Updated Jul 02 2023
Together with “Paella” and “Sangria”, the word “tapas” has got to be one of the most repeated words when a tourist goes to a bar or restaurant in Barcelona or in the rest of Spain. Although to tell the truth, it’s not just the most repeated among tourists, as there aren’t many Spanish people who can resist eating some tapas o, as we say “ir de tapas” when going out with friends, their partner or family.
All about Spanish tapas
While it’s true that there are certain traditions and differences between some cities and regions, for those of us who have lived in Spain and have grown up with the tapas culture, it is something that is taken for granted where we do not need to read an article explaining the concept and, least of all, define what exactly a tapa is. But, after many years working at irBarcelona, I am able to admit that I was wrong to think this. Which is why I decided to write this article with the aim of helping you to discover what a tapa is, so that you can have the best experience when going out for tapas.
This is the definition from the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) on what a tapa is. To complete this definition, note that the food served as a tapa can be cooked in many different ways, making it a different tapa in terms of how it is made. However, it is not hard to imagine that there are some tapas that are more popular than others which are very common in most bars and restaurants in Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain.
Recommendations, interesting information and basic rules when having tapas
Now that you know what a tapa is, we can now go into more detail on this culinary tradition that is, without a doubt, one of the standards in typical Spanish food. The following recommendations, interesting information and basic rules will not make you an expert in the world of tapas, as you need years of experience and of tasting for that, but I am sure that it will allow you to “tapear” (another way of saying to eat tapas in Spanish) like a Spaniard.
Despite being small portions of different foods, tapas are designed to be shared and as a way of socialising with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues, etc.
As tapas are shared, it is not customary for each person in the group to ask the waiter for a tapa each, but among the group, to have previously looked at the menu and decided, taking into account the tastes of everyone in the group, what tapas they are going to order.
The waiter will bring the tapas to the table and place the dishes in the centre. Everyone has their own cutlery but often you do not have your own plate. Having said that, when you ask for some specific tapas (such as larger sized dishes like croquettes or meatballs that have to be cut when eaten, or when you don’t eat all of the tapas such as grilled prawns) the waiter will bring a plate for everyone. If you are or are not served a plate and would prefer to have one, feel free to ask the waiter for one.
With your fork in hand, eat the food directly off the tapas plate, or when you have your own plate you don’t necessarily have to put part of the tapa onto your plate. However, there are some exceptions, as with grilled prawns which we told you about before, and other foods that you have to peel or cut as they are too big to put directly into your mouth or those where you don’t eat everything.
Normally, when you are with a group of friends you split the bill evenly, dividing the total amount between the number of people in your group.
This is an unwritten rule that, I assure you, has to be followed 99% of the time. If you are going to have tapas…no question, you have to order the patatas bravas which is considered to be the king of all tapas.
Tapas are small dishes, but don’t get carried away and order too much. It is best to order a reasonable amount of tapas first (you can have two per person) and if you see that it is not enough as you go along, you can always order another tapa.
One of the advantages of the concept “tapear” is that you can try many different dishes at the same time. That is why it is common to order a variety of tapas. Or if you order patatas bravas, it is not common to also order a Spanish omelette or tortilla de patatas, as although it is a different tapa, they are also made from potatoes. Even so, this is not always the case and, of course, you can order whatever you fancy, especially if you are a large group and you order a lot of tapas.
Just to be clear, a pintxo (or pincho) is not a tapa. A pincho is a small portion of food that comes with a cocktail stick. Sometimes you can find pinchos and tapas at the same bar, but to find a variety of pinchos we suggest you go to a bar that specialises specifically in pinchos.
This may seem over the top to say but we assure you that when you have tapas sitting on a “terracita” (diminutive for terrace), they taste even better. So if it is a sunny day, don’t hesitate, sit down to “tapear” at the terrace of the bar or restaurant.
But, how many ways are there to say you’re going to eat tapas in Spanish? Well, if you add in another two to those already mentioned; “tomarse unas tapas” and “tomarse unas tapillas” I think we would have a Top 5 different ways on how to say it. At least in Spanish and in Barcelona.
For drink, you can choose whatever you like (except coffee or tea), the most common drinks to have with tapas are a beer, a clara (a shandy), a soft drink, a glass of wine, the famous sangria or even water.
You usually eat tapas from 12pm and this ends until late into the evening, although between 4pm and 6pm you usually don’t have tapas, as you usually have a coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc. When you have tapas at 12pm or late afternoon (approximately between 6pm and 7.30pm) the aim is to have a snack before lunch or dinner whilst enjoying a drink. If however, you have tapas at lunchtime (1.30pm – 3pm) or dinner (9pm – 10.30pm) “ir a tapear” becomes your lunch or dinner and you eat as many tapas as you need until you’re full.
The traditional and most famous tapas
Although you can find tapas of any type of food and although each region in Spain and even some bars or restaurants in the same city can each have their own specialities, there are some tapas that, for their long tradition, can be found in pretty much all bars and restaurants. So, below you will find a list of some of the tapas that are considered essential and that you have to try during your stay in Barcelona.
Fried potatoes with a spicy sauce and / or a garlic mayonnaise All i Oli
Tortilla de patatas
Fried potatoes with beaten egg
Pa amb tomàquet
Bread or coca, a traditional Catalan flatbread, spread with tomato
“Al ajillo” (with garlic) or “a la plancha” (grilled)
Tabla de embutidos (A platter of cold meats)
A variety of cold meats
Choricitos a la sidra
Typical meat similar to chorizo with an intense flavour cooked in cider
Breaded or grilled with garlic
“A Feira” Galician Style Octopus
Octopus and potatoes cooked with paprika
Several ingredients that are fried and breaded (chicken, ham, seafood, etc.)
Meatballs with tomato
Balls of minced meat with tomato sauce
A variety of cheese
Fried (breaded or also called “a la Romana”) or grilled
The tapas we have included, although they may vary in preparation according to the region’s gastronomy, can be found across Spain. At irBarcelona we recommend you to try any tapa from each city or region of Spain that you visit. It is a good idea to know what they are and what to order before you head to the bar and restaurant.
In some bars you’ll find different prices for the same dish, which are for a tapa or “ración”. “Ración” has a bigger quantity than the tapa, therefore, the price is more expensive. If you are a small group and you want to have a range of dishes, we recommend you to ask for tapas and not “ración”, except for the patatas bravas, which I think is always a good idea to ask for a ración (unless there are only two or three people in your group).
At irBarcelona we suggest that you experience the world of tapas for yourselves when visiting the city. But a good option, at least for the first or second day you spend in the city, is to go on a tapas tour. With a tapas tour you will explore the historic centre of the city with a guide, trying some traditional tapas. Also, if you have any questions, you can always ask your guide ;).
But… How much does it cost to have tapas in Barcelona?
Although it may seem like a cheap way to eat and have dinner, this is not always the case. Here we explain to you some of the factors that influence the final bill of a tapas lunch or dinner. As you will see, quality is not on our list. That is not to say that it doesn’t factor in, but we can assure you that on many occasions we found bars and restaurants with very cheap prices and of an excellent quality. As well as often being the places that offer bigger portions.
Bar o restaurant?
This is one reason why the price varies most. There are many bars and restaurants that focus on a particular type of diner with a greater purchasing power and whose establishment is furnished and decorated to the very last detail, and are usually where the prices are more expensive.
Where the bar or restaurant is located can also influence the price, and as a general rule, those that are in the upper area of Barcelona (where people with a higher purchasing power live) tapas are usually more expensive. In some parts of the city centre, you can also find other such bars and restaurants that perhaps take advantage of their privileged location to have more expensive prices.
If you love to eat
For those of you who are big food eaters you may need to order one more tapa to satisfy your hunger which can add to the price. In some cases we suggest that when you order have some tapas that are quite heavy (such as patatas bravas, croquettes, meatballs, cheese, etc.) as this way you can fill up on less tapas.
Often it is the drink that is to blame for the final bill being a bit more than expected, especially when you choose wine or sangria.
The cheaper tapas have a price between €1.50 and €2.50 (such as olives or pa amb tomàquet, that are seen more as a side dish than a tapa), the medium-priced tapas cost from approximately €3.50 to €5.50 (where it is possible to find a large variety of excellent tapas, including patatas bravas, croquettes, meatballs, etc.) whilst the most expensive tapas can reach prices of around €8.80 to €13.00 (where you will find the cheese and cold meats platter, the Serrano and Iberian ham and almost all the seafood tapas).
Something that is custom in some cities in Spain, one of the most well-known being Granada, where with every drink at a bar or restaurant you get a free tapa (you can’t choose the tapa) and it is not exactly small. But this is a rarity in Barcelona. In the best of cases you can find a bar or restaurant that offers some olives, but this isn’t very common. Away from the tourist areas and centre of Barcelona it is possible to find a bar that offers a free tapa with drink (beer, soft drink, wine…) Often they are family-run bars who originally come from a city in Spain where it is traditional to offer a free tapa with each drink.
The best tapas bars and restaurants in Barcelona
As happens with any type of food, tapas aren’t always as good as they should be, but it also depends on the quality of the products and how they are made. Which is why it is so important to go to a bar or restaurant that fits these two requirements. Fortunately, Barcelona has many bars and restaurants where you can enjoy some excellent tapas so you’ll easily be able to find a great place. That being said, and to make it easier for you, here you can find a list of some of the bars and restaurants where you can sample the best tapas in Barcelona.
BAR DEL PLA c/ de Montcada, 2 La Ribera-Born info
FÀBRICA MORITZ Rnd de Sant Antoni, 39 – 41 Barrio Sant Antoni info
LOLITA TAPERÍA c/ Tamarit, 104 Barrio Sant Antoni info
BODEGA MONTFERRY c/ de Violant d’Hongria Reina d’Aragó, 105 Barrio de Sants info
BAR MONTESQUIU c/ de Mandri, 56 La Bonanova info
BAR JAI-CA c/ Ginebra, 7, 9 y 13 La Barceloneta info
CAL CHUSCO c/ Almirall Aixada, 5 La Barceloneta info
LA BODEGUETA Rmb. Catalunya, 100 L’Eixample + info
VERMUTERÍA LOU c/ de l’Escorial, 3 Gràcia info
MIRABLAU pl. Doctor Andreu, s/n Tibidabo info
EL XIRINGO c/ de Sant Carles, 23 La Barceloneta + info
LA TERTULIA Rambla del Poblenou, 34 El Poblenou info
SEGONS MERCAT (Barceloneta) c/ de Balboa, 16 La Barceloneta info
LAS DELICIAS c/ de Mühlberg, 1 El Carmel info
LA ESQUINICA Passeig de Fabra i Puig, 296 Nou Barris info
BAR MANDRI c/ de Mandri, 60 La Bonanova info
BAR OMAR c/ d’Amigó, 34 Sant Gervasi – Galvany info
CASA NOVA Passeig del Born, 27 La Ribera-Born info
BODEGUETA DE PROVENÇA c/ de Provença, 233 L’Eixample info
FRAGMENTS CAFÈ pl. de la Concòrdia, 12 Les Corts info
SOL SOLER pl. del Sol, 21 Gràcia info