They may be little in size, but tapas are massive in flavor. Great for sharing and wine pairing, tapas are the perfect way to sample Spanish cuisine.
Those able to travel to the source will find no better place to indulge their taste buds than Barcelona, Spain. The city boasts 9 million visitors a year, and not one of them leaves hungry thanks to an abundance of local tapas bars and restaurants. Ideally situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by mountains and countryside, everything ordered here is fresh and locally grown, from the squid to the olives.
Eating your way around Barcelona is an enviable activity, but it can prove confusing even to native Spanish speakers due to the strong Basque and Catalonian influences. Luckily, several menu items are standard and can be found throughout the city, no matter where you go. These five dishes are a good starting point and will ensure you get a true taste of the city on your visit.
1. Jamón Ibérico
Ibérico pigs are large, black-haired hogs native to Spain. They make the most delectable and finest ham in the world, cured in salt and hung to absorb the mountain air in a process that takes anywhere from two to 35 years. Not to be confused with serrano ham, which is similarly sliced and prepared, ibérico ham is solely made from ibérico pigs.
The most desirable meat comes from Ibérico pigs maintained on a strictly acorn diet, referred to as jamón ibérico de bellota. While pricy, you’ll find the meat has an unparalleled crisp, nutty flavor. More frugal tasters will enjoy grain fed Ibérico pigs that still surpass even the best slice of deli meat.
To sample different types of jamón ibérico and learn more about the curating process, check out the Jamón Ibérico Museum; located right off Las Ramblas, it’s the perfect pit stop after a day of shopping.
2. La Bomba
True to its name, la bomba is a large, fried potato ball of flavor, reminiscent of a croquette. While the origin of the dish is highly debated, one thing is certain—la bomba has emerged as a signature Spanish tapa that the Barceloneta neighborhood proudly claims as its own.
The components of this dish are always the same: potatoes, meat and sauce. Traditionally, the spicier the better. A winning recipe in any form, bombas can be stuffed with everything from seafood to chorizo sausage. For the classic version with ground beef, however, head to La Bombeta, a hidden gem in Barceloneta that serves more than a thousand bombas a day. Another authentic spot is La Cova Fumada, specializing in handmade bombas.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty
Gambas are prawns or jumbo shrimp. The most popular way to have them prepared is al ajillo, meaning sautéed in oil and garlic and served in a cazuela or ramekin. Usually, the shrimp come piping hot and served with a side of crusty bread. You may also hear them referred to as Gambas al Pil Pil, named after the sound of the sizzling oil.
With locations in El Born, Sagrada Família, Sants, and Passeig de Gràcia, La Paradeta is a well-known self-service seafood chain that allows guests to come in, select their seafood as if in a market and have it made to order. There can be a line out the door during lunchtime, but it’s well worth the wait for consistently fresh seafood.
Tortillas are a Spanish classic, rumored to have first been created by a peasant under pressure to prepare a savory dish with few materials on hand. A tortilla is an omelet made with eggs and potatoes, typically fried in oil and cooked in a cast iron skillet. It goes by many names, including tortilla española and tortilla de patatas. The dish can be eaten hot or cold, day or night, as a snack or full meal.
You will find tortillas in practically every restaurant in Barcelona. El Quim de la Boqueria has a great artichoke tortilla for breakfast. If you want more local flair, head to Bar Bodega l’Electricitat.
5. Patatas Bravas
Easily the most recognizable and oft-ordered dish on any tapas menu, patatas bravas are a crowd-pleaser sure to satiate even the pickiest of palettes. Made of small pieces of white potatoes prepared in oil and served with a spicy tomato or aioli dipping sauce, this dish can be found in bars and fine dining establishments alike.
If you’re hungry for a taste, visit Tapeo in El Born. Tourists also enjoy Cervecería Catalana, known for its long hours and English-friendly service.
Jen Ruiz is a Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer and “blogger”http://whatsjenupto.com/.