I vividly remember the first time I ordered tapas in Seville… it was a disaster! The second I laid my eyes on the enormous menu, I felt the stress building. The unfamiliar names, weird portion sizes, and incredibly low prices were all throwing me off. My Spanish knowledge got me through the translation part, but I didn’t want to ruin my first authentic tapas experience by ordering the wrong thing! I ended up abandoning my pride and asking the waiter to just give me his five favorites, which he did so with a knowing smile. Typical American.
But now that I’ve been in Seville for a little over a month, I am happy to announce that my tapas-ordering skills have improved dramatically (thank GOD) so I have put together a list of my absolute favorite Spanish dishes. I seriously order at least three of these every time I eat out! While several are more typical of the Andalusian region, most are served all throughout Spain. Definitely give these a shot when you come!
1. Jamón Ibérico (“Iberian Ham”)
Jamón Ibérico, or “Iberian ham”, has its roots deep in Spain’s gastronomical history. The cured ham is made from pigs that are at least 50% Iberian – hence the name – and is found in most restaurants and bars throughout Central/ Southern Spain and Portugal. It only became available in the U.S. in 2007, but is still very rare and priced among the highest on the market, which is why you HAVE to try it while in Spain!
In addition to its starring role on breakfast tostadas, jamón Ibérico is often served tapas-style on a small crisp piece of bread with a drizzle of olive oil. It’s not uncommon to see the bartender slicing thin pieces right off the leg of the pig after you order – it’s a little jarring at first but hey, at least it’s fresh!
Now for my personal favorite: salmorejo. I wrote about this tapa in my Córdoba blog post but HAD to mention it again because it’s seriously so good. It’s essentially a cold creamy tomato-based puree topped with a chopped boiled egg, jamón and olive oil. Not only is it served in most tapas restaurants throughout Spain, but it’s popularity continues into the locals’ household cooking. I eat salmorejo with my host family at least once a week! I absolutely LOVE the simple healthy ingredients (tomatoes, bread, garlic, olive oil, salt) and highly recommend it for anyone looking for an authentic dish.
3. Patatas Bravas
Alright, who’s ready for some comfort food?! Patatas bravas is probably one of the most popular tapas and is served at most restaurants and bars throughout Spain. Originally created in Madrid, its cheap price is thanks to the simple main ingredient, a potato, which is a huge staple in Spanish cuisine. This basic ingredient is literally spiced up with a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, olive oil and various spices that is drizzled over the lightly-fried potatoes. It’s basically a fancier version of french fries and will be sure to please everyone at the table – including the kids!
4. Espinacas con Garbanzos (“Spinach with Chickpeas”)
This traditional Spanish stew is more common in Andalucía than anywhere else in Spain – I had never even heard of it until I came to Seville! But now that I’ve tried it, I’m completely hooked and get it at almost every tapas restaurant I go to. Served piping hot in a delicious tomato broth, this comforting stew is both satisfying AND a great way to get your greens in (which I’ve found to be lacking in Spanish cuisine). It may not look too appetizing, but trust me, you will not be disappointed!
5. Gambas al Ajillo (“Garlic Shrimp”)
I absolutely LOVE this dish, especially on a night when I really need something filling. It’spretty rich! The tiny shrimps are sauteed in olive oil and thinly sliced garlic with various smoky spices, creating an intensely delicious flavor.
My friends and I always end up getting at least two servings of this when we go out to eat – everyone seems to love it! Just make sure you have some extra bread on hand to soak up the leftover oil. And maybe some gum for afterward!
6. Tortilla Española (“Spanish Omelet”)
It wouldn’t be a Spanish tapas list without mentioning this bad boy. The star ingredient is, once again, potatoes (are you sensing a trend?) along with some onion, eggs and olive oil. Not only are the ingredients extremely typical in Spanish cuisine, but this dish is eaten for nearly every meal. Spaniards enjoy it as a snack with a cafe con leche, a light appetizer or dinner, and even stuff it between two slices of bread to take on the go! Definitely give this dish a shot when you’re in Spain.
While these six tapas are absolutely incredible, don’t let them limit you! I always make sure to order something unfamiliar when eating at a new place. Most cafes and restaurants have their own specialty dish, so don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations – maybe even let them surprise you!
Oh, and this should go without saying, but it’s not a true tapas experience without something to wash it down, so order a glass of wine or a copa de cerveza to enjoy with your Spanish meal. Disfruta!