Tapas Confidential: How to Navigate Spain's Tapas Bars Like a Native

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Welcome to Spain, where eating habits are a little different than ours. If you value eating with the locals but prefer your dinner before 9pm, you’d best discover Spain’s bountiful tapas bars!
“Be prepared to eat later,” Spanish Untour Specialist Sonia Ratcliffe explains. “The Spanish eating schedule varies greatly from many Americans’ habits, with a small breakfast in the morning, snack before lunch around 11:30, lunch closer to 2:00, tapas after work around 6:00, and then dinner not until 9:00 or even later.” 
So tapas can be a nice alternative to the late Spanish dinner hour.
Dodge Amaral, Spanish Untour Director, agrees. “For folks who really can’t or don’t want a sit-down meal at 10pm, instead of eating in a restaurant that serves at ‘our hours’ (meaning it’s a tourist place or hotel restaurant), going to tapas bars is perfect for getting fed at a reasonable hour.”
“You can ask or see what’s served as raciones if you want more than a couple bites of something.”
Another tip for the tapas eater: If you are just snacking, do not order tapas until after you receive your drinks. Many restaurants include a tapas or two with a drink purchase. This applies mostly in smaller towns and villages like those in Andalusia, though you may even find little places in Barcelona and Madrid that do this. Ask a local!
“All over Spain, even Madrid, there are still places that give little tapas with each beer or drink,” says Dodge. “But in cities you’re often talking hole-in-the-wall places only locals know about.”
After you take in the freebies, ordering off of the menu is a great option for dinner. Says Dodge, “Given the free stuff is usually quite simple or inexpensive at least by local terms (i.e. olives, eggs, pork products, cheese), the stuff you order off a menu and pay for can be quite sophisticated and substantial.”
“Though maybe not likely in your culinary realm, one of my favorite raciones, which you can even get at the local public pool/bar restaurant in Fuente Tojar, are flamenquines, basically a rolled-up veal cordon bleu often served with fries, lettuce and mayo on the side.”
In Barcelona, they have lots of tapas places that go by the Basque style where you come in and pick from pre-made tapas of different sorts like a small buffet. You grab by the toothpicks, so using the honor system when you pay, they just count the toothpicks to know how much you owe. 
Dodge reports “Last I was there, it was usually 2-3 euros per toothpick.”
And perhaps the best benefit of the tapas bars is their singularly local charm. You will meet residents of the town or city you visit in its tapas bars. It is where happy hour happens, where friends meet and share a drink and snack on their way home from work.
Discover tapas and more in the countryside of Anadalusia or the vibrant heart of Barcelona on a Spanish Untour

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