10 things you should know about tapas and how it works

Planning a trip to Spain recently, my mind naturally to Spanish food and all the potential delicious things I could be eating and drinking while I’m there.

The more I read, the more I realised how diverse Spanish cuisine really was – the lists of amazing and unique Spanish dishes is long and varied, even overwhelming. Every region seems to have their own list of specialities but the one consistent thing that kept coming up was tapas.

Read more: Your guide to Spain – what to eat and drink

It’s was all getting a bit overwhelming so I grabbed a glass of wine and called my friend, Caro, in Madrid to get her advice. Her first words to me were, “Lee, tapas may be a small plate of food, but it is more like a style of eating.”

Well how the hell would I know this, Caro? So I thought would share with you Caro’s words of wisdom for you next trip to Spain.

10 tips for an authentic tapas experience

1. You need friends. Or a friend – it’s a social thing.

2. You’re not going to a tapas place. You’re going for tapas.

Ever been on a bar crawl (or bar hopping for my fellow Americans)? That’s like tapas. With food. Get one, move along. Look for people you know. Chat with people you don’t know, move along with new people to a new place.

3. Ask a local, they’ll know where to go.

If you don’t, just ask at the hotel, your AirBnB host or anyone for that matter. Locals know best. There is usually a neighbourhood or street known for going for tapas so it is easy to move from one spot to the other.

dishes filled with Spanish tapas food

4. If it is busy, it means it is good. Don’t be put off by queues as there is usually a high turnover.

Order at the bar if you don’t see waiters on the floor. If you do, order quickly, shit is busy.

5. Learn the jargon. Get it wrong and you could end up with too much. Or even worse, too little!

Language you’ll need for ordering tapas

Raciones are bigger plates of food and perfect for sharing and can be found on the board or a menu listed as such.

Media racion is basically half of a ‘racion’ (portion).

Tostas or pinchos are just a small bite made for one person and are cheap.

Pinchitos are smaller still so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can somehow split this one!

6. How tapas works differs from city to city.

  • Terracotta tapas dishes holding olives, meats and cheesesIf you get a small plate of olives, crisps, nuts or bread with a toothpick and a small topping (without request), it’s free.
  • Some bars have plates on the bar and you can just point to what you want.
  • Other you order from a menu at the table or bar.

Watch what everyone else is doing. If your Spanish is nada, point to what someone else is having, and gesture wildly that you want some. That at least is universal.

7. If a place is empty, lacks a great smell of food, looks too orderly, or the food is just awful, get one drink and move on.

8. Be adventurous. Order a variety but start small and save space for the next place.

9. Go for the house or daily special. Every place has a dish they ace.

10. Even with or without Spaniards in your travelling tapas party, be sure to have a phone or dictionary to hand for those tricky food names.

Recipe: Love cooking? Have a go at Chef Clive’s Spanish stuffed piquillo peppers

A huge thanks to my friend, Caro! I hope this helps you taste all that Spain has to offer as you explore the local tapas scene.

Feeling inspired? Why not try it for yourself? Learn to make impressive tapas dishes with Chef Clive in his kitchen in Andalucia for a holiday with a difference.


Image by Guy Leroux from Pixabay

Image by 4180tina from Pixabay