The tasty tapas of Spain are well known for most tourists who have visited any Spanish town or island, and if you have not ever eaten at a tapas restaurant or bodega, you are in for a treat next time you are in Spain! And like our friend Geir said: “If you have not ever eaten at a tapas restaurant or bodega, you haven’t really been to Spain”. What is served as a tapa varies according to region but in general it is a mouthful of something simple, practical, and cheap. From ready made snacks such as olives and nuts, to all things fried and cured. The patatas bravas (spiced roasted potatoes), the croqueta, the guiso (stew) and of course our favourite, the Spanish ham (jamon) will all be on the menu in any tapas restaurant around the country.
Tapas were invented in Andalusia. The word means “cover” and in Andalusian wine-making regions, a saucer is customarily placed to cover a glass of wine to keep the little fruit flies from swarming in. There are plenty of stories from around Spain as to how and where the tapas originated, and why it is called a tapa, but this is probably the most accurate one of them all. A tidbit of food placed on the dish helped attract clients to the wine bar or bodega, and thus the tapas were born.
Years ago the tapas used to be free with drinks all around Spain. Today, tapas bars in most of Spain either charge for tapas or give out paltry bar snacks, like chips, nuts or a few olives. But in Andalusia, especially in the less-touristed eastern part of the region, the tapas are still free, and the drinks are still cheap.
The first time we encountered free tapas was in Granada at Bar Los Diamantes. We visited the city to see the Alhambra and ended up in what looked like a very local bar with food. We normally wander into any place that looks like it is filled with locals, we know that the food will be good and cheap. We had great hunger, so we ordered beer, wine, and some smaller dishes with food. When the drinks arrived, we also got two plates of food, one with fried small fish and one with patatas bravas.
We then had to ask the waiter if this was our food, and if it was our food, this was not what we ordered. In broken English he told us that this was the food we got with the drinks, and the food we ordered would come in a while. A bit nonplussed we ate the delish plate of food we got with the drinks, and as we were thirsty, we ordered more drinks. With the drinks came some more food! And then our order came! We had suddenly and without knowing dropped into a bar with free tapas, what joy! It was so tasty and cost us absolutely nothing (the food with the drinks) and had we known, we would not have ordered any extra food.
We encountered this a few more times while travelling around Andalusia and got used to ordering a glass or two of wine, and then being offered tasty platters of food together with the wine. We only paid for drinks, never for the food.
How do you know it is free food with drinks?
It is not a question easily answered, one does not simply walk into a bar and ask, “do you have free food with drinks?”. Our recommendation is if you are thirsty, go into a bar or bodega, order a glass of wine and beer, and then see what happens. Some places you will get some olives, some places will serve up huge portions of fried goodness in a basket. Especially in Granada the portions were huge! Tapa-hopping is part of the convivial Andalusian way of life. With a few friends you stop in at several bars to have a glass of wine and sample the tapa specialities of each. It is without a doubt our favourite food!