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One Adventure After Another!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

All about Tapas and Pinchos

Future pilgrims often ask me, "What do you eat while on pilgrimage?"  Well, the answer for me is, "Anything they serve in Spain!"  The food there is SO good, so tasty, so healthy, I'm amazed that I lost 20 pounds on my last Camino.

Tomorrow I'll post about finding breakfast and the Pilgrim's Plate. But today, I'd like to tell you a little about what I have learned about another wonderful option... TAPAS!

Even the smallest villages often have a bar and a "bar" in Spain is not the same place you think of when you say "bar" in the USA. Yes, you can buy beer, wine, and mixed drinks. But you also can get coffee, breakfast, and some pretty good eats there!

It is said the tapa originated in Andalusia as a small snack to accompany sherry. The bartender would cover the glass of sherry with a saucer (or tapa) to protect it from the flies. A good bartender would decorate the plate with a tiny savory snack, and that evolved into these luscious portions we now call tapas.

Something to remember is a tapa serves one. Tapas are often called "pinchos" in southern Spain. A "ración" is a larger serving, usually for 2 to 3 people, or one hungry pilgrim! I've taken these photos from the internet. Some would be considered a "tapa" but the larger portions are definitely "raciónes."  You quickly learn the difference after ordering a time or two.

In some small villages along the Camino, tapas are still free with your drink. Sometimes I was served a plate of olives and other times salted almonds or a bit of meat. Most of the time, however, there was a menu, often written on a chalkboard, and you paid a small amount for your tapas. My advice to you is to try any tapa you see offered - take a walk on the wild side and stretch your boundaries. You are, after all, on an adventure!

But if you would like to at least have some idea of what you will be eating, following is a menu of typical tapas you might see on the Camino Santiago.

ALBONDIGAS are little meatballs. This dish is said to have originated with the Moors. Hearty and filling, they come on a plate of 3 as tapas and 7 to 9 if you order a ración.  They are made of minced pork and veal or beef. They are fried, and served either dry or swimming in a savory tomato sauce.

PATATAS BRAVAS are chunks of fried potatoes coated in a thick sauce. The sauce generally is a spicy tomato sauce but it does vary from place to place, which is why it's one of my favorites. I've seen white sauce like the one above on the potatoes. Don't pass this one by!

GAMBAS A LA PLANCHA are grilled whole shrimp. They are seasoned before grilling and very good. You just peel them and eat them with your fingers. A tapa usually has 3 shrimp. A pincho will have more.

JAMÓN SERRANO is salt-cured ham dried in the mountain air. It is considered a national treasure and in each bar you will see these whole hams hanging.
This ham deserves its own blog, it is so famous. The pigs are fed on sweet mountain acorns, making the meat very sweet and the flavor is deeper than prosciutto. The ham is shaved off in thin slices. It almost always comes with chunks of fresh baked bread. But you also may see it served on top of melon slices or in other combinations.
We saw many pigs on the Via de la Plata, their red eyes shining in the early morning darkness, their grunts startling me!

BANDERILLAS are bits and pieces of meat, vegetable, and/or fruit served threaded on toothpicks. They could consist of marinated fish, hard-boiled eggs, shrimp, olives, or just about anything!  They are sometimes served with bread or crackers. They are to be eaten in one bite, blending the flavors. A banderilla is the sharp barbed stick used to weaken the bull in bullfighting.

CALAMARES FRITOS. These are rings of squid, very lightly breaded or simply dusted with flour and deep fried. They come piled on a plate garnished with a lemon slice. Squeeze the lemon juice onto the fritos before eating. I can make a meal of these!

QUESO MANCHEGO is tangy sheep's cheese. It comes from LaMancha and is one of Spain's most popular cheese. You can buy it all along the Camino by weight and it's good in a backpack for a couple of days if you bury it in your clothing to keep it cool. It is a staple food item when I'm walking. It is served in cubes or slices with bread in the bars. It is often served in combination with jamón serrano or other meat.  Don't miss trying it! If you live near a COSTCO, they sell manchego cheese! I have a hunk in my fridge right now!

ACEITUNAS DE LA MADRILEÑA are served everywhere. Aceitunas are olives. They can be served alone or "de la Madrileña" which means in a nice vinegar/scallion/garlic marinade. I bought bags of aceitunas for under a Euro to carry in my mochila on the Camino.

MEJILLONES A LA MARINERA. These are mussels cooked in a lovely garlicky wine sauce. They may be served in the shell, on the half-shell, or shelled in a bowl of sauce. Usually served with crusty bread to soak up the sauce, eat them with a toothpick.

ENSALADILLA RUSA is a cold potato salad that can contain any combination of tuna, shrimp, potatoes, carrots, peas, peppers, or eggs. The dressing is usually mayonnaise or a home made garlic mayo.

CROQUETAS are a tapa you will find everywhere. The ingredients are greatly varied. The croqueta could be of fish, potato, ham, just about anything. They're little balls of food, which have been rolled in a coating and deep fried. They are always very good and filling!
SALPICÓN DE MARISCOS is a cold seafood salad. Ingredients can vary but it is almost marinated in a vinaigrette.

BOQUERONES are one of my favorites! They are tiny marinated white anchovies. Nothing like what you buy in the can, please be sure to try them! They are not "fishy" because they are fresh! Great on a slice of bread! They may come whole or filleted. Sometimes you find boquerones deep fried.

POLLO AL AJILLO is a tapa of small pieces of browned chicken, simmered in a garlic sauce. The sauce can vary. It may or may not have tomato, but no will be wonderful! Eat it with crusty bread.

TORTILLA. This is not your Mexican tortilla. This is more like a fritata or thick omelette, served in wedges or squares, alone or with ham. It has potato, onion, and sometimes other vegetables. But generally it's pretty straight forward. I love this for breakfast but it's good any time.

FRITURA DE PESCADO is a plate of fried fish and other seafood. It's a bit like tempura.

ENSALADA DE PIMIENTOS ROJOS is a wonderful salad of roasted red peppers and onions. The salad has an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Very rich. As with most tapas, it is great with crusty bread. I bought roasted peppers and put them on sandwiches for my lunch when walking the Camino.

CHORIZO is a garlicky sausage, nothing like the chorizo of Mexico. Made from acorn fed pigs, it literally melts in your mouth!  It is served in many ways. It might be simply slice don a place, as shown above, or you might get it on a slice of bread, as shown in this photo from a Sevilla tapa bar:
You also might get it in a tiny bowl with sauce, as this photo shows:

It can be served cold or hot.  No matter how it is served, try it! You can't lose!

CARACOLES are one of my very most favorite tapas. These are the same tiny snails you see crawling all over the vegetation on the Camino. Stewed in a savory garlic sauce, they are an amazing treat with a cold beer - instant energy! Eat them with your fingers by pulling them out of the shell with a toothpick.

MORCILLA is a savory pork blood sausage. It can be seasoned in a variety of ways. I like some. I don't like others. My advice is to just try it every chance you get. I can hear you saying, "Eeeewwww... sausage made of blood!"  But before you do, think about those luscious, flavor filled bits and pieces you scrape up from the pan when you're cooking pork chops? THAT is pork blood and is what morcilla can taste like. It can be incredibly good! It can be served in slices, but is usually laid on a slice of bread and topped with potato or some other item.

OREJAS DE CERDO are just what they sound like; pig's ears. They are either deep fried or cooked in a savory sauce. Not for the weak-kneed, you might be surprised at their goodness!

To me, these are an excellent example of the way that the Spanish people live the philosophy I love! They respect the animal they are killing and eating by not wasting one single piece! It's the way our grandparents lived, before we got so spoiled with our plastic filled meat cases here in the United States. I have met many people who, believe it or not, have no idea what animal they are eating and never think about how it was raised or butchered.

In Spain, people still live close to the earth and respect her.
That is one reason I'm so in love with that country!

So that's it! These are some of my favorite tapas! As you can see, there are many choices for a hungry pilgrim in Spain. A supper of tapas can be a great option when you're on a budget.

If you have a favorite tapa that I did not mention, please comment. I'll look for a photo and post it.

Buen Camino, Pilgrims, and Buen Aprevecho!


Note:  If you would love to walk the Camino Santiago, 
but are not quite ready to go it alone, 
consider joining Annie
on one of our small, affordable Camino walks. 
For more information see our website 
at this link: AnnieWalkers Camino


  1. Annie, this blog entry must qualify for coolest of the month, or some such thing.

    It's winter here in Oz and I've just made a sopa de ajo over the woodfire to quench my longing for Camino food. After reading your blog, the soup's not enough!

  2. Awwww.. thanks! Hey, I just looked at your blog and realized I forgot PULPO!

    Was there really snow in O'Cebreiro in June?

  3. I know what slowcamino means...damn you Annie...i am hungry!!

  4. Annie, you put together a perfect Blog. I have already decided that this year, I'm going to do much more "tapa-crawling" instead of eating the same old Pilgrim menu over and over again!

  5. I crossed the Cebreiro very early spring. I only blogged it in June.

    Pulpo is more a thing on its own, rather than a tapa. I think your list is just fine.

    Now, what about main courses?

  6. Thank you for the insite on Tapas...and the photos were a touch beyond words...I am going to do Tapas at my place for the Month of November on Sat. to celebrate our 14th year in Business as a restaurant...:) Chow...Chef Bruce


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