food

What American Tapas Restaurants Get Wrong

The other day, while reading my mother’s copy of Reader’s Digest, I stumbled along a “funny” quote:

What the ...?

What the …?

This shouldn’t have enraged me … but it did. Okay, perhaps “enraged” is the wrong word to use, but I was rather miffed after reading this. I even Tweeted about how this person clearly didn’t get tapas. But then I thought about it some more. This person did get tapas, except he had only had tapas in American restaurants, meaning his experience was worlds away from what real tapas are like. I guess I couldn’t blame him, though I did blame Reader’s Digest for publishing his inane comment.

The real question is—What do American restaurants do wrong when it comes to tapas? Is it even possible for them to do it right?

American restaurants serve tapas at raciones price.

In Spain there are usually a few different categories of dishes on the menu, including tapas and raciones. Tapa are individual sizes, whereas raciones are meant to be shared among 3–4 friends. In the U.S., the restaurants make you pay much more for smaller-than-raciones sizes, meaning the guy in my picture is, um, right.

Whole Foods refers to tapas as “tiny treasures of Spain.”

American restaurants hardly ever give you anything for free.

Don’t you love getting something “for free”? It’s not really free, but in many Spanish restaurants (outside of certain areas), you’ll get a free tapa when you order a drink (a beer, a glass of wine, or a soft drink). I’ve never been to a tapas restaurant in the U.S. that does this.

There is no tapeo experience.

The true Spanish tapeo experience involves walking from bar to bar to get the best thing at each particular bar. In Zamora, for example, we know the best place to get a pincho moruno (pork kabob), calamares (fried squid), and a sandwich made with pork loin and Cabrales cheese.

You go from bar to bar with a group of friends. Ponéis todos un bote, meaning you all pool your money for a kitty—you then use this money to pay at each bar instead of everyone paying for their own drinks at each place. (You must put someone in charge of this. Choose wisely.) At the end of the night, if there’s money left over, we usually just save it “for the next one.” In Spain, there is never the last round; it’s always la penúltima (next to last).

The drinks are expensive.

When I come back from Spain, I can never believe how much wine is here. You want me to pay $10 for one glass of mediocre wine?! And you’re going to serve it to me room temperature? And you’re going to fill the glass up? I know it’s not like that in nicer places, but so many places just don’t know how to serve wine. At all. In Spain, you can get a good glass of wine for €3–€4 in Madrid, and in Zamora, we pay for €1.30 for a really decent glass of Toro wine.

Beer in Spain, if not usually good, is at least cheap. There are more and more places to get craft brews, but those tend not to be your traditional tapas bars.

And stop it with all the sangría, okay? Spaniards do drink it—sometimes—but most will likely opt for a beer, wine, or even vermouth.

Paella.

I know not even to get a Valencian started on paella, so I won’t go too into too much detail. But stop with the paella crimes, okay? Just stop!

So what do American tapas restaurants actually do right?

In my opinion, not a lot. They push things like sangría, they mix up Spanish with South American, and they charge way too much for way too little. However, I can say one thing: The taste of the food is good, even if there’s too little of it to really appreciate.

What’s your experience with tapas restaurants in the U.S. or other countries besides Spain?

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What to Eat in Munich

With regards to food, I had no idea what to expect in Munich. Usually I do a bit of research, try to read up on the cities I visit beforehand. This time, however, I relaxed and let myself be guided by my personal tour guide: Mario. You see, Mario lived in Munich for a year around 2005–2006, and he knew his way around—geographically and culinarily. I mean, I had heard of Munich’s beer scene, though. And believe me, I was excited to drink some decent beer. No more Mahou or Cruzcampo for me! (Sorry for those of you who actually like that stuff, but ugh. Just no.)

Thus, I set out blind, not knowing what delights awaited me! Here’s what we ate and drank in Munich.

Weißwurst

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Let’s Link—Week 6

Ah, vacation. Isn’t it great? I never choose to spend my Christmas holidays traveling, as many do, but instead I venture home every year in order to spend time with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and many more. (Mario stays in Spain to be with his family work.) This means I think less about blogging and more about baking Christmas cookies, watching IU basketball, and hanging out with my parents. Yeah, I’m that cool. Fortunately for me, I’ve had the opportunity to reunite with some close friends from high school. I haven’t laughed like that in a long time! It’s great to be with people who you really identify with. I’m beginning to see why I’m okay with not wanting to live in Spain forever.

Anyway, all that to say: let’s link! Are you ready for some thought-provoking bits of information? Of course you are!

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I really enjoy reading Janet Mendel’s blog. She writes about her kitchen and culinary adventures in southern Spain. Like me, she is a Midwesterner. She wrote about a traditional Spanish Christmas food I’d never heard of—the cardoon.

Cat wrote about her favorite Spanish Christmas traditions, which include Sevilla’s beautiful Christmas lights.

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Spanish Christmas Foods

Christmas is about food (among other things), and in Spain it’s no different: food is the perfect way to gather the family, sit down to a huge meal, and talk and drink for hours. What foods remind you of Christmas? For me, it would have to be turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, pies, and Christmas cookies. Let’s not talk about eggnog, please. In Spain, things are a little different (as always).

Salamanca Spain Christmas

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What do Spaniards eat at Christmas?

Keeping in mind that this varies by household, here are some of what Mario’s family and friends along with my students here in Madrid eat for Christmas:

Seafood

Spain Christmas Prawns

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If you don’t know much about Spain, this may surprise you: Seafood? At Christmas? But yes, it’s true—seafood is one thing my students always mention when we talk about Christmas meals. Shrimp, prawns, octopus … you get the picture! Christmas and seafood, mariscos in Spanish, are not incompatible. Here in Spain, the selection is almost always fresh and good quality, so what’s not to love? Except if you’re an octopus hater like me.

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