Tapa Tapa Tapas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 01 2011

Tapas.  I am sure that everyone has heard this word.  And then after hearing it, they turn away in disgust — mostly because in America, tapas signifies some foodie-gourmand-‘my taste buds are better than yours’-type of eating that leaves normal folks hungry and poor at the end of the meal.

But with some very limited experience here, my attitude has changed.  Tapas in Spain are amazing.  It is like having a multiple course meal for the price of a hamburger.  Here is what you do: walk in fearlessly to any of the number of tapas bars in the city you are patronizing.  Do not be intimidated by the old men or the black tie/white shirt waiters.  They only add to the atmosphere.  You can see a menu if you want, or you can just point to whatever looks good behind the bar.  There is a ton of food back there, and most of it costs around 2 euros.  Granted, there is usually only enough for 4-5 bites, but there is so much variety to choose from.  Jamon, cheese, Spanish tortilla, anchovies, croquettes, fried cod, spinach with chickpeas, shrimp, octopus, meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, white esparagus, etc etc etc.  So, you just keep ordering tapa after tapa after tapa.  Then after the 4th or 5th plate, you realize, “wow, I’m pretty full”, and you walk out of the place with an amazing and strange mixture of food in your stomach.

Tapas (Madrid)

Apparently these tapas are from Madrid

Tapas are different in every region of Spain, partly because most of the ingredients are fresh and local.  So, if you are by the sea, you are going to be eating a lot of seafood tapas.  But tapas are also different because one region is so distinct from another.  Your experience in the south in Granada is going to be worlds apart from your experience in the north in San Sebastian.  The surrounding culture influences a tapa experience just as much as the ingredients themselves do.

My favorite so far has been Granada.  Here, you don’t even order anything specific — you just resign yourself to fate, because tapas come free with any drink.  Ordering a glass of beer or wine gives you free food.  The waiter looks at you and then decides what you need, no questions or preferences asked.  They frequently give out massive bagel sandwiches, with ham and cheese in the middle.    I never even dare to request a specific tapa, in fear that I might throw off an unspoken bond of understanding established with the waiter.  In some ways it is easier — all you have to do is sit back, drink your beer, and eat whatever they put in front of you.  The best part is, at the end of the night, you have gotten free beers out of the deal (or free tapas, depending on how you look at it).

Granada Sandwiches

How to libate in Granada

On the other end of the tapa spectrum is San Sebastian.  There is a different language up there in Basque Country, and instead of tapas, they call them pintxos (peeeeenchos).  In all of the bars in this city, there are platters upon platters filled up with different bite-sized portions of picturesque, saliva-inducing food.  And everything is impaled with a toothpick, for easy access.  The technique here is almost like a buffet; grab an empty plate, and then work your way down the bar, filling it up with whatever strikes your fancy.  The barman keeps track of how many you have eaten, and you pay at the end of the meal.  Each toothpick-skewered portion costs 1-2 euro.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up like that fat kid in Willy Wonka, eating everything in sight, and then getting kicked out because you can’t pay the 100 euro bar bill that you have somehow accumulated in only 15 minutes.

My goal now is this: weirdly alluding back to Pokemon (pokedex, categorization of diversity), I want to make a ‘tapadex’, an encyclopedia of tastiness that can be shared and bettered by tapas-eaters all over the world.  Hopefully it won’t ever have an end.

Note: The images above are not originally Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.

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