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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.

RELATED: Why you should visit Montenegro now

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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Airports wrote the book on overpriced food. Not getting your fill before you go through security, or not packing enough non-liquid snacks, could mean breaking the bank before you even take off. In the event that you didn’t have time to pack your own grub, traveling on a budget means crossing your fingers and hoping the airline you chose has some complimentary goodies for you. If you really played your cards right, those free treats will actually taste good. Here’s a list of the five best free airplane snacks around. 

Delta serves branded Biscoff cookies. Courtesy of m01229.

Delta serves branded Biscoff cookies. Courtesy of m01229.

1.) Biscoff cookies — The popularity of this delicious little cookie spread like wildfire in the U.S. after airlines began serving it. Until then, it was a treat reserved for Europeans, best enjoyed dunked in coffee. It’s like a gingerbread/shortbread fusion, not too indulgent and just sweet enough. Delta serves a version that has its logo embossed on the cookie, and it should go splendidly with the Starbucks it now serves on all flights. And we can all thank our lucky stars that plenty of retailers in the U.S. now carry Biscoff, so we can get that airplane delight without traveling.

 

Courtesy of Faisal Akram.

Courtesy of Faisal Akram.

2.) Free alcohol — Now here is a rarity. Horizon Air and Skywest, sister carriers of Alaska Airlines, serve complimentary free craft beer and wine on nearly every flight. This is a service those first-class flyers are used to, but it’s novel to us plebeians. The crew picks one craft beer and one wine to serve on each flight. The libations are local to Alaska. United Airlines also offers complimentary house wine and beer for economy passengers on flights between the U.S. and Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

 shutterstock_142818424

3.) Pretzels — When you reach peak altitude, there’s really only three food groups that matter: salty, sweet and alcoholic. The pretzel is the Sultan of Salt. After you’ve dished out $6 for a beer, getting a free little packet of these munchies will feel like Christmas morning. ‘Free’ being the key word here. Delta has your back once again for these complimentary noshes. 

 

Terra Blues Potato Chips. Courtesy of Urbanfoodie33.

Terra Blues Potato Chips. Courtesy of Urbanfoodie33.

4.) Blue chipsJetBlue has created a bit of a cult following for Terra Blues Potato Chips. Every flier gets a personal-sized bag of the chips, made from naturally blue potatoes. They are a bit salty and nutty, and you can feel good about them since they are all natural. Or at least a little better than you would after other airline snacks.  

Courtesy of Daniella Segura.

Courtesy of Daniella Segura.

5.) Peanuts — We’d be remiss not to give this classic in-flight snack a shout out. Peanuts are nearly as synonymous with flights as they are with baseball. In the days of yore they were almost always free available. Now you’ll only be lucky enough to get these little packages salty goodness of select airlines like Delta. Peanuts are also a healthier option than it’s rival, pretzels. Hearty? Not really, but at least eating them will kill five minutes while you stare out the window.

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Tagged: Flights, Food & drink, FREE!

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Cheap Right Now gives a snapshot of a cheap weekend getaway each month.

September in Rome is unmatched. The evenings are becoming cooler, making that glass of red wine on the cafe patio after dinner a little more inviting, but the days are still warm enough to encourage gelato indulgences. Harvest time gives way to festivals honoring the grape, and fall wines are becoming more prevalent. The tourist crowds of summer are subsiding and the Romans are returning from their holidays. Fall is in the air and the city is coming alive again.

Related: 7 breath-taking cruise ports around the world

Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Plane, train or automobile: When visiting Rome, you’ll likely fly intothe Leonardo Da Vinci Roma – Fiumicino Airport. It’s 16 miles outside the city and connected to Rome by rail and by road. You can hop a train, grab a taxi (make sure it has a meter or it could be a scam) or grab a bus, but the cheapest option is the Terravision bus. It departs from Terminal 3, costs 4 euros one way and will deposit you at Rome’s Termini Station near the city center. If you are coming into Rome from another city, take a train into Termini and see the countryside. It should be beautiful as summer nears its end. 

Courtesy of Giovanni.

Courtesy of Giovanni.

Cheap local transit: Once you get into Rome, your cheapest and best mode of transportation is going to be your feet. There is history literally everywhere, and you won’t want to miss a single step of it. Take your time traversing the city and soak in all the sights, sounds and delicious smells wafting out of every cafe and restaurant you pass. If your feet can’t take it any longer, you can resort to Roma Bike Share, but the system has largely been viewed as a failure, according to many reports. If your budget allows it, swing by a bike or scooter rental shop to see the city like a true Roman.

 

Courtesy of Maria Eklind.

Courtesy of Maria Eklind.

Wander with wine: If you’re doing Rome right, there will rarely be a moment when you don’t have either a cup of gelato or glass of wine in your hand. It’s no secret that the wine in Italy is unmatched, but there’s another key fact that makes Roman drinking so great: it’s cheap. Indulge in a carafe of house wine during your meals to experience different standards. Indulge in a bottle, some burrata and people watching one afternoon for a cheap lesson on life in Roma.

Spanish Steps at night. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Spanish Steps at night. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Take a free tour: Multiple companies operate in the city that give free tours of the city. They’re given in English, last about two hours, and dish out history on some of the more famous landmarks—such as the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain—but also take you through unassuming alleys and buildings chock full of history. Go online to book or swing into one of the local travel agents once you arrive in town to find out a start time and location and just show up. Maybe your tour guide can point you toward his favorite nearby pizza spot. 

Sagra dell'uva 2012. Courtesy of Brunifia.

Sagra dell’uva 2012. Courtesy of Brunifia.

Foray in the forum: Each September, Sagra dell’uva is held in the Basilica of Constantine in the Forum. It’s a festival honoring the grape, and an honor it deserves, as all the delicious wine offerings will quickly remind you. There are bushels of grapes for sale for those wishing to make their own, and plenty of samplings for others who don’t want to wait that long.

 

Trevi Fountain by night. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Trevi Fountain by night. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

Tango with the Trevi: Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and it is said you will return to Rome again soon. The fountain lies at the junction of three roads marks the terminal point of an aqueduct that supplied water to ancient Rome. Legend has it that a young girl led thirsty Roman soldiers there for a drink in 19 B.C. It is that scene depicted in stone on the fountain. The only cost you’ll incur enjoying thefountain is the coin you threw into its waters. Tip: Get some gelato from a nearby store and enjoy it by the fountain.

View of Saint Peter's Square from the dome of the basilica. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

View of Saint Peter’s Square from the dome of the basilica. Courtesy of Ally Marotti.

 Stroll through the square: Saint Peter’s Square, or Piazza San Pietro, expands in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It’s where people often gather when the Pope speaks, and it’s especially beautiful at night. Grab a bird’s-eye view of the piazza from the top of the dome of the basilica.

 

Courtesy of Rodrigo Soldon.

Courtesy of Rodrigo Soldon.

Partake in pasta: It goes without saying that some of the best food in the world can be found in Rome. Any cafe or restaurant will do, but for the authentic tastes that go beyond stereotypical spaghettis and run-of-the-mill rigatonis, go off the main streets. Duck into an assuming cafe off an alley and experience the way Italians really eat, not just the things they make for tourists. Eating off the beaten path will keep the prices lower, too.

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Tagged: Cheap of the Month, Cheap Tips, City, Family, Festivals, Food & drink, Holidays, International, Last minute travel, Seasonal