Barcelona Tapas Bars & Dishes
There's nothing more synonymous with Spanish cuisine than tapas, the tradition of eating small dishes as an appetizer, snack or in combination to form a main meal of the day. The latter has become a growing trend worldwide in recent decades, and that should come as no surprise to food-lovers: after all what could be better than mixing and matching all the glorious taste sensations of Spain for supper?
The word 'tapa' in Spanish means 'lid', and 'tapas' is simply its plural form. There are many cited origins for the tradition of eating tapas, and how they got their name, with the most romantic featuring King Alfonso X in a starring role. The King, also known as Alfonso the Wise, was gallivanting around his kingdom many moons ago, when he decided to visit an inn and duly ordered a beer. The innkeeper served this refreshing pint of ale with a small complimentary dish of food on top of the glass. The King thought it was such a good idea that he ordered all inns throughout Spain to serve food with any alcoholic drink by decree of law. A great legend, although perhaps a more probable origin is that these 'lids' were a custom used by Andalusian folk to keep the flies off their sweet sherry.
Find a list of typical tapas dishes from Spain and Catalonia below, followed by a guide to some of the best tapas bars and restaurants in Barcelona, and some suggested food tours.
Above: You should be able to get them cheaper than this!
Typical Tapas Dishes
Tapas is such an integral part of Spanish culture, than almost every rudimentary bar will have some basic offerings on the counter, whilst many restaurants have a tapa menu or specialise solely in the saucer-sized snacks. Here are some of the favourites up and down Spain.
Olives! The Spaniards, including the Catalans, are mad about olives, and if there's only one tapa available it's sure to be aceitunas. Some delicious Spanish varieties include manzanillas, arbequinas and empeltres.
Cod is a mainstay of Catalan cuisine and so naturally enough available in tapas form. Well-salted and usually served on bread with tomatoes.
Boquerones en vinagre
Done well these are simply divine. Fresh filleted anchovies in vinegar. Some joints clearly just pull them out of a tin however...
To the uncultured eater, calamares resemble onion rings, but are in fact circles of squid in batter. Chewy but delicious, and best with a squeeze of lemon.
Chorizo al vino
An editorial fave, and no wonder if you consider that a) Spanish cured sausage is the best in the world b) what could be better than adding a slosh of red wine?! In some parts of Spain you can also try chorizo al sidra, or sausage cooked in cider!
'Russian salad' is a firm favourite in Spain, and typically one of the only tapas with a high vegetable count - so good for balancing all those meat dishes. Potatoes, eggs and mayonnaise are the main ingredients with beans, carrots and chopped gherkins common additions.
Pa amb tomaquet
A remarkably simple dish that occupies a place in all true Catalans' hearts, pa amb tomaquet is simply rustic bread rubbed with tomato flesh and sprinkled with salt, olive oil and perhaps garlic. It can be served as an accompaniment to a meal or often with cod or ham as a tapa.
Chunks of potato chips served with spicy mayonnaise, this decidedly unhealthy snack is an essential side plate for any meal in Spain.
Pimientos del Padron
Pimientos are peppers, whilst Padron is the region in Galicia where these particular thumb-sized fruits come from. Fried in oil and salted, you should be careful - one in five are very hot!
A typically Basque dish (known as 'pintxo' in its region of origin), the pincho, or 'spike', is a dish of meat skewered on a toothpick and served on a slice of bread. Yum!
There are plenty more delicious varieties of tapas served up in bars around Spain, and we'll add a few more munch-worthy morsels next time we update this page. (If you can't wait check out Wikipedia's entry for more common dishes).
Barcelona Tapas Restaurants & Bars
Despite being a typically Spanish cuisine, this famous culinary tradition is still rife here in Catalonia (where other Spanish traditions such as bull-fighting and flamenco are not considered part of the local culture). Whereas many venues specifically choose to dub themselves 'tapas restaurants' you can find great snacks in many places that don't. So here is our undiscriminating (in the good sense) guide to where to eat tapas in Barcelona...
A near legendary venue in El Born, presided over by none other than the eponymous Pep. The succulent fresh seafood tapas is said to be the best in town, although you will have to queue - and pay - for the privilege.
Placa de les Olles 8
The humble tapa is elevated into an art form at this Adria-run establishment that builds on the world-renowned culinary creativeness of El Bulli. You will need to book online exactly three months in advance to grab a table - good luck!
Avinguda Paral lel 164
Gilda By Belgious
Refined tapas, often with a Belgian twist, at this restaurant in Gotico. Sauteed shrimps with garlic and white wine, artesan ham croquettes with spinach and pine nuts, and Flemish beef stew are amongst the offerings. Don't miss the signature bravas with with aioli, dried tomato chutney and a dash of coffee and cinnamon.
A local favourite with the people of Gracia, this unfussy and friendly restaurant specialises in vegetarian tapas. Fun and unpretentious, rather than gourmet.
Placa del Sol 21
Don't expect friendly customers service. Do expect platter loads of delectable Spanish classics, from baby octopi to specially-prepared mushrooms. Once popular with boisterous groups of cheapskate friends, it has sadly raised its prices considerably and caters more for tourists now - although the spit and sawdust vibe remains.
Quimet i Quimet
Another Barcelona legend, Quimet i Quimet is a family owned affair in the vibrant yet untouristy Poble Sec district. There's a touch of class to everything from the mussels to the montaditos.
C/Poeta Cabanyes 25
A xampanyeria (champagne bar) and charcuterie in one, Can Paixano is one of the most popular eateries in Barcelona and packed - really and truly and uncomfortably packed - every night with locals who come for cheap cava and fantastic mini-sandwichs and other dishes.
C/Reina Cristina 7
La Boqueria Market
This is where all of Barcelona's best ingredients are delivered so it makes sense to try some tapas right at the source... there are a good dozen or so tiny restaurants in and around the market, and lunch at La Boqueria is something you won't forget in a hurry.
La Rambla 89
El Quim de la Boqueria
...of those eateries in BCN's most famous food market, El Quim is the most famous! A fraction pricey, but once you taste his xipirons amb mongetes de Santa Pau (that's Catalan for "baby squid and beans"!) you won't care for counting coins.
Remember you can find the exact locations of all of the above on our rather 'spiffing' Barcelona restaurants map (find the venues, plus others, in the relevant search box on the left!).
Barcelona Tapas Tours
Need a bit of help exploring this culinary realm? Enlist some professionals to guide and inform you! We'll bring you some more experiences soon...
Spanish Tapas Tours
If you're read this article (no skimming!) then you've probably already realised that the world of tapas is a rich, delicious - and confusing - world. How many different ways can you serve anchovies? How many methods can you use to cure ham? What's the difference between chorizo and chistorra? Take a guided tour of some the city's best tapa joints with a local expert however and you'll reap the rewards of navigating this gastronomic galaxy. During this three hour eating experience you'll get out of tourist town and dine like a local in Barcelona's hippest districts, trying everything from Spanish classics like mejillones rellenos to avant garde Catalan twists on this gastro-phenomenon, with plenty of advice and know-how from your guide. The price is 65 euros per person, and you can email us for more details or to book (limited spaces!). If that's a bit out of your budget check out the great experience below...
Flamenco With Tapas Tasting
What's better than one great Spanish tradition? Two of course! During this rich introduction to Spanish culture you'll first be regaled by some of the country's leading flamenco artists in a top tablao in Barcelona's most scenic square. Then you'll retire to a nearby restaurant for a tasting session of up to 15 of Spain's most famous tapas. Click on the link for more info or simply email us to reserve. Runs every night of the week and costs 28 euros per person.
Meanwhile if you're interested in finding out more about Catalonia's and Spain's food culture then we strongly suggest you head over to our article on gastro-tourism and explore the possibilities of cooking classes, tapas and wine tours. We've listed all the best experiences in town!