wine that many consider is the perfect drink to go with a seafood dish, while many meat dishes are perhaps best enjoyed with a good Rioja wine. Sangria is a traditional beverage made with fruit such as pears, berries and pineapple, and red wine and is popular throughout Spain and Portugal. It is the perfect drink to go with many different taps dishes, including seafood, vegetables, cheese and sausage and is often the drink of choice for many tourists trying to enjoy the authentic experience of sampling Barcelona’s tapas.
Of the many tapas bars in the city, it can be a challenge recommending some of the best. Quimet and Quimet is one of the oldest and has been owned by four generations of the same family for over a century. El Xampanyet is worth a visit for its traditional décor, including colorful ceramic tiles and has been serving its champagne with food since 1929. And Cal Pep offers a bewildering choice of tapas options, over 70 of them. But if you are visiting this fascinating city, much of the fun is in discovering the best of Barcelona’s tapas for yourself.