Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such as chopitos, which are battered, fried baby squid).
In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, sophisticated cuisine. In Spain, patrons of tapas can order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. In some Central American countries, such snacks are known as bocas. In Mexico, similar dishes are called “botanas”.
In Spain, dinner is usually served between 9 and 11 p.m. (sometimes as late as midnight), leaving significant time between work and dinner. Therefore, Spaniards often go “bar hopping” and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner. Since lunch is usually served between 1 and 4 p.m., another common time for tapas is weekend days around noon as a means of socializing before proper lunch at home.
It is very common for a bar or a small local restaurant to have eight to 12 different kinds of tapas in warming trays with glass partitions covering the food. They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chilies or paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, saffron and sometimes in plentiful amounts of olive oil.
Often, one or more of the choices is seafood (mariscos), often including anchovies, sardines or mackerel in olive oil, squid or others in a tomato-based sauce, sometimes with the addition of red or green peppers or other seasonings. It is rare to see a tapas selection not include one or more types of olives, such as Manzanilla or Arbequina olives. One or more types of bread are usually available to eat with any of the sauce-based tapas.
Some of the most famous tapas are:
- Aceitunas: olives, sometimes with a filling of anchovies or red bell pepper
- Albóndigas: meatballs with sauce
- Allioli: “garlic and oil” the classic ingredients are only garlic, oil and salt, but the most common form of it includes mayonnaise and garlic, served on bread or with boiled or grilled potatoes, fish, meat or vegetables.
- Bacalao: salted cod loin sliced very thinly, usually served with bread and tomatoes
- Banderillas, or pinchos de encurtidos, are cold tapas made from small food items pickled in vinegar and skewered together. They are also known as gildas or piparras and consist of pickled items, like olives, baby onions, baby cucumbers, chiles (guindilla) with pieces of pepper and other vegetables. Sometimes they include an anchovy.
- Boquerones: white anchovies served in vinegar (boquerones en vinagre) or deep fried
- Calamares or rabas: rings of battered squid
- Carne mechada: slow-cooked, tender beef
- Chopitos: battered and fried tiny squid, also known as puntillitas
- Cojonuda (superb female): a kind of pincho, it consists of a slice of Spanish morcilla with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread. It is very common in Burgos, because the most well-known and widespread Spanish morcilla is from there. It can also be prepared with a little strip of red, spicy pepper.
- Cojonudo (superb male): a kind of pincho, it consists of a slice of Spanish chorizo with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread.
- Chorizo al vino: chorizo sausage slowly cooked in wine
- Chorizo a la sidra: chorizo sausage slowly cooked in cider
- Croquetas: a common sight in bar counters and homes across Spain, served as a tapa, a light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad
- Empanadillas: large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables
- Ensaladilla rusa: Olivier salad, made with mixed boiled vegetables, tuna, olives and mayonnaise
- Gambas: prawns sauteed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (with garlic), or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers)
- Mejillones rellenos: stuffed mussels, called tigres (“tigers”) in Navarre because of the spicy taste
- Papas arrugadas or papas con mojo (see Canarian wrinkly potatoes) (Canary Islands): very small, new potatoes boiled in salt water similar to sea water, then drained, slightly roasted and served with mojo, a garlic, Spanish paprika, red pepper, cumin seed, olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and bread miga (fresh bread crumbs without the crust) to thicken it
- Patatas bravas or papas bravas: fried potato dices (sometimes parboiled and then fried, or simply boiled) served with salsa brava a spicy tomato sauce, sometimes served also with mayo or aioli
- Pimientos de Padrón: small green peppers originally from Padrón (a municipality in the province of A Coruña, Galicia) that are fried in olive oil or served raw, most are mild, but a few in each batch are quite spicy.
- Pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus) or polbo á feira (octopus in the trade fair style) in Galicia, is cooked in boiling water (preferably in a copper cauldron or pan) and served hot in olive or vegetable oil. The octopus pieces are seasoned with substantial amounts of paprika, giving it its recognisable red color, and sea salt for texture and flavour.
- Pincho moruno (Moorish spike): a stick with spicy meat, made of pork, lamb or chicken
- Queso con anchoas: Castilla or Manchego cured cheese with anchovies on top
- Raxo: pork seasoned with garlic and parsley, with added paprika, called zorza or jijas in Palencia.
- Setas al Ajillo: fresh mushrooms sauteed with olive oil and garlic.
- Solomillo a la castellana: fried pork scallops, served with an onion or Cabrales cheese sauce
- Solomillo al whisky: fried pork scallops, marinated using whisky, brandy or white wine and olive oil
- Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) or tortilla española: a type of omelet containing fried chunks of potatoes and sometimes onion
- Tortilla paisana: a tortilla containing vegetables and chorizo (similar to frittata)
- Tortillitas de camarones (Andalusia): battered prawn fritters
- Zamburiñas: renowned Galician scallops (Chlamys varia), often served in a marinera, tomato-based sauce