Before you grab a bite (or two), let us take you through some of the interesting facts on this traditional Spanish dish, and then we will provide you with our selection of the best tapas places to eat in Barcelona.
What are Tapas?
You might be asking yourself what exactly tapas are. Well, let us explain, a tapa is an appetizer or snack in Spanish cuisine. The word “tapa” translates to a small portion of any kind, served hot or cold with a combination of different types of food that varies greatly from one Spanish region to another. Like the canapés or finger food if you will.
Nowadays, tapas are rutted deeply into Spanish culture and social scene. The most popular concept is known as “going for tapas”. If you are planning or better yet invited to 'go for tap-as,' we can assure you'll be visiting a few bars and probably only taking a single tapa in each. Trust the locals, they know where the best tapas places to eat in Barcelona are!
History of Tapas - from A(ndalusia) to T(apas)
Let’s bite down into a small portion of history. The word “tapas” comes from the Spanish verb “tapar”, which in translation means “to cover”, dating back to the (old) days, when this small dishes had to be covered with a “tapa”, or lid, to protect them from the flies that inhabited the bars, which served them.
According to one source, the original tapas consisted of thin slices of bread or meat, which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses in between sips to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sherry, or even worse falling into the glass. Based on the variety of meat used to cover the sweet sherry, which in the Andalusian region was normally ham or chorizo, bartenders or bar owners created several snacks to serve with sherry. The salty taste of ham or chorizo activated thirst, therefore, resulting in increased alcohol sales in the bars that served tapas.
Some historians believe that the tapas tradition began around the 13-th century when King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health (in other words, once the hangover ended), the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to their customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or tapa.
Almost three centuries later, a very similar theory was born, surrounding a different royal. It is said, that Felipe III passed a law, which stated that when one purchased a drink, the bartender had to place a tapa over the mug or glass, that way the person drinking would not have felt the effects of the alcohol. With this law, the king hoped he would minimize the drunken behavior among soldiers and sailors.
In pre-19th-century Spain, tapas were served in inns or bodegas, where they were offering meals and rooms for travellers. They proved to be a simple solution for the travellers who couldn’t read the menu as they served as a sample of dishes available at a certain inn.
Another theory of origin is placed in this Andalusian region, and it suggests that King Alfonso XIII had stopped to rest in Cádiz, and he ordered a glass of sherry. There was a gusty wind, so the bartender served him his glass of drink covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty with sand in the air. King Alfonso XIII liked it so much he ordered another glass of sherry with a tapa.
A little less know, and slightly saltier and more bittersweet claim about tapas originated in the south of Spain during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Tapas serves as a means of publicly identifying conversos, in translation Jews who had converted to Christianity, and since tapas at the time most often consisted non-kosher ingredients, the reluctance to eat whatever tapas dish was offered to them could be taken as a tacit admission that they had not abandoned their Jewish faith and accepted Christianity.
What's in Tapas?
There really is no definitive, right or wrong answer, and it depends on who you ask or which region of Spain you are in. Tapas can include anything from slices of tuna, anchovies, shrimp, olives, hot chorizo sausage, slow-cooked beef or meatballs combined with (sweet) potato puree, tiny fried squid, bacalao served with tomatoes, fried pork with cheese sauce, fresh mushrooms with olive oil and garlic mayo, to snails.
Before sitting down and ordering tapas, research the menu with a little help from the locals or Google. You'll be thankful for it when you're trying to avoid ordering the snails! Unless you really like them, then ignore this friendly advice.
The most common Tapas in Barcelona
Barcelona’s tapas scene is quite diverse, and it constantly evolves. Nowadays, tapas are so much more than just simple and small dishes, with a little help from many talented chefs who are pushing the boundaries of traditional and modern ingredients. Try some of the best and signature tapas in Barcelona, like the:
- Patatas Bravas: classic Spanish tapas dish, served in bars all over Spain. It consists of smaller deep-fried cubes of potato served with two sauces - a garlicky mayonnaise (alioli) and a spicy tomato sauce.
- Pan con Tomate: also know as the quintessential Catalan tapa with white bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled in oil and salt.
- Jamón, queso y chorizo con pan: a simple tapa served with ham, cheese, and chorizo sausage with bread.
- Tortilla Española: one of the most known and served dish in Spain. You might find it on the menu under “tortilla de patata”. The potato omelette is made of three ingredients: eggs, potatoes, and onions.
- Croquetas: are small, lightly breaded and fried tapas, often made with ham, beef, potato, fish, chicken, or spinach and served with a sort of béchamel sauce.
- Calamares a la romana: consisting of fried squid, Calamares fritos, are simple and very popular tapa in Spain and around the world.
- Gambas al ajillo: is a tapa full of garlic flavour, where fresh shrimp is sautéed in olive oil with plenty of garlic and a dash of cayenne pepper which gives this dish a bit of heat.
- Anchoas: basically, salty anchovies served in vinegar with parsley and garlic.
- Pulpo Gallego: traditional grilled octopus, which originates from Galicia.
Now that we got the basics down, we must ask, is your stomach growling and your mouth-watering? Scroll down and learn about the best tapas places to eat in Barcelona and then quickly head out for some tasty tapas!
Best Tapas places to eat in Barcelona?
We've selected Barcelona's best tapas bars —from the old-school neighborhood bars to the market food counters, and those run by most known Michelin-star chefs. Here is our selection of the best tapas places to eat in Barcelona:
- Teoric Taverna Gastronomica combines tastes of the “sea and mountains” and balancing them with the traditional Catalan cuisine. An experienced waiter will walk you through their menu and specific tapas. We recommend ordering Croquetas, bread with seasonal vegetables (like pan con tomate), cod with black garlic aioli, octopus with pork belly, Jurel (thinly sliced fish) and don’t forget to try their almond dessert! Book your table in advance.
- Tickets presents a new way of haute cuisine experience through tapas. The Adrià brother’s newest restaurant venture has proven itself in the world of upscale Catalan cuisine with a Michelin star menu. Enjoy the delightful tapa sampling presented on an haute cuisine level. Reservations for this gourmet experience are a must before arriving in Barcelona.
- Bar Pinotxo will serve you tasty tapas in an authentic setting with a vibrant atmosphere. Located in the heart of La Boqueria this family-run traditional tapas restaurant offers the best garbanzo beans with blood sausage, beef stew, eggplant omelette, and other classic tapas. Arrive early to the marketplace to avoid missing out on some of the best tapas.
- Bar del Pla is a favorited tapas bar of Barcelonans. The reason behind this is a mix of high-quality foods, affordable food, great wine, and friendly service. The tapas are made from seasonal and freshly picked ingredients. Check out their daily specials in addition to the favorited tapas, like the squid croquettes, mushroom carpaccio with wasabi vinaigrette, and the Iberian pork blade.
- Lolita Tapería is a trendy tapas bar owned by Joan Martinez, former colleague of the famous Adrià brothers. Traditional tapas with a modern flair will leave you wanting for more. We suggest trying out anchovies, fried eggplant with honey, spicy patatas bravas, and ham croquettes. In addition to the classic tapas, don’t miss the incredible truffle toastie (“bikini”) or mouth-watering mini hamburger.
- Tapas 24 is pulling in the crowds with the help of Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellan. Stop by this restaurant and try the chef's signature tapas like chicken croquettes, runny scrambled eggs (known on the menu as huevos estrellados), and the unbelievable truffle "bikini" (ham-and-cheese toastie). We won’t be surprised if you order a second (or even third) round of tapas here.
- Bar Ramón is known as one of only a handful of truly local tapas places in Barcelona that managed to stand the test of time. Ramón Estalella opened the doors of Bar Ramón in 1939, and it was passed down to his grandchildren who are keeping the family legacy alive with classic patatas bravas spicy tomato sauce, croquettes, as well as house specials like steak with foie gras, char-grilled octopus, and rabbit ribs.
Now, let’s go eat tapas! Or as they say it in Spain: "¡Vamos a tapear!"