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Tapas for the Timid or How not to miss the fun in Andalucia

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Jan 2nd, 2014, 04:42 PM
  #1
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Tapas for the Timid or How not to miss the fun in Andalucia

I would appreciate some guidance for a positive tapas experience. Basic questions like does the establishment keep track of what is ordered or is that up to the customer? Do you pay as you go or pay before leaving? Tapas that are free with a drink purchase, does that really happen?

I haven't yet seen the book with audio CD, "Tapas for Dummies" but maybe it's out there

We have been to Spain twice and never really gotten into tapas dining because it seemed so chaotic and at time unwelcoming. No orderly lines formed at the counters, people just standing around, how do they keep track of what food you order, how do you order what you want when you have only a rudimental understanding of Spanish, does tapas dining work best if you have a "pushy" personality? I don't, I still travel with much of my Minnesota Nice upbringing

Is there a typical approach to tapas dining or does it vary and how do nonsavvy tourists join in? Are plates on the counter there for the taking or is it just for display? You would think at my mature age I wouldn't be stressed about the tapas culture in Spain but I don't think it's anything like the trendy places near us where we enjoy our "small plates".

This may seem a naive question to some but I'm hoping for mostly helpful comments in order to enjoy the complete Andalucia dining experience. Thanks, Deborah
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 05:05 PM
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There are different types of tascas or tapas bars. There are some that offer a wide variety of tapas and others that offer a number but are known for one particular tapa.

The tortilla espanola is ubiquitous, a Spanish omelet. You will see it for breakfast and as a tapa. More often than not it will be served cold. The simplest and the most common is just potato and onion but some places will serve it hot or with other ingredients added.

You will see many families in tapas bars.
In cities and larger towns people go tasca hopping where they will go from one bar to another sampling the best of each.

The bars can be chaotic but the people who run these establishments are excellent at serving one and all and keeping tabs on the tab. There are still old-fashioned spots that make chalk marks on the bar in order to do that. You can point to what you like. You can edge your way to the front of the bar.

It is the custom to throw the used paper napkin on the ground.

Some of the more common tapas besides the tortilla are patatas bravas-fried potatoes accompanied by a sauce
Dates wrapped in bacon
Olives
Various cheeses
Mushrooms
Shrimp in garlic (gambas al ajillo)
Chorizos (Spanish sausage)(CHER-iz-oos
Ham-(jamon) but in Spain there are many grades and types of ham
clams-almejas (al-MAY-haas)

But this just a sampling. Do not over think this and just jump in. Watch what the others do and do the same.
Buen provecho.
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 05:36 PM
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I often found a helpful server who would be willing to explain. This was of course more challenging at some of the more chaotic spots. We learned not to go when we were really hungry as it can be super frustrating to look at all of that food and try to get someone's attention when you are hungry (especially when you have the midwestern nice/wait your turn nature)
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 05:59 PM
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Some places count the toothpicks from you samplings. You have to be a little agressive but everyone else is so go for it. The free tapas with a drink are usually a couple of small slices of bread and jambon. Potatos brava are spicy and if you like the sauce you can buy a container in the super market. salsa brava..yummy and travels well.Forget the niceness of your background and when in Rome etc, etc, etc. In this case Spain!!!
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 08:11 PM
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"Some places count the toothpicks from you samplings" That was a hundred years ago... Typically, in Andalucia (Sevilla), you pay as you go. In other villages it's a bit different. Not a big deal, but it's unlike the north where you pay once you are finished and ready to leave.

If the place is busy, then it's the perfect place to head into. If it's not busy, then forget it. Some places in Sevilla start serving tapas as early as noon. Others wait until later in the day.
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 08:19 PM
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You'll also want to check out: Explore Sevilla's tapas recommendations (www.exploreseville.com/tapas-bars.htm)
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 08:40 PM
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Yes! Excellent questions and fine answers! Still tagging along.
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 09:08 PM
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Robert.."toothpicks" was not 100 years ago but 2011..However it was not Andalucia but northern Spain..and also at a small but wonderful local bar in Salamanca on Calle Van Dyke, definitly not in the tourist area!!
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 09:31 PM
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There is no comparable eating experience for tapas in the US. In the US, tapas usually comprise a meal, and that rarely happens in Spain. Many Spaniards have a large lunch and since most do not have some diner until 10 PM, they need something between 5-7 PM. That is when they will have some tapas along with some wine.

There were places in San Sebastian/Donostia that offer a full offering of tapas for breakfast.

If you want to make a full meal of them, though, no one will stop you.
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 10:46 PM
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When we went to Spain several years ago, for the second time, I really wanted to partake of tapas, but my husband was leary, for many of the reasons you mentioned. Also, because after a day of sight-seeing, he didn't want to stand to eat or enjoy a glass of wine while having tapas. We began our trip in Toledo, went further south (Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla), then ended in Madrid. By the end of the trip, we were ready for the chaos of the full tapas experience (mostly) and even cancelled two restaurant meals to have tapas instead.

Yes, places will provide complimentary tapas. At the places we had them, though, they tended to be the less-interesting items. I.e., outdoor at a cafe in a plaza in late afternoon.

Some tapas places do have tables (I figured out those in advance), so for tired tourists we could sit down, rather than stand the entire time. It is common for tables and table service (waiters will come to you) to have slightly different rules - in several places, we could only order raciones or bigger, and not the smallest sizes. That was ok with us, because there were 3 in our group.

We found that if we arrived at the very beginning of the evening tapas hour, or at opening time if at lunch, that the staff would have time to give us a little extra attention and help us with items to order, and so on. Also, we would be more likely to find seats/tables.

If standing, it's more pay as you go. If you have a table, then it's the same as in a restaurant, and the waiter will bring the bill at the end. In either case, the bar/restaurant kept track.

As I recall, at the places that had tables, they often also had printed-out menus. That was better for us, since our Spanish isn't good (but my food Spanish is ok). I could read enough of the chalkboard menus to translate for the group, especially by the end of the trip.
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 06:26 AM
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lexma, I can easily see us using your approach to tapas for our trip. My husband is also the reluctant one to partake--he always wants to know exactly what he is eating, he will try new foods but he wants to know what it is---after years of marriage I don't think he will change so I especially want Ron to be comfortable in Andalucia.

imdone, you have provided some helpful information. We spent just a little time in the Spanish Basque region, we were much more comfortable in the French Basque region of St. Jean de Luz on that trip Deborah
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 07:14 AM
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Next time, go to Nerja just east of Málaga city for the full treat of free and delicious tapas to choose with every drink (1,50-2€) in most of the at least one hundred tapas bars and restaurants in town.

Local favourite El Pulguilla sets the standard: Excellent tapas grilled on the spot (conchas finas, mussels, clams, prawns, monkfish, whitebait, baby-squid, sausages, pinchos morunos, mini-burgers etc. etc.) with every drink for some 1,60€: http://www.elpulguilla.com/bar-res.html
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Andalucia.html
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 07:31 AM
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Kimhe, thank you, I was planning to visit Nerja while staying near Mijas so El Pulguilla will be where we eat. Deborah
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 08:36 AM
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Don't worry--DH and I are the types to fumble through most things looking lost, and we never had any difficulties in three visits to Spain (2 in Andalucia), eating primarily tapas for evening meals. In our experience, the bartender always kept track of everything (which mystifies me!). If you have trouble with numbers, they can give you a bill at the end. If you cannot identify what you want specifically by name, you can always point. I have never experienced free tapas, but maybe sometimes if you frequent a place someone might offer you a free bite.
I will say that my rudimentary Spanish helps, but if you peruse some cookbooks ahead of time (I suggested in your other post) you will be familiar with common items. Just watch what others do and relax--it's fun!
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Jan 5th, 2014, 08:49 AM
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Tapas are not only fun but a great way of finding out what you like. In Jaen tapas are free and come with every drink but not coffee. Ranging from olives and crisps to prawns and meat.

Don't worry about keeping tab, the waiters/bar staff are excellent at that and will bill you at the end. It's often better to have a menu in Spanish and use a phrase book to translate if you need to as menu translations can be wrong.

Relax and enjoy it all, I know you will.
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