26 September 2022

‘Dine Smarter, Not Harder’: The Tapas Rule You Need To Know Before Going To Spain


No Spanish holiday would be complete without going out for a night of tapas and drinking – but there’s one rule you should know before settling in at a restaurant.


For those not in the know, tapas (or pintxos if you’re in the Basque Country) are appetizers or small dishes served alongside drinks. It’s one of the best parts of Spanish culture: rather than spending your night at one restaurant or bar, you might visit multiple small places, eating tapas and drinking along the way.

Indeed, many bars in Spain will offer free drinks alongside tapas, which are typically of a very high standard. Tapas has grown into a rich and sophisticated tradition in Spain, and it’s why many gourmands say Spain has the best food in the world.

But there’s nothing worse than bad tapas… Which is why there’s a clever rule you’ve got to know before your next Spanish holiday. It’s called the ‘bravas rule’, expat and foodie James Blick explains, and it’s a gamechanger.

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WATCH the ‘bravas rule’ explained below.

Essentially, if you’re at a tapas bar and you’re not sure whether it’s going to be good or not, order the patatas bravas. If those are good, the rest of the food is likely to be good, but if they’re bad, the rest are likely to be bad, he explains.

Patatas bravas are a tapas staple and one of Spain’s best dishes. It’s a basic dish – fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato-based sauce – but they’re an absolute delight. If done properly, at least.

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I can vouch from experience, having travelled to Madrid earlier this year. The very first tapas place I went to, which I went to with a local, had amazing bravas – so in retrospect it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that when we ordered more dishes, they were all amazing (I’m still dreaming about the cocido madrileño we had…)

But then the last place I went to served us truly terrible bravas, and lo and behold, the rest of the food we had was decidedly average. If I had known about the rule before dining, maybe we would have done better elsewhere.

Getting stuck into tapas in Madrid. The bravas were long gone by this stage… Image: Jamie Weiss/DMARGE

Other tapas staples that are a good measure of a venue include the croquetas, the calamares or even simply the bread – if the bread’s not fresh, don’t bother. Alternatively, order a caña (a small beer) and see what comes with it… A decent place will serve you something decent.

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This rule doesn’t just apply to tapas bars or Spanish food, either. A gelateria can be judged on the basis of its vanilla, a ramen place by its tonkotsu, and so on. Dine smarter, not harder.

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