Everyone thinks life in Spain is about sitting outside in the sunshine, watching the world go by as you sample a variety of tapas. Having lived here for three years, I can assure you that they are right. Spain has millions of local tapas variations, which change depending on where you are. A recent online post asks people to name their favorites — here are some great suggestions to complement my local knowledge.
1. Chocos Fritos (Fried Cuttlefish)
In my local town of Huelva, Andalusia, people are known as Choqueros, meaning people who produce and eat cuttlefish. Go to any of the small city's local bars or restaurants, and you will see cuttlefish dusted in flour and deep-fried. This dish is truly the taste of southern Spain, especially with an ice-cold beer on the beach.
2. Tortilla de Patata (Potato and Egg Omelet)
A Spanish omelet fan advises that making tortillas is easy and will last for days. Tortillas are another mainstay of any Spanish picnic table, beach hamper, or tapas spread. However, execution of the flip is critical when making this Iberian staple. You must complete the underplate switcheroo to move to tortilla enlightenment, young Grasshopper.
3. Albondigas de Cerdo (Pork Meatballs)
So many countries I've visited have their own form of meatball. From my childhood Italian favorite to a meatball Banh Mi in Vietnam, the humble meatball is an adaptable ingredient. In Spain, the go-to method is a pork meatball in a thick tomato and white wine sauce, served with crispy, fried potatoes. White bread rolls are mandatory.
4. Croquetas (Croquettes)
Spanish croquettes are another common tapas choice due to their creamy center and pleasing crunch. The secret is to refrigerate the bechamel, make it thick enough, and not to heat the oil too low or too high when you fry them.
5. Carrilleras Ibéricas (Pork Cheek)
With Huelva Province famous for its Iberian pork, there is no surprise it is the most popular carnivore product here. My favorite cut is the slow-cooked cheek, preferably from the Iberian standard (Spain's upper-tier pork brand). Slow-cooked in local red wine, the meat melts in your mouth with incredible richness. Like most other hot meat-based tapas, carrilleras come served with fried potatoes.
6. Ensaladilla de Gambas (Potato Salad With Shrimp)
Somehow, Russian salad became a family favorite in Spain. A pleasant mixture of diced potato, chopped egg, carrots, and peas is mixed with prawns in mayonnaise. It has many other variations, including with octopus or with fire-roasted piquillo red peppers. Furthermore, the best way to eat this is with Spanish breadsticks — or picos.
7. Jamón de Serrano (Serrano Ham)
Anybody who enjoys pork needs to visit southern Spain, where the Andalusian black pigs roam the countryside, eating the indigenous acorns in the hot sun. The result is Spain's equivalent of Japanese Kobe beef: high in rich fats that give it a unique, buttery flavor. Serrano ham is salted, air-dried for over a year, then assorted into categories for quality. The highest category, Pata Negra, scores five acorns on the jamon hierarchy for its excellence.
8. Serranito (Pork, Pepper, Jamon, and Egg Sandwich)
Some people prefer a montadíto, or sandwich, with their tapas. Like a pressed Cuban sandwich, the montadito comes in many smaller formats. However, the most popular larger sandwich is fried pork loin, topped with Serrano ham, a charred green pepper, and a fried egg. As you can expect, napkins must be ready for this treat.
9. Boquerones Fritos (Fried Anchovies)
What's the difference between an anchovy and a boquerone? The answer is salt. They begin with the same name, but one is flash frozen while the other is salted (and eventually picked off pizza by children). Simplicity is vital with these delicate fish; fried boquerones are exquisite little fried anchovies with nothing more than salt. There is a dichotomy with eating these fish; while some people strip the tiny spine of its delicious white meat, others get a calcium kick and devour the lot.
10. Patatas Bravas (Fried Diced Potato With Hot Sauce)
After cooking fajitas for my Spanish father-in-law once, I discovered that most Spaniards aren't into spice at all. However, a curious addition to some tables is patatas bravas due to their fiery sauce. You could call these Spanish home potatoes, though the Spanish custom of drizzling sauce all over them (which I am not a fan of) sets this dish apart.
11. Pinchos Vascos (Topped Bread Snacks)
Spain is a diverse place. You can drive through hectares of sunflowers, river valleys, or even deserts. However, the scenery and tapas change once you cross the Cantabrian Mountains up north. Pinchos are typically small discs of baguette topped with an endless selection of Spanish ingredients. These are served in most bars and eaten while standing with a cold beer, making the perfect bar snack for the tipsy tourist.
12. Pulpo de la Brasa (Grilled Octopus)
Octopus has become a conflict since I watched My Octopus Teacher, so I don't order it so much. However, grilled Spanish octopus is hard to beat (for anyone who has yet to see the documentary). The more charred the poor mollusk is, the better. Sorry, my tentacled friends, I failed you — but you taste so freaking good.
13. Queso Manchego (Sheep's Milk Cheese)
There is a spectrum for this La Mancha export; it goes from soft and light to rock-hard and eye-watering in its flavor profile. Manchego cheese is to Spain what Cheddar cheese is to the United Kingdom — the nation's favorite. However, I can't see British people sitting down to a plate of Cheddar covered in local olive oil anytime soon.
14. Pimientos de Piquillo Con Bacalao (Stuffed Peppers With Salt Cod)
Pimientos de piquillo are sweet red peppers roasted and marinated in oil, then stuffed with anything from white cheese to tuna. A typical tapas in Spain comes with bacalao (salted cod). The fish is fried with onions and garlic and then stuffed inside the peppers. Served hot or cold, they are equally delicious; the pepper's sweetness compliments the seasoned fish.
15. Chistorra (Sausages)
While the Spanish sometimes eat hot dogs, they prefer a punchy chistorra. These Spanish links are similar to chorizo but skinnier, flavored with paprika and garlic, then fried to release the oils from the inside. However, chistorra must come with an “explosive oil” public health warning — these are not to be eaten in white clothes.