Tapas Culture in Spain

Woohyun Kwen headshot
Woohyun Kwen
December 15, 2023

So, let’s talk about the tapas culture in Spain. When I first arrived in Spain, everyone talked about these “tapas” everywhere. With a quick Google Search, I thought it was kind of like an appetizer deal but a Spanish version of appetizers. However, I soon realized that the whole culture surrounding tapas was a lot more than just simply thinking about it as an appetizer!

What are tapas?

To begin, tapas are small portions of foods like a platter of jamon iberico, tortillas, calamari, and so much more!!! Each region, city, and even bar in Spain have their own unique selection of tapas to choose from, and it is such a fun activity exploring tapas of each individual location. Now, as a reminder, these portions are smaller and don’t serve as a full meal. They are usually little snacks after lunch and before dinner. 

Where do you find tapas?

Bars! While many restaurants do also have tapas, note that the tapas culture did originate from taverns, as they were small portions of food served with alcohol. For this reason, bars are the main places for tapas, and most people get an alcoholic drink like wine with their tapas. In fact, in some bars and regions of Spain, tapas come for free with the purchase of a drink! One thing to keep in mind is that if you go during peak tapas time in the late afternoon, the bars will be crowded and you’ll find many people eating and drinking outside without a table.

How do you order?

When I first walked into a bar to order tapas during my first week in Spain, I was absolutely overwhelmed and so confused! First, the bar was so crowded so I had to squeeze through all of the people sitting at the bar, waiting to order, waiting for their food, and just standing around talking to each other. When I got to the front, I was shocked that there was no menu for tapas written down. I had no idea what each tapa was called, what it was, and how much it cost! This bar was definitely more of the traditional, lively atmosphere, but many other bars around Salamanca are less crowded and do indeed have tapa menus available for a less chaotic experience. Each bar is different! 

To actually order, you usually order a drink and a tapa, or many tapas! And if there is no menu, I've learned to just point to the tapa I want on display and ask for it. If you are in a group, usually one person will order for the entire group to make the process less chaotic. 

Tapas and Social Life

Since tapas are a big part of Spanish dining culture, it is also important to the social atmosphere as well. In Spain, it is very customary to go for tapas with other people. Everyone goes for the food but also to talk and catch up with others.

Usually in a big group of friends, there is actually a system for getting tapas together which I was shocked by the organization behind this process! To begin, a group of friends will have a “designated tapa”, who is usually the most organized person in the group. This person has the responsibility of taking everyone's order, ordering as a representative to the waiter, and also arranging payments for the tapa. Since people go out for tapas regularly, some groups have a joint fund where they collectively gather money to pay for their tapas expenses! This social aspect of tapas is surely one of the most interesting parts of the culture.

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about the culture of tapas in Spain!

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Woohyun Kwen headshot

Woohyun Kwen

Hi! I am a junior studying Education Studies and Psychology on the pre-health track at Amherst College. In my free time, I love to paint scenery, go on long walks, and sing my heart out to my favorite pop songs.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Amherst College
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