What are Tapas??
Most countries have some sort of unique experience when it comes to their casual, no-frills cuisine; you have Italian Trattorias; that are simple but delicious, with no printed menus (just a chalk board), and cheap wine served by the carafe; there’s French Bistros; with intimate settings, serving up classic home-style slow cooked French foods like cassoulet (a tasty stew with white beans and meat); but after all my travels, it’s becoming clearer and clearer, the Spanish Tapas Bar stands out in the crowd. It’s not about the food, but food is always in front of you, it’s not about the drinks, which are always flowing (beer, wine and vermut being the standards), it’s about the ACT of doing Tapas.
I’ve heard many people say, you can’t do tapas outside of Spain, but what does that really mean?
For Spaniards and expats living there, Tapas is a verb, it means essentially to have a night out with your friends/family (in Spain people always seem to go out in groups of 6 or more!) and essentially bar-hop for the night. But WHY?? Well for one, when you order a drink at the bar; you’re usually served a free tapa from the bartender. In Madrid, this could be something as simple as some potato chips or a bowl of olives, to something a bit more elaborate like some pickled veggies with an anchovy or a plate of cured meat with cheese and bread. It all depends on the restaurant and the city you’re in.
is famous for their big and tasty free tapas in restaurants. When I traveled there I recall getting 4 solid chicken wings with an order of a single glass of wine; 2 glasses of wine netted a small but hearty pork stew with bread that was perfect for 2 people a few bites each; and each round of drinks brought on another round of different tapas, our last round was a toasted piece of bread topped with morcilla (aka blood sausage!). So when it comes to free tapas, it can be a bit of a guessing game, but if you find a place you like, make sure to make a note so you remember for your next tapas crawl.
How popular are Tapas in Spain??
But beyond the free tapa, you also will move from bar to bar throughout the night. This assures you get your exercise in but also results a fun adventure with your group. One note on Spain, it has the MOST bars per capita than any other European Union Country. To put it in perspective, New York State has 24 bars for every 100,000 people. Madrid has a stunning 185 bars for every 100,000 people. Essentially you can throw a stone in any direction and it’ll land next to a bar. A normal tapas night can consist of anywhere between 3-8 different stops, if one place is too busy or just doesn’t have the vibe you’re looking for- it’s normal to just have a drink get your free tapa and move on to the next bar- it’s all apart of the adventure!
Are we really going to eat “snacks” all night??
While it’s great to get a free plate of something with a drink order, chances are you’re going to hear your stomach saying “I NEED REAL FOOD”, and well, you’re in luck. Every one of the tapas bars serves an array of local and spanish style favorites in much larger portions.
Recommended Tapas to Order:
You can order a plate of iberico spanish ham cut right in front of you, coming from locally raised black Iberican Pigs who are free range and feed on acorns, chestnuts, grass and herbs; Or patatas bravas; fried cut potatoes with a white garlic sauce and a spicier red tomato sauce to fill your stomach. Another favorite is crispy fried pork belly aka Torreznos, and if your into seafood, Pulpo de Galicia aka Grilled Octopus with olive oil and paprika with make your eyes light up when you see it brought out, and if your a veggie lover, well sorry to say but your options are limited, but you can opt for a delicious plate of grilled mushrooms with an aioli, or a plate of sliced tomatoes and roasted peppers with local olive oil.
So you’ve just gone out for your first official tapas night, you’ve ordered your drinks, bumped elbows with the locals, gotten your fill of tapas and had an great night out with your friends or family….what next? Well if your a Spaniard you have a coffee, head to bed, wake up, coffee again and head out to find an outdoor patio you can sit at and have a delicious Spanish lunch- then back to your home for a nice siesta. And even if you’re not Spanish, I’d recommend you follow the same path, don’t forget when it comes to bars per capita, Spain reigns supreme. Buen Provecho (or as the French say, Bon Appetite)
Sand, CEO, Madrid, Spain
03 May 2020
Madrid is Back…almost. 48 days…. It’s been 48 days since Madrid residents were allowed to leave the apartment for reasons other than groceries,pharmacy or hospital. Or if lucky enough, to walk the dog… (A few residents attempted to circumvent the “dog” stipulation by walking their “pet” goldfish).
Tapas : What are they??
Last night we were finally set “free,” allowed to leave the apartment from 6am-10am OR 8pm-11pm. We took the “risk” and decided to go out for walks at BOTH designated times. And I’d say it was worth it. Before yesterday, walking outside was stressful from risk of infection or worry about police questioning. A walk usually ended up with a heavy haul of essentials from the grocery store. It sucked… there’s no other way to put it, but we did what we had to. Last night was different. Sure the thoughts of infection were still there, and a worry about all the people walking a bit too closely. But all that went to the back of mind when the weather, the energy, and the vibe took over and stole the show.
COVID-19 hasn’t stopped neighbors in Chamberi from spreading some joy with decorations and music nightly
On a day that reached almost 80 degrees, at 8pm the temp was slowly dropping and the city invited us out to bask in it’s glory. Madrid is back…maybe not the same Madrid as we once knew it, but the signs were promising. A mix of people wearing masks, social distancing mostly honored and just a hint of activity around the COUNTLESS number of bars and restaurants. Madrid residents are ready and willing to come back, but the government isn’t quite ready for us.
“A street normally bustling with automobiles, was commandeered by bicyclists who were free to pick any lane and ride freely for miles “
I preferred the morning walk to the evening (aka Paseo meaning “evening stroll” in Spain) but that’s mostly because I like to avoid crowds. Each walk was noticeably different in terms of partakers. Morning was owned by the athletes; the runners and bicyclists of the city. Trapped inside with nowhere to stretch their legs other than up and down some stairwells. These people took the the streets with open arms. Paseo Castellano, a street normally bustling with automobiles, was commandeered by bicyclists who were free to pick any lane and ride freely for miles.
Morning stroll in Chamberi
The evening paseo was for everyone else. Saturday night and the sun still in the sky, we took the the streets with wonder and yearning for what happens next. When can we finally get our fill of tapas? When will we be able to bump elbows with the bar crowd and order up dos canas or tinto de verano (skip the sangria next time you visit). And most importantly, when can we get to the beach?!
The answer, is all in good time. We’ve made it this far, and we’ve lost too many. Our healthcare workers and essential workers are the most amazing and BRAVE humans we could have asked for. Not only will they deserve to be recognized on a national and world level daily, they deserve a proper and long paid vacation when this is all over with. We must do right by them and I hope our governments add this recognition as top priority. THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE WHO ARE FIGHTING AND PROTECTING US FROM THIS VIRUS.