This blog post was updated on October 29, 2018.
We walked into a tapas bar in Zaragoza looking to make tapas our meal. On our second day in Spain, we were in every sense, tapas novices. Tapas in Spain aren’t merely little dishes served throughout the day and evening. They are little pockets of Spanish culture. To understand eating tapas in Spain and to ensure you uncover the best, through trial and error, I learned the dos and dont’s of eating tapas in this country.
Don’t Order Too Many: When we ordered our tapas in Zaragoza on that second night in Spain, we ordered one of everything we saw behind the counter. The waitress couldn’t believe it, uttering back the number 7 in verification that we did in fact want one of each tapa. Tapas are generally considered a light snack, one that fortifies you to stay up all night with the Spanish nightlife. Generally, I witnessed Spaniards having no more than one or two tapas at a place. The idea is that you have a few here and there, but not generally tapas as your main meal.
Do Make Your Tapas Crawl Later: As I found in most cases in Spain, if you come seeking tapas around 7PM, most likely the waiter will mutter something back to you in Spanish while shaking his head no. Most places won’t start serving tapas until 8PM or 9PM with your drinks. If you want tapas earlier, you can of course find options in tourist areas that aren’t necessarily the best of tapas representations.
Don’t Pay For Tapas: It sounds like you have hit the lottery. Order a drink and they will bring you tapas for free. Sadly on my month long travels in Spain, it was harder and harder to find tapas for free. However, these spots serving free tapas do still exist. You want to get off the main tourist drag and seek out those tapas bars that still serve the small little portions of goodness as a complement to your drink. If you can’t find free tapas, at least look for tapas that are cheap. Expensive tapas are for the tourists. A tapa should not be more than a few euros.
Do Seek Out Regional Tapas: Every part of Spain has a particular tapa specialty. Certain areas will be known for certain classic tapas dishes. It would be a mistake to order a certain tapa from a bar that does not specialize in this type of tapa. While there are always the classic tapas served such as torilla, potato omelet, or croquettes, travelers need to do their research for every stop on their itinerary to find the local tapas tastes. These classic tapas are all fine and well, but you will want to ask your waiter what is the regional tapa or even the bar’s specialty.