What Are Tapas?

The Spanish small plates are ideal for getting lots of little bites into a meal.

October 06, 2020

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Tapas originated in Spain as small snacks, plates or appetizers served with some kind of alcoholic beverage. In certain parts of Spain tapas come free with the drinks, and in other parts they're something you have to purchase. There are so many different types of tapas — both hot and cold – and their size can vary depending on what you order. Tapas aren’t found just in Spain anymore; today there are tapas restaurants in many places, including cities across America.

Tapas bring a certain atmosphere to the dining experience. “Tapas is about variety — a bar or table filled with different dishes, each one with a distinct personality and packed with flavor,” says Marc Vidal, executive chef of Boqueria, a group of tapas bars and restaurants with locations in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. "I could say the same about the people I eat them with, my friends and family and co-workers. Without them shouting and laughing or reaching over me to pour wine or grab a croqueta, it wouldn’t be tapas; it would just be another meal.”

Tapas are a great choice when you're looking to have lots of different flavors at a meal. Here are some of the most-popular tapas to make and enjoy.

Patatas Bravas

These crispy fried potatoes that resemble home fries are said to have originated in Barcelona. They are laced with paprika and topped with some sort of creamy aioli. Bobby Flay's version (pictured above) includes a flavor-packed roasted tomato aioli made with a few dashes of hot sauce, a splash of aged sherry, mayo and plum tomatoes.

Sizzling Spicy Shrimp

This tapa, said to have originated in the Basque region, is sometimes called gambas al pil-pil or gambas al ajillo. At restaurants you’ll see this served in a cute little metal pan, but if you don’t have one at home, you can put it on any serving plate. The shrimp dish is fairly simple, made with shrimp, garlic, dried red chile pepper, paprika, salt and pepper.

Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelet)

This dish is super-popular in Spain as tapas and as a meal. It is made with three ingredients: eggs, potatoes and onions. This simple dish is always a hit, and how you serve it is up to you — you can cut it into one-bite cubes or slice it like a pie. This version is served with a sofrito, a seasoned tomato sauce for dipping made with tomatoes, onions and pimento (Spanish paprika).

Croquetas de Jamon (Ham Croquettes)

When you cozy up to the bar in Spain, you'll almost certainly be greeted by a plate of croquettes. There are many versions, with ingredients ranging from cheese to octopus, and one of the most popular is ham croquettes. The appeal of these little bites is that they are salty, crunchy and comforting.

Cheese and Meat Platter

A perfectly easy and delicious tapas offering is a variety of Spanish meats and cheeses accompanied by some Marcona almonds, olives and quince paste. Even a simple plate of ham and Manchego cheese can go a long way to please your guests.


The perfect accompaniment to tapas? Sangria. This Spanish drink is always the hit of the party and can be made in a variety of ways. The traditional version is made with red wine, brandy, sugar, orange juice and a bunch of cut-up fruits like apples, oranges, lemons and limes. For summer you could mix it up with a rosé sangria, made with raspberry liqueur and berries, or white sangria, made with apple brandy.

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