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Going ‘tapeo’ or going for tapas is an essential part of Spanish culture. To those of you who
don’t know about them, they’re appetizers sometimes served free with drinks. While the culture
of free tapas is waning in cities like Madrid and Barcelona, in the smaller towns like Costa del
Sol and Leon, they’re still on the house. But navigating the world of tapas in Spain can be an
overwhelming experience if you’re new to the country. Here are five essential things to
remember when going for a typical tapas crawl in Spain:
• Pintxos, raciones, and tapas….learn the difference:
Pintxos are a Basque version of tapas. They are derived from the word pinchos or a small snack
held together by a toothpick. When placed on bread they’re called Montaditos. Tapas are the
same as pintxos, but a bigger portion and served on a plate. Usually, two pinchos on a saucer
form a tapa. And then there are raciones for people who’re hungry. Raciones come after you’ve
sampled tapas and are settling down to eat.
• Tapas are about socializing:
While of course tapas are delicious, they’re about more than just the culinary experience. They
are about socializing. Friends often come together for a tapas crawl, and they’re not in a hurry. In
fact, this habit of staying even after you’ve finished eating is common throughout Spain.
Spaniards indulge in something called sobremesa, i.e. staying for an extended chat after your
meal. Typical tapas crawls can extend to up to more than 4-5 hours!
• Tapas bar styles change, and you’ll have to adapt to the protocol:
The way tapas in Spain are served can be surprisingly varied. Some bars have a menu written on
a chalkboard; you’ll have to choose the ones you want. In some regions of the Basque country,
like Rioja, for example, each tapas bar serves only one in-house specialty. But in most places,
you choose a tapa of your choice. The protocol changes from place to place. In some localities,
you place the order to the bartender who will serve the tapas and then draw the bill based on the
number of toothpicks left. And in some places, you tell the bartender what you ate, and he’ll tell
you how much to pay.
Resource Box: From paella and jamon to tapas in Spain, the author is a lover of all things