Spain is a traveller’s wonderland for its delicious food, arts and culture, beautiful scenery and a warm climate.
A big part of the food scene in Spain is its bars, which serve small plates of food, known as tapas and pinchos.
While in Barcelona, a city on the north-eastern coast of Spain, I visited a number of these restaurants to sample the local delicacies.
I had previously heard about the culture faux pas that tourists make when venturing into such restaurants and so I wanted to be sure I got it right.
When in the Gothic Quarter of the city I searched for someone who could set the record straight.
Using Plaça Reial, a sun-soaked plaza lined with restaurants and speckled with palm trees just off the famous La Rambla boulevard, as a starting point, I wandered the surrounding alleyways in search of dinner.
Here I found Bodega Biarritz 1881. It was a hole in the wall, full of people enjoying food from a long bar lined with plates full of choices.
While I waited in line I was served a cabernet sauvignon from the Catalunya region and I stood on the cobblestones and people watched (a very European thing to do, apparently).
The waitress lifted the red rope cordoning off the entrance and ushered me into the warm restaurant emitting a red glow and smelling of delicious pastry, cheeses and meats.
I sat at the bar lined with people, while others sat against the back wall on bar chairs around wine barrels.
The waitress explains that the server will go through the choices, explain each one to me, and put what I want on a plate.
It’s hard to count how many options are available as the plates of clustered and the table is long.
The server approaches me, and the process begins.
There’s everything from croquettes, the vegetable stacks, savoury pastries and tarts, meats, skewers and omelettes.
I choose a bit of everything and hope for the best.
He takes them away to heat them up.
While I wait I ask a few questions about the bar, and the food.
Bodega Biarritz 1881 was opened six years ago by a French woman, Stephanie, and her husband, who is Spanish.
Their food ranges from traditional to more modern options.
When it comes to the tapas versus pinchos debate she told me many foreigners are confused by the terms.
Stephanie explained that pinchos refers to the food which is pierced, like on a skewer, while tapas is more of a miniature-sized meal.
As it turns out, it also depend where in Spain you are. For example, in Catalonia — the northeastern region of Spain — they serve tapas, which comes from the word “tapear”, which means “to cover”.
Often if you go to a bar in this region, it will serve tapas for free with every drink you order.
For the Spaniards, tapas is part of the after work culture where people can enjoy a small snack with friends before going home, where dinner is normally served around 11pm.
Meanwhile, in the Basque country in northern Spain, near the border of France, they serve “pintxos” (the Basques have their own language too), which comes from the word “pinchar”, which means “to pierce”.
They are served on a toothpick or on a piece of bread pierced with a skewer.
Once you have finished these meals the toothpicks are then used to count your bill.
One serve of tapas and pinchos can vary in price, from one to four euros.
So the next time you’re in Spain, you’ll be sure to get it right. And whatever you do, find Bodega Biarritz 1881 and have the Catalunya pie — it’s a tomato and herb tart-like tapas, and it’s delicious!
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