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Those small snack plates known as tapas are an art form in Spain. They vary throughout Spain’s regions, reflecting the fruit of the land or sea. They’re often shared, and always delicious. In Spain, where dinner is served late, they make the perfect appetizer, and often come free when you buy a drink. The tradition is built around conversation, with the idea that small, shared plates encourage discussion among friends more than individual meals.

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tapas

Tapas, or small snacks, usually come with each round of drinks in Spain. Photo: Salomé Chaussure – Flickr.

The history

The word tapa comes from the Spanish word “tapar” which means “to cover.” Way back in the day, when people traveled through Spain on old Roman roads, and when hardly anyone could read or write, innkeepers would serve their guests small portions of everything they offered. That tradition morphed over the years, and bartenders or restaurant owners would serve bread and meat bites to customers drinking sherry, since the salty nature of the snack made patrons thirstier. People would use the bread and meat to cover (tapar) their glasses of sherry to keep the flies off, and thus the tapas tradition was born.

Best tapas spots

In Barcelona, Las Ramblas is one of the most popular streets in the city, full of places to shop and eat. But it’s very touristy, and also draws pickpockets. Instead, try going to Gracía, a neighborhood with an increasingly hipster bent. Try Restaurant La Pepita or Nou Candanchu.

In Madrid, delicious tapas restaurants are lurking around every corner. Stop in Museo del Jamón on Calle Mayor to get your feet wet and really immerse yourself in ham (really, there is jamón everywhere). Then pick one of thelittle streets of Calle Mayor and wander to a tapas place. If you think there’s no room for dessert, Calle Colorares has a great chocolatería.

Many bars around Spain have gone against tradition, tacking price tags onto tapas. In Granada, though, tapas remain mostly pure and free. Near Plaza de Santillana is Bodegas Espadafor. Not only is its food good, the walls are adorned with art depicting bullfights and the bar has a great sherry selection. Also try Bodegas Castañeda on Calle Almireceros, off Calle Elvira.

What’s on the menu

In honor of this time-honored and delicious tradition, here are some of the most delicious and authentic tapas Spain has to offer:

croquetas

Croquetas have a fried crispy outside with a warm and creamy inside. Photo: Kent Wang – Flickr.

Croquetas — Quite possibly one of the most beloved and common tapas, and often available in tapas restaurants in America. Croquetas are small and often cylindrical, with a soft, warm and creamy inside and a crispy, fried shell. The inside isoften made with flour and cream, or may be made with potatoes. They’re then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Most croquetas have some kind of meat or fish mixed in, so look for croquetas de pollo (chicken) or croquetas de jamón (ham), to name a few.

jamón serrano

Slices of jamón serrano are cut from cured pig thighs often seen hanging in Spanish bars and restaurants. Photo: Anne-Arnould – Flickr.

Manchego y jamón serrano — Manchego, a cheese that’s a hard, very salty and not too sharp, is often served alongside jamón serrano, which is ham cut from the pig’s legs you’ll see hanging in almost every restaurant and market in Spain. The flavor combination is perfect, and both pieces of the concoction are very Spanish.

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate, or bread with tomato, is a popular tapa in Catalonia. Photo: yosoynuts – Flickr.

Pan con tomate — Or bread with tomato, is a very Catalan dish. Catalonia is the region surrounding and including Barcelona, and stretching up into Southern France. They take a tomato and smear it all over some fresh, often toasted and oil-covered bread, throw the rest of the tomato away, and sprinkle some salt over the bread. At tapas restaurants in America, you’ll often find this topped with manchego. It’s a wonderful dish, but in Spain they serve simpler dishes, not weighed downwith sauces and cheeses like we do with much of what we eat here. So make sure to try it in its true form before adding cheese.

Tortilla de España

Tortilla de España is made with eggs and often onion and potatoes. Photo: ornello_pics – Flickr.

Tortilla de España — This is probably one of the most universal tapas dishes in Spain, and it has nothing to do with what we often think of as tortillas. Many menu translations will call it a Spanish omelette, but it’s really more of a thick frittata. Tortillas can be made with many things, but some of the most common are tortilla de papas (potatoes), tortilla de calabacín (zucchini) and tortilla de cebolla (onion), or some sort of combo. Some places serve these cold, so keep that in mind if you’re not into eating cold eggs.

Papas bravas — Another basic, these are fried potatoes with a little bit of spice. They’re cubed and often served with some sort of aioli or similar dip.

Jamón con melón

Jamón con melón. Photo: yashima – Flickr.

Jamón con melón — A beautiful salty/sweet combination, jamón and melón isn’t quite as easy to find as some of the other tapas for some reason. There’s a wonderful kind of melon available in Catalonia throughout most of the summer that is green like honeydew but is much sweeter. Slice that up and wrap it in a slice of jamón, and you’ve got yourself a little bite of heaven.

Tagged: Food & drink, FREE!, International

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People groan about layovers, and we can’t help but wonder why. The longer the layover, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to leave the airport and explore! With the inexpensive flights we love often come lengthy layovers—and here are a few of the best layover cities in Europe for making the most of it.

London, England

Pedro Szekely, http://bit.ly/2ckCCIc, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: London | Pedro Szekely, Flickr

Aww, poor you! Do you have a long ol’ layover in London? Just kidding! You’re so lucky—not only is London’s Heathrow a paradise for shoppers (there’s an 11,000 sq ft Harrods inside), but you’re just a 15-minute train ride on the Heathrow Express to central London. What to do with your limited time? Take it from us: Just pick an area and start walking. London is so huge that it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to plan too much, but there’s so much to see and do that any direction you pick will yield some serious treasures. A good place to start is the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral; gaze in awe at its ornate golden ceilings before heading across the street to Tate Modern for a dose of contemporary art. Afterwards, you’ve earned a snack, and the place to get it is Borough Market, where the restaurants and shops are open all week and there’s a farmer’s market on the weekends. If you’ve still got some time left, grab a pint at one of the hundreds of neighborhood pubs and just watch the world go by.

Paris, France

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Oui, you can take awhirlwind trip to Paris! Just a 45-minute train ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport will bring you to the massive Châtelet-Les Halles station, where you can store your luggage for a small fee and transfer to any neighborhood you like! Like London, Paris is too sprawling to try to conquer it in less than a day, so pick a single area to wander through and soak up the Parisian lifestyle. We recommend heading to Ile de la Citie, the hopelessly romantic island of Paris, which has the Notre Dame Cathedral at its tip. Drape yourself along the bridges and watch the boats slide by, then wander until you find a cafe (it won’t take long, we promise). Sit down, order a cafe creme, and weigh your options: Sunset boat tour along the Seine? Or postpone your flight indefinitely?

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moyan Brenn, http://bit.ly/2czKvvi, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: Amsterdam | Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Amsterdam is a fantastic city for long layovers—you’re a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station, where you can store your luggage, and hello: This is a seriously fun city, with an active nightlife and interesting museums. If you arrive in the evening, the infamous Red Light District is a quick walk from the station; by day, don’t miss renting a bike and pedaling along the city’s beautiful canals like the locals. Make time to stop for cafes! But keep in mind: When in Amsterdam and inneed of coffee, ask for a cafe—asking for a coffee shop will get you directions to the nearest marijuana shop. And if you only have time to see one major sight, make it the Anne Frank House, the truly moving museum that chronicles one Jewish family’s experience during the Holocaust.

Istanbul, Turkey

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There’s so much shopping and dining just outside your gate in Istanbul that you may never want to leave the airport. That said, even beyond those airstrips, Istanbul is heaven for layovers. Everyone who leaves the airport has to pay a $20 visa fee, but after that, it’s simple to hop on an express bus. Once out of the airport, check it out: You’re in an ancient city, a cross between East and West, and spindly minarets puncture the skyline everywhere you look. Don’t miss sightseeing at the famous Blue Mosque, and check out the Grand Bazaar—it’s as fascinating today as it was centuries ago. Stop to have a drink of raki, Turkey’s anise-flavored national drink, and if there’s time, book a boat tour on the gorgeous Bosphorus river.

Venice, Italy

Gondolas in the canals in Venice. Surely this is the prettiest of the best layover cities.

Photo: Venice | Moyan Brenn, Flickr

If you have a lengthy layover at the Marco Polo Airport (a popular stopping point for travelers going to Asia), by all means, take the opportunity to explore Venice. From the airport, follow the signs for the water bus to central Venice, and hop on! Enjoy the sight of Venice appearing on the waterline, then exit at San Marco square for a jaw-dropping scene: Here is a majestic city plaza (once the largest in Europe!) and an ancient cathedral gorgeous enough to make you cry. Grab a gelato, take a stroll around the square, and enjoy the ambiance—pigeons rise from the crowds in startled flocks, and it seems the whole world has congregated in what was once the most powerful city in Europe and Asia. If you’re feeling posh, treat yourself to a snack at Cafe Florian, reputedly the oldest cafe in Europe, and sit surrounded by Neo-Baroque gilt mirrors and waiters in traditional tuxedos. Afterwards, take a gondola ride to see Venice as it was meant to be seen: from the water.

Madrid, Spain

Игорь М, http://bit.ly/2ckCrMT, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: Types of Madrid | Игорь М, Flickr

A long layover in Madrid is so good we’re jealous. You can store your luggage at Madrid Barajas Airport and hop on an airport transfer shuttle to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s bustling main square.Visit The Prado Museum for a chance to see one of the world’s finest collections of European art, but really, Madrid is entertaining just to walk through. There are so many tempting places to eat and drink (the Market of San Miguel! stop for tapas and wine at multiple bars!), and so many sites of historic significance—the Royal Palace of Madrid and Plaza de Cibeles among them. Meaning all you need to do is point your feet in a direction and keep moving for an adventure.

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Tagged: City, Flights, International, Tips & advice