Tips for trying tapas in Spain

Dear foodies, We are going to talk about the most delicious, fun custom in Spain: going out for tapas! These small dishes of food have become so famous that the word 'tapa' is the first word you will learn when coming to Spain. In fact, the word 'tapa' is recognised in many languages. But, what does tapear, or going out for tapas, really mean?

Tapas are a type of aperitivo, or appetiser, usually eaten with beer, wine or cider. They can be cold, hot, served on toast, or in clay pots, and many establishments have house specialities. Although they are meant to whet the appetite before lunch or in the late afternoon, if you end up eating lots they can substitute a meal.

The price of tapas can vary greatly.  In some places you have to order them and in others they are served free with a drink, although in this case you can't choose the tapa, as the establishment will offer those that they have prepared, their most typical tapa, or the 'daily tapa'. And, if you want more of a tapa that you liked, you can always order them off of the raciones menu (full plates) which have a fixed price.

Going out for tapas will make it easier to meet people. You are not going to get more Facebook friends, but it is a great custom practised in a group, although you can also do it with a friend, as a couple, etc. Ideally you will stand near the bar where you can try different varieties while you chat. Each time you order drinks for the group it is called a ronda, or round. You will probably hear someone say, 'This round is on me!'

A tip: don't stay in just one place; it's better to change bars and try a bit of everything in the 'tapa area', usually found in streets of the historic centre. In good weather, it is typical to sit on one of the open-air terraces.

In addition to the good old regular bars, in many cities you can try tapas in other more modern spaces, like gastrobars or old converted markets that are now gourmet markets. And if you are lucky, your trip will fall when a ruta de la tapa (tapa tour) is being organised, perfect for trying out different bars and deciding on your favourite tapa.

There are various myths surrounding the origin of the tapa: from that in the seventeenth century King Alfonso X asked to be served small portions of food to accompany wine to that it was once customary to serve a drink tapada, or covered, with bread and cured meats so insects would not fall in. Whatever the truth may be, the tapa has won us over.

Ultimately, the most important thing when going out for tapas is to enjoy the food, the company and, of course, life itself. And that you ask things like, ‘Where can I get the best croquetas in the city?’, that you invite someone out for cañas, that you make friends...and that your mouth waters.