Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Finding a good tapas bar in Spain

By: Mrs Robot
Sign in Taberna Miami in Seville
Taberna Miami, Triana, Seville
We usually go to Spain once a year, and it’s usually somewhere inland - our most recent trips have been to Granada, Seville, Toledo and Segovia, with a couple of overnight stops in Madrid. Mr Robot reckons I have a knack for finding good places to drink and eat tapas, so I thought I’d share my method.

First, though, a note on tapas. You only have ONE tapa with a drink. The Spanish have a verb, ‘tapear’, to go for tapas. Don’t stay in one bar, wander between them, having a drink and little snack at each. It’s fun, and a great way to see a city and its people. There’s nothing like having favourite bars for different things, and deciding you have to go to, say, El Cordobes for flamenquines (rolled breaded pork 'cigars' filled with cheese) or El Toboso for ham (both places recommended if you’re in Seville...).

Don’t be nervous
Food in Spain is good. Rarely have we been served anything bad. However, on the few occasions we have been served less-than-wonderful fare, it’s been in very touristy places. One bar in Seville that we’d visited a few times over the years served up tinned meatballs as ‘albondigas’ on our last visit, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the city has become massively more touristy and this bar was seeing a lot of organised groups coming through. In general, though, you’ll get really tasty nibbles.

El Caprichito, Toledo. Better inside...
Step off the tourist trail
I won’t say avoid olde-worlde bars, because in one of Spain’s historic cities you’re sure to find bars that have been proudly serving locals since the 1890s. However, do learn to spot a tourist trap (international menus with pictures? Lots of tables outside? Avoid!) and try to wander down side streets. This isn’t because I think you should avoid your fellow foreigners, but because places that cater to tourists don’t need to worry about repeat custom, so can charge more and have lower standards. Bars that have a customer base made up of locals need to be good enough to encourage return visits.

Some of the nicest places we’ve found have been near offices and local government buildings: two in Toledo didn’t just serve delicious tapas, they gave customers a free tapa with every drink. El Caprichito, our favourite, didn't look like much at all from the outside, but was brilliant inside. In Seville, you’ll find prices cheaper and the food every bit as good if you pop across the river to Triana - if you’re lucky, you’ll see some authentic flamenco too, by locals for locals, not a tourist performance.

Don’t mind the decor
As I said, you can find plenty of authentic old bars, but don’t be put off by modern looks. I’ll often try new foods for the first time in Spain, because I know it will be done well, and had my first taste of tripe in an unprepossessing bar in El Arenal (the district near the bullring) in Seville. It had cheap plastic garden chairs and aluminium tables, and lots of local custom, so I knew it was getting repeat visits, and not for the decor!
Bodega Santa Cruz, Seville. Fun!

Sit inside
You’ll get a better sense of location and prices are sometimes cheaper if you sit inside. Some of the best bars we’ve been to don’t really have much outside - that’s more for tourists. We walked though one narrow doorway in Seville and found ourselves in Dona Lina, an incredible vintage, fully-tiled tapas bar/restaurant... which was virtually empty because most tourists were sitting outside the place serving tinned meatballs down the street. (Dona Lina has bad reviews on Tripadvisor, but it was great when we ate there.)

More than you bargained for
It rarely happens in Seville, but in Granada, Toledo and Segovia we got free tapas with drinks. The down side of this is we got no choice of tapas. It’d be even worse for a vegetarian or someone with allergies (I guess you’d have to learn the Spanish for ‘I am allergic to shellfish’ or whatever before going), but Pete and I hate anchovies. These do get dished out fairly regularly; we’ve learned to swallow the noxious things as quickly as possible. Being British, we also have hit points where we didn’t want to eat any more, we just wanted a drink, but again that seems to baffle the staff, who insisted on giving us food anyway. All you can do is shut up and eat it!

All images (c) PP Gettins

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