The beauty of tapas is the vast amount of different dishes that you can choose from to combine to make a meal. The double-edged sword of tapas is that there are quite literally dozens of different small plates that it can be a daunting task to choose what to eat. Fear not, amigos, we have the definitive collection of the top 5 dishes to choose from to make a meal out of tapas.
Our adoption of tapas stems from the Spanish custom of "tomar algo" – or going out for something to eat. Usually, in Spain, whenever anyone goes out for drinks, the bar will hand over a small plate of crudités to go with it. In honour the culture, a true tapas selection has to contain something traditionally Spanish. For example, croquettes of cheese and ham, a tortilla espanola (Spanish style omelette), or pisto, a vegetable stew in a tomato sauce that equates as the Spanish version of ratatouille.
Spain is known for the multitude of ports and fishing villages that provide the country – and the rest of the world – their fish dishes. The famous Spanish staple, paella, wouldn’t be complete without the addition of the prawns and calamari. So, add fish to your tapas meal – anything from fried calamari to a small bowl of Spanish fish stew, to just plain fried whitebait.
Historical reports date tapas back to King Alfonso the 10th, who while bedbound could only eat and drink in small quantities. Others state it comes from the verb tapar – or to cover – and bars used to hand pieces of hot or cold bread alongside sweet sherry to prevent fruit flies from hovering and that King Alfonso liked the tradition he decided to ask for the bread everywhere. Another tradition that has made its way onto our plates is the Spanish tradition of curing meats. Sorry vegetarians – a charcuterie selection is a staple of Spanish cooking, and no tapas selection would be right without some jamón, salchichón, chorizo, sobrassada, morcilla and many more variations on the salted, spiced, and cured sausage. Having said that, though, it is possible to have tapas without meat, and most restaurants will give you enough choices to fill up a table and share.
There are dozens of restaurants that specialise in tapas across the country – from Iberica to La Tasca to Tapas Revolution – all bringing the unique flavours of Spain to the English food scene to allow friends to have a taste of Spain right in their hometown. Though, nowadays, you don’t even need to leave the house to experience the Spanish cuisine, with many restaurants delivering tapas right to your door through services such as Deliveroo. So, you can recreate that famous night in the Spanish taverna on a cold Friday evening in October. To really spice up your night, we recommend something with a kick to it: patatas bravas – spicy potatoes – are a Spanish favourite.
While tapas is inherently healthy, every meal needs its fair share of greens – and tapas is no exception, especially with the range of dishes available. From red onion and orange salad, to garlic covered mushrooms, and piperada – an onion and pepper type of stew. The Spanish certainly know how to enjoy getting their five-a-day. Even a bowl of locally sourced Spanish olives can be a healthy addition to a delicious meal.
There are so many combinations of tapas dish available from so many places that it would take years to go through all of them – and luckily the mix-and-match nature means that no tapas meal ever has to be the same as another one.