You’ve probably gathered that there are a few different types of tapas cultures here in Spain. The history of tapas is disputable, however, one of our favorite stories is how they used to use small pieces of bread to cover or tapar the drinks. Over time these pieces of bread gained a slice of dried meat or cheese with accompaniments such as olives or chips. In this sense, when most people us the word tapas they are referring to a small plate of food or snacks that are consumed together with drinks. Around the world you will probably know tapas bars that are quite expensive but, here in Spain, the tapas culture is all around (although you will find it has different names in the various regions―such as pintxos in the Basque Country)
However, one of the places we think has the most interesting tapas is definitely in Granada! Like a number of other cities in Andalucía, free tapas are the norm (in many other parts of the country, you can find tapas but you will probably have to pay for them). That’s right, in Granada you order a drink and voila―free food! It sounds fool-proof, but trust us there are some rules and tips you should know if you want to get the most out of your Granada tapas experience. Let’s walk through the basics.
1.) There is a set tapas schedule: Depending on the bar, tapas may be served all day long but if you want to ensure it’s ‘tapas time’ anywhere, go out between 1 and 4pm or 8pm and 12am. This is because these are the scheduled times for lunch and dinner in Spain (even if it might seem like very late for you―see more in this post about eating times in Spain). In addition, keep in mind that Spaniards are a bit more serious about closing when they close then you may be used to in the US. Try not to arrive at 3:50pm and expect to order three rounds. If you arrive towards the end of either of these time-frames be sure to ask if they are still serving (“todavia pone tapas?”) and be prepared for them to tell you the kitchen is already closed. If, instead, they simply point out that the kitchen is closing in 10 minutes, ask to put in an order in advance for however many drinks/tapas you would like to order.
2.) Tapas only come with certain beverages: Wine, beer, and soft drinks (Coca Cola, Fanta, Nestea, etc.) are fair game for getting free tapas. Typically coffee, tea, and mixed drinks (copas) do not come with tapas unless you go somewhere for a special, sweet tapa―we know, those options may cost just as much, if not more than the others; it doesn’t matter that’s just the way it is. And, while many places may warn you if all your friends are ordering drinks with tapas and yours won’t come with one, if you are unsure if your drink option will come with a tapa, always remember that you can ask!
Pro-Tip: Sparkling water (agua con gas) is definitely included on the free tapas side, but plain bottled water might not get you anything.
3.) Ask in advance if you can choose the tapas: In Granada you typically have two different types of restaurants―those that give you a list of tapas to choose from and those that just bring out the tapas in order (round 1, round 2, etc.). This is especially important if you have an allergy, are vegetarian, or have any other type of restriction. Normally, you will be able to ask for something that fits your needs but if you don’t check before, the server might come back with your tapas as soon as he brings your drinks and it can be awkward to have to ask for something else if you can’t eat it.
Pro-Tip:Even if you can choose your tapas, Most bars will only allow you to choose up to two varieties per table. The bars that allow every person to order whatever her heart desires are few and far between―cherish them!
4.) Don’t order other food until your tapas arrive: While this tip might sound silly, some waiters will take advantage of the fact that you are a guiri and assume that, if you are ordering ‘normal food,’ you don’t want or expect tapas. This means that if you do order food before you get your tapas, you might be forfeiting the free food because you are already buying something else. Alternatively, if you don’t want your tapas (which can happen if you just want to eat a meal), make sure you let your server know before you end up with more food than you want.
Pro-Tip:If it happens that your server doesn’t bring you a tapa and you suspect it is because you ordered food, simply ask if your tapas are still coming. You may feel funny but, it won’t be a problem!
5.) Ask about special offers: Especially in the student areas, it’s common for bars to offer two tapas with a jarra (larger glass) and this is usually great bang-for-your-buck! These places are usually not in the touristy areas and you might have to search them out (or, you might find that the tapas aren’t as great if they are really cheap in a very touristy place). However, when you find them, you will be able to go back until you have tried them all!
What are you favorite tapas (and, if you are in Granada, where are you favorite places to go?)? Let us know―we are always looking for new things to try!