If you read the article Tapas 101, you are all set to dive into the delicious world of tapas. If you didn’t, and you are still wondering what tapas is, you could check that first. Or you could read first about the most popular tapas dishes and then with your stomach growling see what is the deal with it, and where and how to find it.
There are a lot of different types of tapas. Every region in Spain has its own serving traditions and specific local food. Because of that, it would be hard and unfair to call some tapas THE BEST and not neglect another.
I personally know that feeling when you read an article on the most important or popular tapas in Spain, and it doesn’t even mansion your favorite; I mean, HOW?! It is the most delicious tapas, and the writer forgot it!? Wow, what a disappointment!
My favorite tapas dishes in Spain
So, because of that, I am not going to write about the best or the most popular tapas. For now, I am simply going to tell you about MY favorite tapas. I will give you a piece of personal advice on what you should try but remember there is a lot more out there.
For example, one of the most popular tapas are croquets, but I am not a huge fan. So, for now, I will leave it aside, and focus on the ones I cannot get enough of. It may not be to your taste, but don’t worry, this is most certainly not my last tapas list!
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But first, you can check my personal favorites! It will mostly be Andalusian because there is where I lived.
Although, to be honest, I sure hope to expand my list with some northern dishes very soon. It’s a trip waiting in line!
So, here is a list of my top 5 Andalusian tapas.
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Alright, it’s time for a miniature geography lesson. Spain is THE largest producer of olives in the world, therefore with over 200 varieties, this is the place everybody can find a perfect olive match.
Don’t like olives? Well, leave that self behind, because you are going to change your mind.
Olives are the most basic tapas dish, so prepare to eat them daily.
Yes, you could just skip them, but then you would miss the magic that happens when you mix this salty and spicy taste with your favorite beer or wine. I do not recommend skipping!
If you don’t like one type, give a chance to another, mix the scents, experiment, and believe me, you will eventually discover that one pearl from paradise you will later dream of.
To all that different olive sorts add all the different ways of seasoning and preparing.
Many Different types of Spanish Olives
Mostly, they are salty, sometimes bitter, and sometimes even sweet. If you prefer a more herbal taste, try that natural-looking with a little stem to them, or if you like more spicy and hot notes, you should try the reddish ones, because that is a promising paprika color.
Somebody prefers them with beer and somebody with wine, I personally love them with wine. But, of course, the type of olive and its spices is a big deal when pairing it with food.
They are mostly seasoned pretty good so you would need a sip of that cold and fresh beverage just after the bite, but then when the taste is washed off, you WILL want more of it because it was so delicious and it got every single part of your taste receptors involved. Then you would take another bite and another sip and so on: believe me – it is a never-ending circle.
- Tapas Serving size: a handful, but they often go as side-tapas
- Where to try it: Andalusia, or wherever in Spain
Papas aliñás (Potato salad)
These are not the most common tapas dish in Jaen or Malaga, but it is in Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera. And they are undoubtedly my absolute favorite when it comes to potato tapas.
I tried them for the first time in Cadiz, but I later tried them wherever I could find them and even prepared them myself thousands of times because I was so obsessed. Of course, they are the best in Jerez de la Frontera, because of the special ingredient – the famous vinegar from Jerez.
So, what is this dish exactly?
It is a salad made of white potatoes, perfectly cooked, so they would be soft and firm at the same time, cut in perfect little cubes; just about the size to pop them in your mouth. The salad is chilled and covered in fresh parsley and thinly chopped spring onion to give that crisp note on your tongue and to break the mildness of the potatoes.
All that is garnished with smooth and rich Spanish olive oil that holds the herbs together and gives potatoes that greenish spark. And of course, the salad is bathed in the secret ingredient, tart and aromatic vinegar of Jerez de la Frontera that swirls the taste around together. It’s just mesmerizing.
- Tapas serving size: 2-3 tablespoons
- Where to try it: Jerez de la Frontera or Cadiz
Patatas Alioli (Potatoes with sauce)
This is another potato dish, and it is absolutely loved by the Spanish people. I would say that it is one of the most popular tapas dishes in Andalusia.
The sauce is also well-liked and can be found in every supermarket. For me, this sauce can sometimes be too much, as it contains a lot of garlic, and my stomach is not the best of pals with garlic.
But honestly, sometimes I just couldn’t resist.
This white sauce is something like mayonnaise with garlic and olive oil, sometimes mixed with lemon juice, parsley, pepper, etc. It is very creamy and very well mixed. It is not as thick as mayonnaise, but rather smooth and light.
However, it has a very specific and strong taste. The garlic isn’t dominant in taste, it is very well mixed and structured with other ingredients, but it is very present. So, if you are not a fan of garlic, it may not be the best dish for you.
I suggest trying it anyways! With beer, it goes like peas and carrots!
- Tapas Serving size: 1 -2 scoops
- Where to try it: Wherever in Spain
Russian salad (Ensaladilla rusa)
This salad is a form of the classical Russian salad, but mostly with added olives to give it a Spanish signature. For me, it goes the best with red wine, Sangria or Tinto de Verano, but I am starting to think I just prefer wine over beer. Anyways, the salad is awesome because it is served with little crunchy breadsticks that go fantastically with it.
It is special though, at least for me. We make this salad very often in my country but the Spanish one is much creamier and thicker. I looked for recipes online to see what the difference is, but it is mostly the same. I would say not too much mayonnaise and a very creamy cheese spread. And the bread sticks, I think they play a big role.
It is sometimes made with tuna, which then makes it a tuna salad, but the ingredients are the same, so let’s call it a Russian-tuna salad. When tuna is involved, then it maybe goes better with lager beer or cava (Spanish sparkling wine)
- Tapas Serving size: 2-3 scoops
- Where to try it: Anywhere in Spain, Malaga
Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham)
Jamón Ibérico is another Spanish symbol. There is no tapas bar without at least one pork leg hanging from the ceiling or sitting at a countertop. Why? Well, because it is waiting to be sliced and served with your cold drink.
Iberian ham is so popular, that even supermarkets have sections with all these prestigious hams spiced differently and, of course, a lot of pork legs just hanging from the ceiling. Of course, not all of the ham in Spain is Jamón Ibérico. There is also Serrano ham (Jamón serrano). There are some major differences between the two, but for an amateur, they could come as similar.
If you are not used to the smell of both Iberian ham and Serrano ham, you will find them very overwhelming. You would probably want to get as far away as possible from them. But once you get used to delicious taste of them, your tummy will start growling.
So, why are these hams so special?
Well, both Iberian ham and Serrano ham are special snowflakes among charcuterie (charcutería) because they come from pigs that are native only to Spain and Portugal. Also, because these pigs live their lives being free, running in the fresh mountain air and eating corns and cereals.
Their habitat is more natural, and they have a higher life quality, thus their bodies are formed naturally, and they don’t produce stress hormones as pigs kept in captivity. They are genuinely happy and fairly free, so the meat is full of good hormones and natural vitamins. Also, they are kept in small herds, so compared to hundreds of pigs in pig factories, the product must cost more.
The taste of these hams is very strong and aromatic.
The ham is sliced very thinly, and it is served on a piece of bread covered with olive oil. If you have never tried it, it may take some time to get used to it because of its very special taste. It is also very soft and it kinda melts on your tongue.
- Tapas Serving size: 1-2 slices of ham on a piece of bread
- Where to try it: Anywhere in Spain
So, there are my 5 personal favorites, but it wasn’t an easy choice.
There are so many different ones, and the best ones are those unique and improvised sandwiches you get once and never again.
As I promised, this will not be my only tapas list so be prepared for more good food, and great places to try it!
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