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I'm not sure that the Spanish realise just what treasures they hold in Tapas. Rather than grabbing a burger or a boring sandwich from a Filling Station, Spaniards prefer to go to a bar and enjoy their favourite snack, along with a drink and a chat. I find a Tapa to be just enough when I'm on the road and feel like a little something to eat, and unless you particularly want to remain aloof, you'll soon find yourself having a natter with one of the locals, and if you asked him about Tapas, he'd probably say something along the lines of 'eat when you're hungry and drink when you're thirsty', and who can fault that philosophy.

Tapas originated in Andalusia, where, as the popular story goes, the people were so tired of getting flies in their drink, that they began putting a piece of bread over the glass to keep them out. This bread was often topped with ham or cheese and the rest as they say, is history. I don't know if anyone ever came up with an idea to keep the flies off the bread; maybe that's to come.

These days of course, you don't have to balance your food on a glass; it comes on a small plate or dish. The word Tapa incidentally, means cover, so there probably is some substance in the story. The one thing that is for sure is that they are a great way to enjoy good, wholesome food at a reasonable price. Here are ten of the best.

Spanish Omelette or Tortilla de Patatas

You'll find this on offer in almost all Spanish bars. It provides a great value, tasty snack. The ever present potato is sometimes complimented with mushrooms, onions, beans or tomatoes according to the whim of the local chef. It's interesting to try this dish in different bars and savour the difference, especially if you're travelling a nd moving between regions.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce or Albondigas

Found in most tapas bars, this traditional dish tastes best when served piping hot straight from the pan. Provide plenty of fresh bread to mop up the juicy tomato sauce. This dish varies even more than Spanish Omelette. It can be good or disappointing, but when it's good, it's exquisite. The best Albondigas are the ones that have been made on site.

Boquerones en Escabeche

This old Moorish treat is a way of preserving small fish, and has survived the test of time. A great place to try this local delicacy is in and around Nerja, where they even have a fiesta dedicated to the dish. These days, strict controls are in place to monitor the size of the fish. Anyone using fish that deemed too small is prosecuted.

Ajillo Mushrooms

Personally I don't care for this, but most of my friends go mad for it, so I thought I better give it a mention. It is fact, very popular amongst the Spanish, but if you have an important meeting later in the day, I would give it a miss. It often arrives heavily laced with garlic, but apart from the garlic, the mushrooms are flavoured with olive oil and Spanish Sherry. It sounds good doesn't it? As with many Tapas, it should come with a wedge of bread, to mop up the juices.

Jamon Serrano

Spaniards are rightly proud of their ham, and cured, country ham is one of the most popular ways to enjoy it. The ham is rolled in sea salt, hung and left to cure for up to eighteen months, before the skilled Jamonero decides that it is ready. The legs are mounted on special stands to be carved into paper thin slices. I can't think of one Spanish bar or restaurant that doesn't offer Jamon Serrano. A perfect compliment to Jamon Serrano is Manchego cheese.

Patatas Bravas or Crisp Spiced Potatoes

Patatas Bravas is as popular in Madrid and Barcelona as it is in mountain villages, and that's because it tastes good. Each bar will have its own way of preparing the potatoes, but in most cases the result is more than satisfactory. Traditionally, this Tapa is taken with white wine.

Costillas or Barbecued Ribs

Better prepared on a barbeque, this delicious snack is enjoyed by many Spaniards and visitors alike. Normally sweet sherry is poured on the ribs, but each establishment will have its own take on the recipe.

Carne con Tomate or Meat in Tomato Sauce

This is one of my favourites. Tender meat cooked in tomato sauce, always needs a wedge of bread to clean the dish with. Available in most bars, it can be quite different, but usually very, very tasty.


Migas, as with many popular dishes, owes its existence to poverty. Originally breakfast fare, it was made from leftover bread, indeed Migas means crumbs. Its roots may lay in North Africa, as the dish shares many similarities with Couscous.

Pinchitos or Kebabs

It was the Arabs who brought kebabs to Europe, and the Spanish have embraced the idea as one of their own. Although originally made with lamb, these days pork is widely used. These kebabs are deliciously spicy.
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