Updated: Jan 23
I have to admit that there was more than a tinge of excitement at being able to sit once again on the terrace of my local bar here in Granada, Andalucia and enjoy tapas with a refreshing caña.
Tapa literally means “a cover” or “a lid”, however, most visitors to Spain will associate the word with those tiny and not so tiny morsels of Mediterranean culinary delights that are served to accompany a drink.
No longer the preserve of Spanish bars, tapas, arguably Spain’s greatest contribution to world cuisine has reached out right across Europe and beyond. However, I’ve yet to see anyone do tapas quite like the Spanish where sayings such as ir de tapas (tapas hopping or doing tapas) are part of the national vocabulary.
Ir de tapas as the name suggests involves visiting different bars, with friends, one after the other ordering a drink with tapas, then seeking out a fresh bar offering different tapas. With the Spanish generally eating late in the evening this is a perfect way to snack between meals without ruining your appetite.
The origin of tapas.
Ask a hundred people in Spain about the origin of tapas and the chances are you’ll get a dozen or more different answers and if truth be known they are all likely to be wrong, but hey why let that spoil a good story.
Legend has it that back in the 13th Century, Alfonso X whilst suffering from illness was served small portions of food with his drinks to aid recovery, so successful and complete was his recovery that he decreed all drinks in future be served with a small snack.
Alternatively, we can fast forward 600 hundred years or so to Alfonso XIII, who whilst visiting the notoriously windy city of Cadiz was served wine complete with a slice of ham on top to keep the sand out. It is said that the King thereafter insisted on being served ham with his wine, thus starting a trend.
And yet another theory suggests that tapas originated in Seville, where during the farmer's markets plates were placed over drinks to keep out the flies, in time ham, cheese, and other small snacks were added.
The only certainty is that no one truly knows the exact origin of tapas, however being the cynical type I'm more inclined to lean towards the theory that tapas was a way of encouraging customers to drink more in order to satisfy a thirst brought on by these salty snacks.
Granada Tapas Bars
I consider myself to be very fortunate that I live in Granada, a city famed for amongst other things tapas.
I recall the first evening of my first ever visit to the city which was 3 years ago, my husband and I had booked a restaurant for 9.30 in the evening with the express intention of setting out from our hotel at about 6 pm for a long leisurely stroll taking in some of the sights that this amazing city has to offer and stopping off occasionally for a caña or wine along the way.
This was, to steal a quote a “big mistake, BIG, Huge...” (Vivian Ward - Pretty Woman) every caña that we ordered was accompanied by a sizeable, tasty, filling, and wonderful tapas. Nothing wrong with that per se however, 6 cañas* accompanied by 6 tapas immediately prior to sitting down to a full meal in a restaurant… it probably wasn’t my best idea and left me resembling Augustus Gloop immediately prior to his demise in Charlie and the Chocolate factory.
Since moving to Granada I've managed to establish my “go-to” bars where I can take visitors safe in the knowledge that they’ll be treated to good and varied tapas. I’ll often visit these bars with my husband interspersed with a few new (to me) bars along the way, all in the name of research of course.
TOP TAPA TIP 1 - If asked opt for the small beer, caña (pequaña) as opposed to pinta (grande) because you’ll get the exactly the same amount tapas with both small and large beers; small beers equal more tapas (you’ll get asked this more in places like Madrid).
TOP TAPA TIP 2 - A wise Spanish friend once told me (ok he was Irish) to seek out the bars popular with the locals, these are often identified by the copious amounts of paper strewn about the floor of the bar.
TOP TAPA TIP 3 - Avoid tourist hotspots - Madrid (Plaza Major), Granada (Bib Rambla and Sta Ana) more expensive you are paying for the views and less tapas. Often the best bars are the ones tucked away down side streets and it's a great way to explore a city.
MY TOP 5 GO TO TAPAS BARS - GRANADA
First on my list is Bar Los Diamantes (Calle Navas, 28) there are one or two others of the same name (sister bars) however, this is the one that I’d recommended.
Surrounded on all sides by restaurants of the touristy variety where the staff will try to lure you in as you pass, Bar Los Diamantes is a gem of a fish bar (pun intended), yes it’s small and cramped with customers often packed in like sardines (again pun intended); yes the floor is normally festooned with papers and yes the caña that’s served in small glasses is only sometimes full and occasionally not even three-quarters full. HOWEVER, who cares when the fish tapas is so fresh, plentiful and delicious.
You have to experience this bar at least once on your visit Granada and preferably when it’s busy (covid-19 permitting), part of the fun is negotiating your way through the bar and trying to grab the bartender's attention.
Second on my list, and a complete change of emphasis, is Casa Colon. Located at the side of river Genil, Casa Colon feels more like a cocktail bar with background music and immaculate interior, I’ll guarantee that you will not find any papers on the floor here. A Caña is, from memory anyway 2,20€ and as you’d expect it's accompanied by tapas.
However you get to chose the tapas from a selection that includes delights such as blinis (topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese and caviar), chicken Thai curry on a bed of couscous and my favourite the delightful Morcilla or black pudding tartlet.
Casa Colon is a relaxing a way to start the evening before it gets both messy and before you lose the ability to appreciate such wonderful tapas.
The third is a more traditional bar popular amongst the grenadine locals, Bodegas La Mancha (Calle Joaquin Costa) is centrally located and tucked away down a quiet side street. On a busy evening, you’ll notice paper strewn across the floor, there's little or no seating and its untidiness is part of the bar’s charm and beauty. Generally speaking, 2 or 3 middle-aged men tend the bar and because It does get very busy you may need to "shout up” that is if you want serving anytime soon. Some reviews I’ve seen consider the staff rude I prefer to think of it as being all part of the fun of being in a Spanish bar. Tapas here is both more varied and more typical ham, cheeses, bread, peppers and sausages etc…
It isn’t what I would class as a destination bar and I tend not to spend a lot of time here, its more a very convenient stopping off point on my way to and indeed from number 4 on my list - Taberna Salinas.
Taberna Salinas, Calle Elvira just off Sta Ana in the heart of Granada. Shuttered up during the day, covered in graffiti, beer kegs left outside it is at first sight hardly a welcoming and inspiring choice. Yet once the shutters have been thrown open and the kegs removed this bar is one I could happily spend a whole evening in.
Each caña or glass of wine is as you’d expect is accompanied by some tapas, stay for 10 cañas and you’ll likely receive 10 tapas each one different from the last. Not that I’d recommend or encourage anyone to stay for 10 cañas.
The tapas here is amongst the most varied you will find anywhere, ham, sausage, rice dishes (the paella is excellent), garlic prawns, calamari, meat dishes, albondigas (meatballs in sauce), and the list goes on. Indeed the quality and quantity are such that my husband insists he could survive perfectly well food-wise in Spain on only 5 cañas a day from Taberna Salinas.
My final choice is one that will delight children and us adults alike.
Plaza Bib is a small square located close to the cathedral and is surrounded by restaurants and bars one of which is Churreria Alhambra, strictly it’s not a tapas bar as to my knowledge it doesn’t actually serve tapas with drinks.
That said, I really feel the need to include it as no visit to Granada is complete without churros. So number 5 on my list and number 1 on my children’s list of bars to visit is Churreria Alhambra.
The bar is a popular meeting point for locals in both summer and in winter, yet to me, this place really comes alive on a very cold, possibly even damp Granada winters evening, when there can be nothing and I mean nothing better than sitting next to a steamed-up window, with the bar full of chatter, dipping your churros into liquid chocolate that is both steaming hot, thick and for want of a better word very very chocolaty.
So popular is this place you may just have to queue up to get in, but I guarantee the wait is worth it.
Tapas is without a doubt an important part of everyday life here in Granada as indeed it is in most parts of Spain. Ir de Tapas is I suppose the Spanish version of a British pub crawl only far more sensible and much less likely to end in a street brawl.
Along with the fiestas, siestas, sun, and the relaxed mañana mañana attitude, tapas is part of the Spanish culture that I enjoy the most.
So if you are ever in Granada and need pointing in the right direction feel free to drop me a line I’m always ready and willing to help.