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Tapas in Spain vs Tapas in US

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I'm just curious about the price of tapas in Spain vs in the U.S.

I hear that tapas are a regular social thing in Spain, but the places I have been here end up being so expensive that I can't imagine doing it very often. We start drinking little glasses of wine and eating little bites and before you know it, we are out $50pp or more.

For me, that is a chunk of change for something that doesn't even fill me up. Is it more of a bargain in Spain?

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  1. Great topic - I love tapas - both what I make at home and eat at Casa Mono (though I understand that what I have there are not really tapas, but have another name that refers to a somewhat larger plate) - but have never been to Spain. At Casa Mono it always ends up costing us about $200 - damn that fantastic wine list - and our appetites! At least it's a good excuse for a siesta.

    I'd be interested in knowing more about what constitutes "tapas" in Spain as compared to what we see in the U.S.

    2 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Not sure what Casa Mono calls it I'm on the left coast, but the "larger portions" are in Spain typically referred to as raciones.

      In Spain, tapas is bar food not dinner. You might skip dinner in favor of a tapas crawl, but lunch is the heavier meal of the day anyway. I think it would be pretty hard to rack up a $200 bill for two at tapas bar in Spain, except maybe at a top-quality marisquería (cigales.... I miss you...) Wine prices are also far more reasonable... can easily get a nice rioja for $10-$15 in a restaurant, or a decent glass at a bar for a few bucks... not the $12 that is so common here now. Small plates in the US just isn't apples-to-apples with tapas culture.

      1. re: Pincho

        Thanks - raciones is the word I was looking for.

    2. We found the tapas in Spain a lot cheaper than the ones here, but then the exchange rate was better! Also, in Spain we got great tapas in dives everywhere, and here it's found only in upscale restaurants with high overhead. Paradoxically, the tapas in Spain were virtually swimming in olive oil (still delish), but no one was overweight except the touristas.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Claudette

        My understanding (again, limited severely by my not having been to Spain) was that tapas were something that Spaniards had in the early evening, to tide one over until those late Madrid dinners - and had a little bars while drinking - not made a meal of as we now seem to do in the U.S. Is that the case?

        1. re: MMRuth

          having lived in spain (madrid), i can tell you that tapas their are pretty different than what you get here (and very different than what you get at casa mono). basically, if you go to just about any non-irish bar and order a cana (little beer) or wine, you'll get a tapa, usually olives, bread with cheese, tortilla espanola, etc, depending on the type of bar you go to, be it gallego, basque, traditional, etc. (in fact, tapar means to cover - in the old days you would put the plate with the food on top of your drink to keep the bugs out, hence tapas). the bar will usually have the tapas out under a glass cover rather than in the kichen). but, you can also go and get tapas, media raciones (slightly bigger), or raciones (very big) with your friends. generally you'd get these with your friends around 9 or 10 because you would eat lunch around 2 and lunch is the biggest meal of the day in spain - dinner is an afterthought usually. in fact, during all of the time i spent in spain, i think i ate a "normal" dinner maybe 5 times. i've always dreamed of opening up a little cerveceria like i frequented daily in madrid.

          mmruth, in ny, the closest i've found to a real spanish tapas bar is boqueria, especially the front area of the restaurant.

          1. re: jon

            Thanks so much for your reply and the recommendation - there was a nice review of Boqueria on the Manhattan board today (I think). Will have to give it a try!

      2. Hi, I live in Madrid... Tapas in Spain aren't just cheaper and infinitely better, they are also very often free with a very inexpensive drink (it's just not true that free tapas aren't plentiful). A free tapa here might be a grilled sardine, a small plate of pimientos del padron, patatas bravas, a slice of tortilla, chopitos (fried tiny squid), boquerones, a bit of morcilla and chorizo, a little montadito (a slice of bread with cheese, sausage, pate, tortilla, etc.)... It really depends on where you go. If you go to a marisqueria, you'll get some type of seafood. If you go to a Gallego place it might be a little slice of empanada or a dish of pulpo. An Asturiano place--a slice of bread with cabrales. A Basque place--some kind of pintxo or buñuelo. Extremeño--migas or some delicious pork by-product. Always on little plates and when you are standing at the bar and order a drink (at the appropriate time of day). If you sit at a table or outside, you might not get the freebie, but you can always order a tapita or racion.. The problem with US tapas bars is that people intend to make a full meal at one place, so every tapas place is basically a jack of all trades but a master of none. Here people graze, share everything, drink, move from one place to another over the span of hours, and generally eat lighter at dinner time.

        2 Replies
        1. re: butterfly

          Thank you so much, Butterfly. This is why I love Chowhound!

          I would love to visit Spain and see for myself!

          1. re: butterfly

            Agh, I had almost forgotten about chopitos... "fried calamari" does not compare! That and morcilla we can't either find or reproduce at the level even of the average corner bar in Spain... am in the U.S.

            I noticed also that at many places, there is one thing almost everyone orders, a house specialty. So you'll hit each place and order the specialty and a beer, then move on to the next place, have _their_ specialty... and a beer. What a delightful way to spend an evening...

          2. Butterfly captured it. I've only been to San Sebastian but that town is literally full of tapas bars. The experience is something like going to a bar with a happy hour buffet of really tasty and creative little bites, except that instead of self-serve you point at what you want (the food is sometimes behind glass, sometimes just right out on the counter.). The idea is to grab a drink or two and a bite or two in each establishment then move to the next place, rather than sit for hours in one place. They are usually simple, small and cheap enough that everyone can get whatever they want. You don't usually share, you just get your own.
            The concept has been completely bastardized here in the States. "Tapas" is a trendy word that has come to mean small portions of anything, and some think everything is meant to be shared family-style. Sadly they are rarely simple or cheap, and often nearly impossible to share. (Ever split an order of one scallop? Fun!)
            I like "small plates" at times but I have yet to find anything in SF that resembles the tapas I ate in Spain.

            1. When I studied abroad in Sevilla, I didn't find a lot of places with free tapas, however for $1-4 you could get amazing food. There were times we did the tapas crawl, and there were also times we made a meal of it at one place. Either way, the prices were always great, and the quality was high. Basically, the exact OPPOSITE of US tapas.

              Many bars would give you free olives/potato chips with any drink you ordered, which I thought was great!