We are on our way to Spain in a few days and I’m already dreaming of tapas. Synonymous with appetizers, the word tapas is Spanish in origin. The name (meaning “cover” or “lid”) is thought to have been coined centuries ago when patrons were served a glass of sweet sherry prior to a meal with a slice or ham or a piece of bread on top. The food acted as a cover to prevent fruit flies from swarming over the sweet wine. Tapas have now morphed into an international phenomena. On a recent trip to Vietnam tapas appeared on the menu of a swanky restaurant.
Tapas make a perfect first night meal for jet-lagged travelers. Bodies that are totally out of biological sync can ease into the new time zone with tidbits of these lighter foods, versus a heavy three or four course meal. Yes, most tapas bars require standing, but for travelers who have been sitting mega hours on transatlantic flights this is probably a good idea. Besides, tapas bars are fun, exhilarating, and are known for the art of conversation---how can one not converse with others in a crowded tapas bar with glorious food? For me, the whole tapas scene provides the perfect welcome to Spain.
The Bullfighters Bar (aka Torre del Oro) is a must experience
I usually fly into Madrid and make a bee-line to the Plaza Mayor. The Bullfighter’s Bar is always a great first stop because of the friendly bar men serving the tapas (they will also make you a special order of padron peppers, one of my favorite starters on any continent).
The refurbished Mercado in Madrid is ground zero for upscale tapas
A block away is a quite sophisticated spot for tapas, the Mercado San Miguel. Once the old food market for downtown Madrid, this now super trendy spot has been entirely renovated and is now filled with upscale food stalls and high-end tapas bars. The crowd is definitely the young and beautiful with lots of Euros to spend on French Champagne by the glass or caviar- topped-tapas.
Txakoli's smoked salmon (left), crab (right)
My favorite tapas bar in Madrid, however, is <10 minute walk from both of the above places. Txakoli (at #42 Calle Cavas Baja, a tiny pedestrian only street in a residential area) is a huge cut above everything else and offers the best quality/price ratio. I try to time my visit for the moment the doors open (7 or 8 pm depending on the time of year). This place feels like a neighborhood spot to me and the clientele is young and hip. The tapas are killer---don’t miss those made from crab or salmon. Wine choices are limited but decent.
Best buck (per piece) I know
Another favorite tapas bar of mine is in the Rioja wine district in the town of Logrono. They only serve one tapa here and it’s grilled mushrooms. Funghi lovers will be in heaven. The line often snakes out the door. Bar Soriano...look for their sign in the shape of a large mushroom over the front door.
Most of Palma's traditional bars are in the old streets near the cathedral
This year we’ll be flying into Palma de Mallorca. Our tapas crawl will be in the cobble-stone streets of the old town (where we’ll be staying overnight before heading to Ibiza for several days). We’ll be heading to traditional tapas spots. (I don’t want Asian-inspired tapas, tapas with a French flair, or any other fusion-type tapas). Here’s my list: Bar Espana, Bar Dia, and Taverna Boveda. But, a great way to find the best tapas is simply to wander, check out the food, and choose the most crowded spots filled with locals rather than touristas.