The Tapas Phenomenon

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It’s 9pm in Spain, what does that mean? Dinner time of course! You’re off with your friends to go bar hopping (no, not for shots). You will try a series of “tapas” at various different bars, each having their own speciality. What is a tapa? It is best defined as an appetizer sized dish that varies from seafood to meat – mini sandwiches to a bite-sized dinner. You can wash it down with a caña (a small beer) or some wine. Almost every city in Spain offers a “ruta de tapas” meaning, a tapas route – a scavenger hunt for delicacies. Each bar usually has a speciality (some may have even won awards for their tapas).

Whats the best part about a taste-testing night on the town? Socializing. There is no better way to end a long day at work than having a meal with some friends. The Spanish have a word for this that doesn’t exist in English – sobremesa.

“Sobremesa”refers to the time period after eating where you stay out with your friends having great conversations. The joy of staying at the table once your food has been cleared to have a chat and catch up on what you’ve missed in one another’s lives.

Sometimes I feel like the Spanish solved a mystery that North Americans haven’t. We often get caught up in work, school, kids etc, and forget how important it is to unwind, have some regular downtime with your friends, meaning real human interaction. No texts, no phone calls, just a really good meal, and a little too much wine (but thats not always a bad thing, is it?).


Recommended Tapas Bars:

Los Zagales, Valladolid, Spain

Las Tres Bellotas, Valladolid, Spain

Txirimiri, Madrid, Spain

Bar La Eslava, Sevilla, Spain

Bar Dos de Mayo, Sevilla, Spain

Please comment or add your favourite bars to the list, I’m heading off to Spain for a visit again soon, and need some new suggestions!

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5 foods you must try in Spain

Ok so before we start, it’s important to clarify that in terms of cuisine and fine cooking, I am about as inexperienced as they come. My cooking skills are to limited toast, and maybe cereal. However, I love to eat! Whenever I find myself in a new country, it’s the first thing I want to do! So here are some of my favorites in Spain, bearing in mind that I haven’t travelled to Galicia yet, which is in the north of Spain, and famous for its fantastic seafood. Here are my winners so far:

1) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – In English, this is called “acorn Iberian ham” and it’s the higher quality of cured ham that you can order. It’s usually served with small breadsticks, on a platter with different cheeses, or with some bread. A tapa (appetizer sized) will cost an average of €5-10 euros. If you wanted to buy a larger portion you would pay around 20-30€, the entire pork leg would be a pricey souvenir ranging from 150-300€ depending on quality. You can find it in restaurants around the country, and it’s not specific to a certain region.  The pigs are raised eating only fine grains and acorns, and it’s how it gets it’s name.

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2) Patatas Alioli – Potatoes with Alioli – These may look like regular fried potatoes with some dressing on them, but you have to realize that alioli is the Holy Grail. It is used on seafood, like calamari and sepia (see below) or with potatoes. When you try alioli for the first time, it will change your life. If it were socially acceptable, I would eat alioli on top of more alioli. So what is this fantastic gift to humanity? It’s a sauce made if garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and egg yolks. It has many variations with other ingredients. They sell a version of it in supermarkets, but if you can get it freshly made at a restaurant you will definitely enjoy it.  Oh and you will have nasty garlic breath afterward that goes away only after you brush your teeth six times in a row, but it’s totally worth it.

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3) Carrillada – Pig’s Cheeks- The carrillada ibérica is usually served with potatoes in its own tender juicy sauce. The meat is very soft as it is slow cooked on very low heat for several hours. A traditional dish from Sevilla, and the best usually comes from acorn fed pigs. Try it at Bodeguita Romero, a restaurant found in the heart of Sevilla, in the south of Spain.image

4) Sepia – I didn’t even know the name for this in English until I googled it, and it’s cuttlefish. It’s usually fried, served in small marinated pieces with alioli on the side (yay!). In the south of Spain, it can also be served breaded before it’s fried. My favorite restaurant was Las Tres Bellotas, in Valladolid, Spain. I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but I thought this was great.

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5) Lechazo – This is the meat of an unweaned lamb and is a famous dish from the region of Castilla y León. Unlike the other “tapas” above, which are served in smaller portions, this is a full course meal, served with potatoes, salads, and wine. The price range is about 30-50€, but once again, definitely worth it. It’s roasted in a wooden stove, and the meat is soft and juicy (I know the baby lamb thing is sad, just don’t think about it). This is a dish served on special occasions, especially Christmas.

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