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A TAPAS CHEATSHEET (1 : How it's done) - A guide to tapassing in Madrid by Adventurous Appetites.

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Here we start a series of short articles designed to help you on your quest for the best tapas in Madrid with tips on how to do it, how to ask for it, what to order and where to go.

Tapas is a moveable feast, normally eaten on the hoof. While eating and drinking is hugely important, it is the social element that is the key. What could be better than chatting with friends with glass in one hand and a selection of delicious dishes to tuck into as you put the world to rights?

Tapas have evolved from simply being a freebie accompanying your drink, and are now usually ordered by the "ración" or plateful and are meant to be shared. Far from being a snack before a big meal, tapas tends to be a dining experience in itself, which can last for hours!

If you want to get straight to the heart of the city and discover what Madrid is all about, in what we consider the best way possible - through its cuisine, join one of Adventurous Appetites' Madrid Tapas Tours for a fun and social night out mixing a bit of history , light culture and great food and drink...

But in the meantime, here is a quick overview to help...

How to eat tapas?

1) Stand at the bar

· Tapas is normally eaten standing up leaning against the bar.

2) Grab the waiter’s attention.

· Spanish waiters are incredibly busy and it is pretty likely you will have to catch their attention. Bar staff and waiters are notoriously good at avoiding your eye so don’t be shy!

3) Order a drink first.

· It is always good to have a drink while you peruse what is on offer. Start with a small beer - “caña”, a glass of wine - “un vino tinto/blanco”, a sherry - “fino” or a “vermut” (a very traditional Madrid aperitif like red martini usually drunk before lunch)

4) Wait for your free tapas

· when you order your drink most bars will still serve you a free "tapita", it may be as simple as cheese or olives, or as elaborate as bull’s tail stew, but always wait for your freebie before ordering food.

5) Order raciones or platefuls to share.

· A large part of the tapas tradition is about sharing platefuls with your friends. Apart from being very sociable, it is a great way of trying lots of different dishes and flavours. People generally eat direct from the shared plate.

6) Don’t order everything at once.

· Take your time when selecting your food and order it plateful by plateful. Keep your eyes peeled for delicious dishes that other clients are tucking into! Eating tapas is not generally an ‘eat and go’ activity but a social experience that can go on all evening.

7) Move from bar to bar.

Tapas is often done moving from bar to bar, eating the specialty dish in each place, so if nothing spectacular catches your eye as your next taste trip, pay up and go looking for it in another bar.

8) Don't start too early.

In Spain lunch tends to be the big meal of the day with people sitting down to a multi-course meal any time between 1pm and 4pm (keep your eyes open for the "menu del día" where you get a starter, main course and desert or coffee for a fixed price). Tapas is usually done between 8pm (at the earliest, better 9pm) and midnight. If you are arriving at bars before then you will quite likely find them closed for their post-lunch break or not serving food.

What to say:

Madrid is not always the cosmopolitan and international city you might expect and many people do not speak great English. This is one of the city's charms, in our opinion, and means you will get a real Spanish experience.

Generally bar staff and waiters are happy to give it a go, if you are, and it is amazing what you can achieve with a few words, a bit of charm and hand signs!!!

Here are a few phrases to help break the ice or get you out of a spot!

1) Buenos dias/ Buenas tardes:

Good morning (up till about 2pm)/ Good afternoon or evening (from 2pm till about 10pm).

2) Un vino tinto/blanco, por favor:

A red/white wine, please.

3) Una caña, por favor:

A small house beer, please.

4) Otra copita de vino/caña, por favor:

Another wine/beer, please.

5) Un vaso de agua del grifo, por favor:

A glass of tap water, please.

6) Muy rico!!!:

Very tasty!!!

7) Soy vegetariano/a:

I'm a vegetarian (-o for male, -a for female).

8) Soy celiaco/a:

I'm wheatgerm allergic.

9) Soy alergico/a mariscos:

I'm allergic to seafood (pronounce the "g" like "ch" in loch).

10) Hasta luego:

Goodbye or See you later.

11) No entiendo:

I don't understand.

12) Puedo pedir?:

Can I order?

13) Gracias:

Thank you.

14) Donde está el baño?:

Where is the bathroom?

15) La cuenta por favor:

The bill please.


We do hope you enjoyed this article. Please do let us know in the comments and if you have any other topics you would like us to cover please just ask...

Next week we will be publishing the next instalment in this series -YOUR TAPAS CHEATSHEET (2 : What to eat)

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