“Take a tapa, ask for tapas, go for tapeo, tapear (the verb)” … It’s a style, the icon of Spanish popular culture. The “tapa” is that small portion to eat on the go, a snack, not a meal in itself. You can’t ask for a tapa on its own … you have to choose from a list of incomprehensible names if you don’t master Spanish, except in some bars, where they are included along with the drink. The concept is therefore to chain drinks and tapas (appetizers), if possible in different locations.
By extension, tapear is meeting a group of friends, going to a cheap restaurant and dining together (pay attention to this adverb because the idea of sharing is central). Then, either you meet your friends already at the place, or you decide to extend a social event, or plan a rather informal meeting to meet the next day or on the same night. It remains to seetle the meeting point, usually a nearby bar or in lively neighbourhoods. You have to know your urban geography well, although not too much, but the good places nearby. Sometimes they are pub without great pretensions but they are worth it for at least one of their specialities.
Once at the table, the waiter or waitress asks first, “to drink?” (Para beber). In Granada and Jaen, they will usually include a free tapa with the drink, in the rest of the provinces maybe olives and little else. Order drinks and take the time to indicate “to eat” (Para comer) or “Para tapear“. The waiter will return with a paper tablecloth, plates, spikes, and then drinks and the menu.
In the menu, each dish will come with three measures: “Tapa – Half portion – Ration”. If you come to eat, the advice is to favour half portions, especially for more sophisticated meats and dishes. To pass the time, nibble on bread with oil, or salmorejo with “picos” or “regañás”, some very decorative mini breads typical of Andalusia.
If you are determined to eat like the Spaniards, you have to know that the dishes are generally shared (!) Once the ration is served, everyone eats from their side of the plate. It is very surprising the first time. It is an absolute exchange and a test of friendship. The food is placed in small clay dishes and the goal is to establish a harmony between the diners. The last portion “the one of shame” is left until the group makes a decision about it!
In the tapas, fried foods are very abundant, the preparations rich in sauce and oil, the dishes served with french fries … watch out for the excess oil and the cruel lack of fibre. In a bar, you usually drink too much or eat too much fat, and most of the time, both at the same time. However, tapas are a fantastic opportunity to try many dishes and to savour the diversity of Andalusian cuisine.
It is possible to eat very well, for 12-15 euros, even less, and you will have fun.