Our national holiday is the aperitif: the twelve tapas that are consumed throughout Spain, its history and its best recipes


Spain has always had problems defining its national identity. Not all citizens feel identified with their flag, or with the crown, not even with the idea that there is a nation that encompasses everyone. But if there is something that unites the peoples that make up this land, something with which we really feel identified regardless of our political opinions, that is going out for an aperitif.

From the Basque Country to Cádiz, from Valencia to Extremadura, from Catalonia to Madrid, in all parts of Spain we have a very similar bar culture, and at the same time very different from what we find in other parts of Europe.

The "cultural tradition of tapas", as defined by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports in its request to be considered Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is one of those things that make homeland, but nobody stops to assess.

Spain is the absolute leader in the world in the number of bars and restaurants per inhabitant. Specifically, according to data from 2017, there are a total of 277,539 establishments: one for every 175 inhabitants. But what is really remarkable is not the vigor of our hospitality industry –which has a lot to do with tourism–, despite the difficult times it is going through, but the way it is integrated into our lives.

The homeland of the cap

When we go for tapas or pinchos (terms that we can consider comparable) the important thing is not so much the food or the drink, but the social act.

As the request to UNESCO correctly points out, drawn up from reports from the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the Royal Academy of Gastronomy, "the objective is not to eat tapas or eat food, except in those places where it is customary to put a small aperitif, but to get together to consume the drinks together. It is precisely that gathering of friends and / or family, ultimately the socialization at the bar, which gives it an important value when it comes to raising the heritage value of the tapas themselves ”.

Tapas are not a synonym of Spanish gastronomy, the conception that they have of them in the rest of the world, but rather a cultural framework where, yes, specific gastronomic specialties take center stage. These change enormously in each region, but it is true that there are a series of tapas present throughout the Spanish geography, which are, in turn, the most recognized beyond our borders.

These are the tapas that not only define a territory, but also an important part of our battered national consciousness. So this October 12 we do our particular parade of 12 tapas:

1. Potato omelette

Along with paella (which we cannot consider a tapa), the potato omelette is the best known Spanish dish in the world. Legend has it that it was an invention of the Carlist general Tomas de Zumalacárregui during the siege of Bilbao, a story as widespread as it was lacking in historical sources.

What is certain is that the dish must have arisen during the 18th century and soon became popular throughout Spain: the first written reference to the potato omelette appears in a book that talks about its consumption in Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz).

There is a debate about whether or not it has onion in which we will not enter. Actually, the important thing is that it is well done, with the potato crispy and the egg not too old.

You can follow the recipe for the popular Betanzos omelette (very little curd and no onion) or the classic recipe, one of the first dishes that every Spanish should learn to prepare, whether good (or bad).

2. Patatas bravas

It is not clear who was the inventor of patatas bravas, the most humble appetizer in the Spanish cookbook, present throughout our geography, but it does seem clear that it must have appeared in Madrid at the end of the 19th century.

There are already references to this popular tapa in two now extinct Madrid bars, which are fighting over its authorship: Casa Pellico and La Casona. The classic recipe, of thick fried potatoes accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce, evolved in the northeast of Spain, where it also includes mayonnaise.

This is our classic recipe.

3. Croquettes

What to say at this point of the culmination of the kitchen of use? Although their quality is extremely variable, there is no bar in Spain that does not serve them, even if they are frozen.

Although it is a typically Spanish cover, it must be said in honor of the truth that we are dealing with a French invention. "Croqueta" comes from the French croquer, which means "crispy" and its diminutive croquette.

It was Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the first gastronomes in Europe - who cooked for Napoleon I, Alexander I of Russia and the future King of England, George IV - who introduced the dish, whose first name was Croquettes à la royale.

Despite being a dish of aristocratic origin, its humble ingredients allowed it to pass immediately to the popular classes, who made it their own.

In Directo al Paladar we have dozens of croquettes recipes, as well as the trick to make them perfect.

4. Anchovies in vinegar

The anchovy in vinegar is perhaps the oldest lid that has survived in our usual cookbook. Taking into account that this fish is native to both the Mediterranean and the Cantabrian Sea, and that the preservation in vinegar has been known since 4000 BC (the Babylonians made vinegar from date wine), it is impossible to trace its origin.

Although there are similar dishes throughout the northern Mediterranean coast, the version that we all know spreads throughout Spain and, if it is well done, it is a tapas that never fails.

To make the anchovies at home it is important to have frozen them previously, to prevent the anisakis (which is as old as the fish itself) and to follow our recipe.

5. Russian salad

Although the salad is especially popular in the Levante and southern Spain, it is another of the tapas that can be found throughout the Spanish geography.

In this case, its history is well known, since we are facing the only recipe on this list that we can recognize as authorship. It was Lucien Olivier (1838-1883) who popularized the potato salad with mayonnaise in Europe, one of the dishes he served at the Hermitage restaurant, located in the center of Moscow. That's where its name comes from.

The Russian salad found comfort in Spain and, of course, it underwent strong variations. In Russia you can try similar dishes, probably closer to the one devised by Olivier, but the ingredients are never the same as we use here, where there are also many regional variations.

We recently published our favorite Russian salad recipe, but regardless of the specific ingredients chosen, the important thing is to follow a series of tips for its preparation.

6. Squid a la romana

Although its name changes in each region (in the North they speak of rabas), battered and fried squid are also served throughout Spain.

As with anchovies, fried squid exist throughout the Mediterranean arch. In Turkey, for example, they are also very popular and are prepared almost the same, only that they are always accompanied by tarator sauce.

If you want to cook good squid a la romana at home, we invite you to follow our veteran recipe, or, if you prefer, you can put them in bread and prepare an exquisite squid sandwich, this one, typical only from Madrid.

7. Moorish skewer

Although when we talk about kebab in Spain we usually refer to the döner kebab, the Turkish specialty that we find today in any large town, the Moorish skewer is actually much more similar to the original kebab: a grilled meat skewer present throughout the East Medium, which in Spain survived the end of Al-Andalus, to begin to be made with pork - a food forbidden among Muslims.

Although the Moorish pincho is especially popular in Castilla-León, Andalusia and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, it is found in bars throughout Spain. And if it is well done (especially if it is prepared on the grill) it is a delight.

Moorish skewers are usually bought already marinated in the supermarket, we can make our own homemade marinade. Follow our recipe and enjoy.

8. Garlic prawns

Although it is a tapas that is somewhat in disuse in the bars of our country –not so much at home, where they continue to cook a lot–, garlic prawns are immensely popular outside of Spain. It is a more popular dish in the south than in the north, but it is found in practically the whole country.

As explained in the Gastromy Dictionary, a project led by the Ibero-American Academy of Gastronomy (AIBG), its origin dates back to the Andalusian coastal towns, but its consecration as tapas and dishes is Madrid.

Although it is present in many bars, it is a dish that, if it is good, is usually expensive, and it is very easy to prepare at home. At Directo al Paladar we have the classic garlic shrimp recipe, but you can also try the express version, in the microwave.

9. Grilled cuttlefish

The Sepia officinalis It is a species of cephalopod mollusk present in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea that has been fished in the area since God knows when. Making it grilled (today grilled) has no mystery, and accompanying it with aioli, as is done today in all the bars in Spain, could have occurred to any neighbor's son.

Although it is not a dish that we usually cook at home, there is no one there to prevent you from emulating it by following our recipe. You can also make it in the oven.

10. Broken eggs

It is likely that the idea of ​​breaking fried eggs on a bed of fried potatoes occurred to several cooks at the same time, but the current version of the dish - omnipresent in the ration menu of Spanish bars - was an invention of the chef Lucio Blázquez, alma mater of the veteran Madrid restaurant Casa Lucio.

Although in most cafeterias the elaboration is limited to putting fried eggs on top of some frozen fried potatoes, accompanied by ham, blood sausage or chorizo, if they are done well - leaving the eggs with a lace but with the yolk without curdling - we are facing a exquisite dish.

This recipe is the only thing you need to succeed.

11. Potatoes aioli

Another omnipresent tapa in Spanish neighborhoods, perhaps due to the low price of its ingredients. In most cases it is just a filling appetizer with which to justify a free tapa, but well done it is a delight.

As the Dictionary of Gastronomy points out, it is documented that aioli is a very widespread sauce in areas of Occitan influence such as southern France (Languedoc and Provence), as well as in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, but we have no idea how it began to be accompanied of potatoes cooked in the bars.

The recipe has no mystery, the only key, as usual, is to use good raw materials and make everything homemade.

12. Tiger mussels

Mussels are a popular tapa in all of Spain, whether they are fresh, accompanied by spicy tomato sauce (a very popular tapa in Castilla y León) or in a vinaigrette. But tigers, although they are of Galician origin, can be found throughout Spain, and are perhaps its most purely Spanish version.

These mussels, mixed in béchamel sauce, battered and fried in their shell, are similar to croquettes, and if they are homemade they can be a delight. Try to follow our recipe and you will not regret it.

Their name is due to the fact that they used to be spicy (a custom that is not kept everywhere). Even the hottest mussels are called ‘rabid tigers’. Otherwise, its specific origin is uncertain.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flipboard
  • E-mail
Tags:  Selection Desserts Recipes 

Interesting Articles