Spanish Tapas: A Guide to Free Bar Snacks

27 October 2015 0 Comments Category: blog, Cat Gaa, Living in Spain

When I moved to Seville, I imagined I’d nibble on free Spanish tapas every night, using the grocery store for little more than basic kitchen staples. The city and its eye-popping bars-per-capita crown would entice me to eat as much as my belly could hold.

I soon found that there is no such thing as a free meal in Spain, much less a free bite to eat with your drink.

Try Granada or Jaén for free munchies, but don’t expect them in Seville.

Bar staff will occasionally give you a small plate of finger foods, but never enough to make a meal. In fact, the most common origin of the tapa itself is believed to have served a purpose: A bar owner in Jerez is said to have covered a glass of sherry with a slice of ham to protect the sticky-sweet liquid from flies (or perhaps to make sure patrons remembered to eat their way through a bottle).

I am an experienced purveyors of cerveza: my husband and I go out no fewer than two times during the work week to have a beer before dinner, and we often snack on peanuts or olives as we sip. Here’s an unofficial list to bar snacks in Andalucía:




Olives are king in Andalucía, as it’s estimated that over 2.1 million hectares of soil are dedicated to producing aceitunas (ah-see-ah-too-nuns). This is far and away the most common snack you’ll receive in a bar, and their briny taste matches well with a beer or dry sherry. Ask for a second plate for the pits, or simply dump them on the ground.



I was introduced to these strange legumes in a waxy coating during my first month in Spain. Though they’re really called altramuces (all-tray-moo-thez), sevillanos refer to them as chochos. To eat them, use your incisor tooth to make a small tear in the shell, then force the bean out. It’s a lot of work for just a morsel, but they’re yummy!


Cheese and Cured Meats

While far less common, some bars will give you a few slivers of cured meats or cheeses, plus picos. Apart from the mighty jamón, I recommend salchichón and any sort of hard cheese. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the meat on a piece of bread or served with breadsticks, called picos. The latter is almost distinctly Andalusian, so you likely won’t find them outside the region!



Nearby Huelva is home to the gamba blanca, a commonly consumed white shrimp, and prawns are a common addition to many regional dishes. At its most simple, the shrimp, pronounced gahm-buh, is boiled, cooled and sprinkled with sea salt. Don’t be alarmed to see its head and shell still attached – deshelling a prawn with your fingers is an art form in these parts.



Nuts of any time, called frutos secos (froo-toes say-coz), are served at student bars. Sometimes they’re peanuts, sometimes they’re a mixed bag, but they’re always served extra salty. Bars typically hide these, so ask for them by name!


Potato Chips

There is little as simple yet beautiful as the combination of a cold beer and salty potato chips. Those made locally in Andalucía are fried with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Along with olives, potato chips are quite common fare, called patatas fritas (pah-tah-tahz free-tuhs).



Gummy candy, called chucherías or gominolas in the South, are clearly not a palate cleanser for beer or dry sherry. Instead, ask for a small plate of chuches (choo-chase) when you’re out having a cocktail or mixed drink.

Still gunning for free tapas? Look for signs at weekends for free rice dishes or, in colder months, a guiso stew.

Then again, Spanish tapas aren’t hard to find, either, and they won’t hurt your wallet. If you need something to tide you over (Spaniards eat later than most of their European counterparts), make nice with the bartender and don’t be afraid to ask.