As an American, I am dying to get my hands on the banned Jamón Ibérico (ham from black Iberian pigs that have been acorn fed) and Jamón Serrano (a dry, cured ham from the mountains) each time I visit Spain.
The thinly sliced ham is more than a cultural institution, it’s a way of life. When you hold it up to the light, it’s as beautiful as looking through stained glass in the massive, imposing cathedral where you should be praying and hiding out from the inquisition. The jamón was a life saver of sorts at one time, as the one true way to prove your conversion was by eating pork…
BUT – there’s more to life than ham (probably). Here are ten other tapas that are worthy of sharing the spotlight with jamón:
1. Aceitunas - Starting simply, aceitunas are olives. Here in America, we are taught to praise Italy for their olive oil but little known fact is that most “Italian” olive oil comes from Spanish olives. They are really the best in the world. Many tapas bars will marinate them to be more savory, or stuff them with anchovies, as if they need more flavor.
2. Patatas Bravas - These fried potatoes are served differently at every bar you go to, but the one consistent thing is the spicy tomato based sauce covering the potatoes. Spaniards love mayo, so it is not uncommon to also see these with a mixture of mayo and the spicy tomato sauce.
3. Pimientos de Padron - These peppers come from La Coruña and come skillet fried in oil. Most are mild, but every once in a while you will find a spicy one. It’s the best kind of gambling.
4. Chorizo - Spicy Spanish pork sausage that is usually pan fried in olive oil. The sausage itself is seasoned with smoked paprika and other herbs. It goes exceptionally well with a nice white wine, or vino blanco.
5. Queso Manchego - This is a sheep’s milk cheese that is firm and salty. It has pretty serious regional restrictions, and only cheese made inside certain areas in La Mancha can be called Manchego. Often, you will find it sliced, soaking in olive oil. It will then be served on top of a slice of bread.
6. Tortilla - This is my absolute favorite and the only similarity it shares with a Mexian tortilla is that both are round. Tortilla Española is made with first drenching potatoes in oil and frying them until they are soft. Once the potatoes are soft, eggs are added and then flipped to make a frittata or quiche-like “pie.” It often also contains heavy amounts of onions and garlic and often even last night’s leftover vegetables.
7. Croquetas - Ask an Expat Spaniard what they miss most about home and 100% of them will mention food. Some will say jamón, others will say tortilla, but most will say croquetas. Croquetas are quite time consuming to make, which is why indulging on them at the bar is perfect. They are made with a bechamel-like filling that is refrigerated and then breaded, mixed with jamón and then fried. The result are little pockets of heaven.
8. Bacalao - cold, breaded cod served on bread. I grew up land-locked and still don’t really trust fish. Bacalao however, isn’t fishy and even at the diviest tapas bar, it will be fresh. I only wish I could have more of it.
9. Albondigas - Meatballs. As nontraditional as meatballs sound for Spanish cuisine, they have actually quite a history. Spain was conquered for around 700 years by the Moors from Africa, and with them, they brought many new foods and additions to the old Spanish language. Al-bunduq (literally hazlenut, then used for things that are round) were spiced meatballs thought to be of Berber origin, then introduced to Spain during occupation. They are typically soaking in a tomato sauce, and then served with a piece of bread as tapas.
10. Boquerones - Anchovies. I personally do not care for anchovies but the Spanish are wild for them. You will see them everywhere, and tapas bars are the best place to try them out. These are not your typical American grocery store tin of anchovies. These are larger, and always fresh. They come fried and served with bread.