Warning: food pictures ahead.
Tapas… Granada… it’s a combination that just makes sense. Apparently tapas were invented in Granada – whether that is true or not, I’m not quite sure – and this is one of few cities in Spain that still maintain the old, time honoured tradition of a free snack with your drink.
The word tapas is derived from the Spanish word tapar, which means to cover. The legend is that tapas were invited so that someone could cover their drink to protect it from flies. Apparently this is no longer an issue, so tapas have simply evolved to mean everything from small bar snacks to larger, more expensive share plates.
Beer in Spain comes in several sizes, ranging from a caña to a tubo to a jarra. The caña is the smallest and most common size, costing upwards of €2, and consisting of a 4 or 5oz pour. If you simply order a beer, this is what you will end up with and it’s the perfect size – it stays cold and allows you to order more drinks without getting drunk so that you can sample more tapas. Plus there is absolutely no financial incentive to order the larger drinks since the cost per ounce stays pretty similar.
Each bar handles tapas differently. In some places, especially the more touristy ones, you actually have a small menu available so that you can choose what to get. This is best for picky eaters… or those who don’t want the full experience.
The ones where you can’t select? Expect anything. Literally, anything. Small fish, meats, charceuterie offerings, potato chips, clams… I preferred the traditional tapas bars that served up surprises as it allowed me to try something completely new in a small, non threatening manner.
I did, however, stop into a few non-traditional tapas bars. I had a beer and some Chinese vegetable noodles after my day at the Alhambra, when I needed a quick snack to tide me over on the walk back to my hostel. Another spot, dangerously close to my hostel, bragged about having the largest tapas in Granada, serving up ham and cheese bagels, french fries and a cold noodle salad.
Anthony Bourdain went to a few tapas bars on his show – of course – and he has a knack for finding fun and unique places. There was one that stuck out in my mind: El Tabernaculo or, as it was colloquially referred to, the Jesus bar. Covered with Jesus and Mary portraits, this tapas bar promised to be a unique experience. I didn’t take note of any of the other bars on his show, but I did end up finding one of them, La Tana.
La Tana was an excellent wine and tapas bar. The woman who worked behind the bar later proved to be one of the owners, a fact I learned while rewatching Bourdain’s show. Unlike many places, La Tana poured a sample of the wine for me to try before committing to a full pour. A glass of wine ranged from about €3-5, but it was a really good value since the wines available were excellent and they were normal pours. The tapas, meanwhile, were also pretty delicious and traditional with meats, cheese and bread. Until I went back the next day, of course, and ended up with some delicious guacamole smothered on a warm, crusty slice of bread.
El Tabernaculo, the Jesus bar, had great tapas and cheap beer, which is all anyone really wants. They cooked the tapas up on a small flat top behind the bar, serving up a few different combinations of cooked meat with potato chips, nuts or olives. I couldn’t tell you what the meat was – it was definitely of the mystery variety – but it was delicious!
The tapas at the bar where I watched the Spain-Netherlands game were probably the best of the lot. I had four beers, which really isn’t a lot since they were the small ones, and each tapa became progressively more interesting.
I started with fish on chips, moved onto this delicious little fish pate, had a small charceuterie board – which was fantastic, because I was a little sad they were only available to order for large groups – and then the most delicious pork chop of all time. With crispy fried potatoes on the side.
Also, the best part? The bill for the four drinks and the tapas, which was basically a complete meal, worked out to €8.40. The people from the hostel who watched the game at the Irish bar were paying about €5 per pint… yes, I had less beer… but I had more snacks. Delicious snacks.
I wish Canada would bring in tapas culture… and the siesta. I don’t really understand how the restaurants in Granada can give away so much food and it didn’t seem as though the beer prices were subsidizing the snacks. I don’t want to think about it too hard, or ask too many questions because it’s a nice piece of Spanish culture that I never want to see disappear!