Who doesn’t love tapas? The people who haven’t tried them yet, that’s who! As someone who loves to gorge on tapas, I can tell you that they are an unmissable part of Spanish gastronomic experience.
If you are planning to visit Madrid and want to know where you can find the best tapas, strap yourself. In this guide, I will tell you all about the Spanish tapas culture, the most delicious tapas you should try, and most importantly, the best happy hour spots where you can get complimentary tapas with your drinks.
Ready? Let’s roll!
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Table of contents
Tapas – A Unique and Vibrant Spanish Culinary Tradition
For those who might be unfamiliar, tapas are small portions of food that are typically served as appetizers or snacks with drinks at bars and restaurants. The term ‘tapas’ does not refer to any particular kind of dish, but refers to the practice of serving bite-sized snacks alongside drinks.
Spanish food tapas can be something as simple as marinated olives to something as sophisticated as chorizo poached in red wine. The types of tapas you can find as well as the presentation and serving style can vary greatly from region to region in Spain.
👉Also read: 13 Must-Eat Spanish Snacks
The History and Origin of Spanish Tapas
The term ‘tapas’ is derived from ‘tapar’, which means ‘to cover’ in Spanish. The origin of tapas culture is believed to have come from the practice of placing a slice of bread, cheese, or ham on top of wine glasses to keep fruit flies and other insects out. Over time, this practice evolved into serving small portions of food alongside drinks.
Another theory suggests that King Alfonso X of Castile (1221 – 1284) popularized the concept of tapas in Spain by decreeing that taverns must serve drinks with small portions of food. He believed that food can mitigate the effects of alcohol and prevent excessive drinking.
Today, the culture of tapas has evolved beyond food in Spain. It has become a social and cultural tradition as well. The practice of el tapeo, which involves visiting different bars and establishments to try different types of tapas and drinks, has become a beloved tradition in the country.
Madrid’s Tapas Culture
Madrid boasts of an exciting tapas culture that reflects the city’s cultural diversity, lively atmosphere, and rich culinary heritage. You can find an incredible variety of tapas in the city – ranging from traditional Spanish tapas like patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce) and gambas al ajillo (Spanish garlic shrimp) to modern and inventive creations. Many bars and restaurants in Madrid take pride in offering an extensive selection of tapas that cater to a variety of different tastes and preferences.
Tapas Happy Hour – A Uniquely Madrid Thing
One of the most unique aspects of Madrid’s tapas culture is the tradition of complimentary tapas. Many bars in the city offer free tapas with drinks during happy hours. The type of tapas offered can differ from one place to another. It can also differ depending on the drink you order. This tradition allows you to try a variety of different tapas without having to spend a lot of money.
Gourmet Tapas in Madrid
While classic Spanish tapas remain popular in Madrid, the city also offers an assortment of gourmet and fusion tapas. Many restaurants offer creative and innovative tapas dishes prepared with high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. This blend of tradition and modernity provides a diverse and exciting tapas experience for visitors.
Tapas in Madrid – A Social Tradition
Tapas in Madrid aren’t just about the food. They’re an essential part of the city’s social and cultural fabric. Madrileans often gather with friends and family at tapas bars, sharing food and conversations. The lively and social atmosphere in these establishments adds to the overall charm of the tapas experience in the city. It’s an experience worth having.
👉Also read: 11 Tasty Spanish Vegan Tapas Recipes
Top 10 Tapas Dishes You Must Try in Madrid
With so many different choices of tapas available, you might be wondering as to which ones you should try. In the interest of saving you time (so that you can explore the incredibly diverse range of dishes that Spanish cuisine has to offer), here is a list of 10 tapas dishes – which I personally like to call the ‘tapas top 10’ – you must try in Madrid.
- Patatas bravas – Fried potato chunks served with spicy tomato sauce
- Tortilla – Spanish omelet made with eggs, potatoes poached in olive oil, and onions
- Huevos Rotos – Fried eggs served over French fries and typically topped with ham, sausages, and mushrooms
- Gambas al Ajillo – Garlic shrimp
- Croquetas de Jamon – Spanish ham croquettes with béchamel sauce
- Bocadillo de Calamares – Sandwich filled with fried squid rings
- Calamares a la Romana – Deep fried squid rings stuffed into a roll of bread and served with lemon wedges
- Gazpacho – A cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, and garlic
- Salmorejo – A cold soup similar to gazpacho, but made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic, and vinegar and garnished with hard-boiled eggs and ham
- Pulpo a la Gallega – Octopus seasoned with paprika, olive oil, and salt and served with potatoes
The Best Tapas Bars in Madrid
If you are looking for an authentic Spanish tapas bar where you can enjoy delicious tapas with your drinks, I have got you covered. Given below is a list of seven of the best tapas bars in Madrid, where you can enjoy complimentary tapas with your drinks. Pretty sweet deal, huh?
- La Chata (Location: Calle de la Cava Baja, 24)
- Restaurante El Lagar (Location: Calle de Ferraz, 39)
- Bar Padrao (Location: Travesia de la Parada, 4)
- Sidreria El Tigre del Norte (Location: Calle de Hortaleza, 23)
- Herjomar (Location: Avenida de la Reina Victoria, 34)
- El Rincon Abulense (Location: Calle del Caballero de Gracia, 18)
- La Pequeña Graná (Location: Calle de Embajadores, 124)
It should be noted that in many of these establishments, you cannot pick and choose the complimentary tapas that are served with your drink – unless you are willing to pay for them. They’re offered courtesy of the establishment and they get to decide the tapas dishes that are served with the drinks. Having said that, you are unlikely to be disappointed with the tapas offered in these places, as they are all delightfully tasty and flavorful.
Book A Madrid Food Tour
Once you have covered your bases on the happy hour experience in Madrid, I highly recommend booking a food tour. It is a great way to learn about a city, especially when you can do it through its food. I am a huge fan of Devour Tours.
In Madrid, Devour Tours offers many food tour options, cooking classes, and sightseeing tours. Here are the food tours Devour currently offers in Madrid.
Simple Spanish Tapas Recipes You Can Try at Home
One of the best things about traditional Spanish tapas is that many of them are easy to make at home. With a handful of ingredients and basic cooking techniques, you can make incredibly delicious tapas that can wow your guests.
Given below are three authentic Spanish tapas recipes you can try at home.
For the Potatoes
- Four large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
- Olive oil
For the Sauce
- One can (14 oz) of crushed tomatoes
- Two garlic cloves (minced)
- One small onion (finely chopped)
- Two tablespoons of olive oil
- One teaspoon of smoked paprika
- Half a teaspoon of chili powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Aioli
- Half a cup of mayonnaise
- Two garlic cloves (minced)
- One tablespoon of lemon juice
- Salt to taste
Preparing the Potatoes
- Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Toss the potato cubes into a bowl, add a pinch of salt, and coat them with a drizzle of olive oil.
- Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or deep fry until the potatoes are crispy and golden brown.
Preparing the Sauce
- In a saucepan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
- Add chopped onion and minced garlic and sauté for four to five minutes.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, smoked paprika, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
- Simmer the sauce for 10 to 15 minutes and set it aside.
Preparing the Aioli
- Mix the mayonnaise, minced garlic, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl, cover it, and refrigerate.
How to Serve Patatas Bravas?
Place the potato cubes on a serving dish and pour the spicy tomato sauce all over it. Pour the garlic aioli on top of it or serve it on the side as a dip – depending on your preference.
- Four potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
- One onion, thinly sliced
- Six eggs
- Olive oil
Preparing the Potatoes
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
- Add the potato slices and onions and cook them over medium heat until the potatoes are cooked.
- Place the potatoes and onions on a paper towel and allow the oil to drain off.
Preparing the Egg Mixture
- Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add salt and pepper.
- Add the potatoes and onions to the egg mixture and stir well.
Making Tortilla Espanola
- Pour the potato and egg mixture into a skillet and cook it over low heat until the edges are set.
- Place a large plate over the skillet and flip the tortilla onto the plate.
- Add a little bit of olive oil to the skillet and toss the tortilla back into it.
- Cook it over low heat until it turns golden brown.
How to Serve Tortilla Espanola?
Place the tortilla on a cutting board, slice it, and serve it.
Gambas al Ajillo
- One pound (450g) large shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- Six garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
- Half a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes or dry chili peppers
- Half a teaspoon of sweet Spanish paprika
- Half a cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Two tablespoons of dry white wine and lemon juice
- Chopped parsley
- Crusty bread
- Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season it with salt.
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes to the oil and cook for a minute.
- Toss the shrimp into the oil and add the paprika.
- Cook the shrimp for about one or two minutes – until it turns pink and opaque.
- Add the white wine and lemon juice to the shrimp and let the mixture simmer for 30 to 60 seconds.
How to Serve Gambas al Ajillo?
Transfer the contents of the skillet into a serving bowl or dish. Garnish it with chopped parsley. Serve it piping hot with slices of crusty bread.
👉Also read: Spanish Breakfast Foods You Must Try
Tapas in Madrid – A Culinary Experience Like No Other!
Madrid’s thriving tapas culture makes it a culinary hub and a food lover’s paradise. You can find an extraordinary range of tapas here – from centuries-old dishes to modern and stunningly innovative gourmet dishes – which showcase the rich culinary heritage of Spain.
If you are planning a trip to Madrid, make sure you check out the tapas bars we have recommended and share your experience with us!