One of the highlights of Spanish cuisine is tapas, which are also appetizers or small plates. The Spaniards love to eat tapas for lunch, before dinner with drinks and sometimes for dinner as well. Throughout Spain, you can find assortment of tapas at formal and informal restaurants. My biggest discovery while eating through Spain has been that the tapas here are very different that what you typically find in the US. First of all, there is a wider selection with cured meats, seafood and lots of veggies. Secondly, the dishes are cooked very simply, generally sauteed in olive oil or breaded and deep fried. Thirdly, the portion size of each tapa is quite generous and much larger making it a wholesome meal rather than just an appetizer. Typically, 2-3 tapas are more than enough for a satisfactory meal.
Here are some of the popular tapas I tried in Spain – gambas (jumbo whole shrimps sauteed in garlic), croquetas (deep fried mashed potatoes), pimientos de Padrón (deep-fried chili peppers that are not actually hot), fried fish and sauteed clams with olive oil.
This one is delicious and healthy – Setas al Ajillo, fresh mushrooms sauteed with olive oil and garlic.
Another popular dish is calamars de la Roma, basically fried calamari but prepared with really fresh and juicy squid rings.
Another type of tapas are Pinchos (also spelled Pintxos) or bite size open faced sandwiches. Pinchos moruno (Moorish spike) is a stick with spicy meat (pork, lamb or chicken) with bread and cheese sold on the street corners and at coffee shops.
There are exclusive pinchos restaurants too that offer hot and cold selections. At such establishments, you can walk around and select the pinchos you want from a display case. Slices of fresh baguette or toast are prepared with different toppings such as chorizo, Bacalao, Spanish omelette, crab salad, smoked salmon and more! Pinchos are a speciality of the Basque region of Spain where you eat standing at the bar, having a glass of Txakoli or beer. You pay based on the number of toothpicks you collect from the pieces of pinchos you eat!