Culinary Culture

Tapas in Seville: Spain’s Delicious Tradition

August 6, 2015
Traditional Tapas bar Seville, Spain

A traditional taberna in Seville, offering wine & sherry with tapas. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Seville is the vibrant capital of Andalusia, and the ideal place to indulge in Spain’s quintessential culinary delight – tapas. Sometimes called the “tapas capital of the world,” Seville is home to more than 3000 bars and eateries serving tapas, from basic fare to gourmet cuisine. Touring Seville’s tabernas to gorge on tasty tapas is one of Spain’s great foodie pleasures.

The Basics of Tapas

Tapas are modest portions of food, usually served with beer, wine or cocktails. They may be as basic as olives or cheese or complex gastronomy, served either hot or cold. Tapas are made of regional ingredients, usually olives and olive oil, garlic, vegetables, fish and seafood. Beef and lamb are popular, but the most common meat is pork. Salads, sandwiches and fried bites are tapas staples.

Tapas are generally bite-sized, but can also be ordered as media raciones (half plates) or raciones (full plates) for more substantial portions. Part of the fun of “tapearing” (visiting several bars for drinks and tapas) is to share delicious discoveries. Tapas culture and the practice of tapeando are an essential aspect of Spanish social culture, especially in the south.

Tapas, Seville

Pork Loin with Whiskey Sauce, including big chucks of garlic. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Tapas dining is usually informal and commonly eaten standing at the bar or at small tables. Good tapas bars are often crowded, convivial and noisy (look for locals and piles of wadded-up napkins and toothpicks on the floor).

Cold tapas are sometimes self-service (you’ll find a stack of plates), while hot tapas and racíones are made to order. The menu is often written on a wall or chalkboard and you order from the bartender. To compete with the seasoned locals when ordering, be assertive with an audible and direct, “por favor” (please).

Eating and drinking is usually cheapest at the counter. You may pay a little more to eat sitting at a table (mesa) and still more for an outdoor table (terraza). The bartender will keep track of your tab. To pay when you’re ready to leave, simply ask for “la cuenta” (with, of course, the customary “scribbling” pantomime).

Tapas are usually served between 1.00pm – 4.00pm and from 8.00pm – midnight. Some bars serve drinks and cold tapas from 5pm – 8pm.

Tapas, Seville

A selection of tapas, great for sharing. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Tapas in Seville

There are several theories on the origin of tapas (the most probable – the use of bread or a small plate of food on top of a glass to shield one’s drink from dust or insects). But tapas in its modern form is believed to have begun in the taverns and bars of Seville and Andalusia.

Several of Seville’s tapas bars date back to the 19th century (one reportedly to 1670). In traditional tabernas you’ll often find cured hams hanging from the rafters, dark wooden bars, and walls adorned with photos and posters of Sevillian culture like bullfights and Semana Santa.

Tapas, Seville

Succulent Carrillada de Cerdo (Pork Cheeks) in red wine sauce. Melts in your mouth. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

While tapas are given free when ordering drinks in some cities, in Seville one always orders and pays for tapas. In general, the prices are low and the quality is quite high. Tapas in Seville usually cost under 2€ for simple fare to around 3.50€. At modern tapas bars prices may reach 6€ for a tapa made of expensive ingredients.

Sevillanos usually accompany their tapas with beer (Cruzcampo is the local brew), Manzanilla or a glass of fino (dry sherry from Jerez). In the heat of summer, tinto de verano, the local sangria made of wine, lemonade and ice, is popular as well.

While traditional times for tapas are mid-afternoon and evenings after 8:00pm, many bars in Seville serve tapas all day, especially in tourist areas.

For an excellent guide to the cuisine of Seville, including its traditional tapas and finest tapas bars, see the Seville Gastro Guide by Spanish Sabores. In fact, Spanish Sabores should be your go-to resource for Spain’s rich culinary offerings.

Fried fish tapas, Seville

Pescaito Frito (fried fish), including cod, hake, shrimp and calamari and fresh chips. Delicious! Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Seville Tapas Tour

I was recently lucky enough to spend an evening tapearing with Lauren Aloise, founder of Devour Spain. Unlike my previous attempts to master tapas (hindered by my muy poco español), Lauren offered expert suggestions that allowed me to discover some scrumptious specialties. She provided context about Seville’s history, cuisine and culture, which greatly enhanced the experience. I loved that the tour focused on authentic, family-run bars and eateries where we could interact with the locals and support the local economy. Finally, even if I had known of these superb tabernas, I would likely have spent hours trying to find them in Seville’s labyrinth-like streets.  

To explore and savor Seville’s tapas, cuisine, and culture, I highly recommend Devour Seville’s Tastes, Tapas and Traditions of Seville Food Tour.

Tapas bar, Seville

Deciphering the menu at a traditional Sevillian taberna. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Have you indulged in Seville’s tapas bars? If so, what was your favorite bar or tapa?

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