From the tortilla de patatas to the gilda, a journey full of flavor, tradition and a relaxed lifestyle
Spanish tapas and pintxos
Making a ranking always leads to controversy, because opinions are free and because we are always forming new opinions that cast shadows over previously held ones. In any case, we are daring to make the following selection of 10 tapas that are the perfect gateway for food lovers anywhere to delve into this Spanish cultural phenomena – a truly authentic tradition from Spain that has become the international banner under which our gastronomy is circling the globe.
1. Tortilla de patatas
One of the most recognizable Spanish culinary creations around the world. Though flavorful in all of its variations, we'll stick with the traditional version of this omelet made with new potatoes, extra virgin olive oil, free-range eggs and a dash of sea salt. An insider's tip: try the tortilla de patatas made like they do in the town of Betanzos de La Penela, in A Coruña (Galicia).
2. Pantumaca con jamón Ibérico
In Catalonia, pantumaca is practically a symbol of regional identity: a clove of garlic and half of a ripe tomato rubbed over a slice of pan payés (traditional, country-style bread with a hard crust and moist center). And while the tradition ends there, we can't resist adorning the pantumaca with one or two slices of bellota Ibérico ham. Nectar of the gods. An insider's tip: La Bodeguita del Poble Sec in Barcelona.
3. Gambas al ajillo
We are faced once again with the extra virgin olive oil and diced garlic binomial, this time presented in a small frying pan or clay dish into which we toss several peeled shrimp and a whole cayenne pepper (without crushing it), to obtain just a hint of spice. An insider's tip: the gambas al ajillo tapa at Casa El Abuelo in Madrid.
4. Patatas bravas
This tapa is as humble as you can get. Cubes of quality potatoes and a spicy reddish-orange sauce whose recipe is a fiercely-guarded secret in many bars. This tapa is particularly popular in Madrid and Barcelona, and other cities like Logroño and Granada. An insider's tip: the patatas bravas from Bar Tomás in Barcelona.
There are more types of croquetas in Spain than there are days in a year. For decades the most popular ones were either made with ham or chicken, but Spanish bars today might offer varieties made with shrimp, vegetables, squid in its ink or chistorra sausage... and many places are now serving up extremely creamy croquetas made using olive oil instead of butter for the béchamel. An insider's tip: Nacho Manzano's delectably creamy croquetas at his Gloria restaurants in Asturias.
6. Ensaladilla rusa
Like tortilla de patatas and croquetas, this tapa sparks lofty and, at times, fevered debates among Spaniards. Everyone prefers the version they make at home, and the quality of the ensaladilla rusa on a menu can be a 'make it or break it' moment for an establishment in the eyes of patrons. Ideal for summer months, this tapa is made with (typically) boiled vegetables, mayonnaise, a drop of vinegar and canned albacore tuna. An insider's tip: the ensaladilla rusa from La Tasquita de Enfrente in Madrid is mythical, as is the version served at the tapas bar La Pecera in Murcia, which comes on a round, hard breadstick called a rosquilla with an anchovy draped on top (known as the "marinera").
7. Pescaíto frito
This is one of the most traditional tapas in Andalusia, and particularly in the provinces of Málaga, Cádiz and Seville, where it verges on spectacular. It is vital to use extremely fresh small fish and squid, and to fry them in abundant olive oil. This tapa is so good, it's almost addictive. An insider's tip: the pescaíto from El Arenal bar in Seville, near La Maestranza bull ring, is a must!
8. Cold soups
The best time to enjoy these is in the summertime, but in Córdoba, for example, you can find delicious salmorejo on the menu of the city's many tapas bars year-round. Whether your tastes veer towards gazpacho, salmorejo or ajoblanco, these soups are refreshing, healthy and packed with flavor. An insider's tip: the salmorejo at Bodegas Mezquita in Córdoba is unforgettable.
Among the thousands of incredible pintxos that can be sampled in the bars of the Basque Country, there is one that never fails to tempt us: the gilda. This exquisite bite is the perfect combination of an olive, a pickled piparra pepper and an anchovy from the Bay of Biscay. Simple and marvelous. An insider's tip: La Bodeguilla Donostiarra in San Sebastián.
10. Cured Ibérico sausages
Is there anything better than sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of sliced Ibérico sausages with your friends? Lomo, chorizo, salchichón, morcilla... these cured meats are bursting with personality and inexorably linked to an ecosystem that is unique in the world, the dehesa. What more can you ask for? An insider's tip: Doctrinos wine bar in Salamanca