The perfect weather, laid-back lifestyle, and beautiful people were enough to sell me on the idea of Andalusia, Spain. But this amazing region does stop there. Spain is world-renowned for their cuisine, Andalusia even more so, for their tradition of serving free tapas! I was in a foodie’s paradise while also in literal paradise.
Spanish cuisine has a unique flavor and style thanks to their varied history and climate. Two of Spain’s most famous dishes are paella and jamón. Paella also happens to be one of my favorite dishes in the world. It is a rice dish originating from the region of Valencia, the neighboring region to Andalusia. There are several types of paella, but my favorite is seafood paella, which requires the rice to be cooked in seafood broth along with a hefty helping of fresh seafood. It is heavenly.
Jamón is one of Josh’s favorite dishes in the whole world. It is cured ham most often cut directly from the leg before serving. Like most cured hams, it is deliciously salty and flavorful. We not only enjoy the flavor, but also the show of it all. I would love to one day have a leg of pork sitting up on my kitchen wall, ready for when guests arrive. There is something very intimate and special about it.
Tapas are small dishes used as appetizers or snacks. They are most often enjoyed along with a pitcher of sangria or a local beer. The word “tapa” translates to “lid” or “cover”. It is believed that tapas may have originally been created as a literal top for one’s drink, a slice of bread to keep the flies out of your beer. There are several other theories, some of which are quite funny, but we found this one to be our favorite…
Anthony Bourdain did an excellent piece in the Province of Granada. This is a 4 minute clip about tapas.
As tourism throughout Spain has increased, the distribution of free “lids” for one’s drinks has decreased. People still enjoy tapas, but throughout most of Spain they are no longer complimentary and must be ordered separately. The region of Andalusia, however, has held on to the tradition of complimentary tapas as a way of life. They feel it creates a better feeling of community and encourages socializing. Because of this, it is very common for diners throughout the region to be served a free tapa with every drink order.
Food in Andalusia
I could not believe that Andalusian tapas were being served for free with drink purchases. It seemed too good to be true. But time and time again, pub after pub, restaurant after restaurant, we were treated to delicious drinks and amazing, FREE tapas. On top of that, even the full-sized dishes were incredibly cheap and well made. Check out this single meal we enjoyed one day at the local, lake-side restaurant:
Round One – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)
We sat ourselves at a lovely table overlooking the village lake. When the server arrived, I ordered a tinto de verano (translated as The Red Wine of Summer) which is one part red wine and one part soda. Josh ordered a beer. The server returned with our drinks, then again a few minutes later with a plate of six shrimps and a large pile of green olives.
Round Two – Pinchitos ($2.03)
Although I knew we could simply continue to eat delicious free food, I opted to order a small plate of pinchitos. They are similar to a kabab and originate from the times when Spain was under Moorish rule. We were shortly served four perfectly prepared pork skewers, along with some slices of fresh bread.
Round Three – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)
Upon delivery of our pinchitos, we ordered another round of drinks. They arrived shortly after, along with another delicious tapa. This time, we were served two slices of lightly toasted bread topped with cheese spread and Spanish tortillas. Spanish tortillas are not the same as Mexican tortillas. Some people called them Spanish Omelets, but I thought they seemed more like a potato quiche. They were thick, creamy, and absolutely delicious!
Round Four – Jamón and Queso ($8.50)
Once again, I let my stomach do the talking and ordered off the menu. I asked for a large portion of jamón and queso. The server returned promptly with a big plate of cold cured meats, slices of cheese, and a basket of warm bread. Although far from free, it was still well worth the price. It tasted so fresh. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
Round Five – Tinto and Beer ($3.95)
We could have easily stopped eating by this point, but I wanted one last drink for the road. So, we ordered one last round of drinks right as the kitchen was closing. This time we got a bowl of hand-made snack mix. While eating in restaurants in the touristy areas of Granada, we were either charged $1 for tapas or given a tapa like this. It was just their way of saying “Socializing time is over. We want to go home.” It wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and the perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.
We had several meals just like this during our month house sitting in Andalusia. Every-other night for dinner, we would walk to Freila’s best (and only) tapas bar. We would order two rounds of drinks and one main dish. Our tapas were always free and always amazing. One time, we even got a plate of six, full garlic squid, a dish that we estimated would have cost us at least $12 anywhere else in the world. At Bar El Veneno, our entire dinner cost $10! The Spanish put a lot of love into their food and I could taste the difference. Everything we ate tasted fresh and was cooked to perfection. And if that wasn’t good enough, the low prices were unbelievable. The meal I outlined above, with the five dishes, six alcoholic beverages, and a view of the lake cost us $22!
Spain is a magical place with food that left me screaming and kicking across the border. There hasn’t been a day since we left that Josh hasn’t had to listen to me whine about how much I love the food in Andalusia. “Spain, I love you and I promise that one day I will return and never leave.” – Jen
Our adventures in tasting beers around the world continues in Spain. Although I frequently mixed things up with my beverage choices, adding in the occasional tinto or sangria, we did enjoy our fair share of Spanish beers… ten unique brews to be specific.
The Spanish beers did not provide us with much variety in flavor, but they were exactly what I wanted out of a beverage on a hot day. They were light and refreshing. My favorite of the collection was Estrella de Levante, a pilsner brewed in the province of Murcia. It was light, smooth, and surprisingly malty.
Food Lover’s Paradise
If I haven’t made it clear enough, I am in love with Spain, its people, and its food. From the refreshing beers and free tapas, to the carefully prepared Spanish dishes, there is something for everyone to love about Spanish cuisine. In Spain, food wasn’t just about sustenance. It was an art and a way of life. The meals brought together the community. Bars were regularly filled with laughter and restaurants packed with extended families. This is what I love about food and one of the many things I love about Spain.