The Londoner in me has always been dubious about free things. Maybe it’s because we’re a miserly bunch thanks to our endlessly rising rents and the ever-rocketing cost of pints, but no matter how much I read about tapas in Granada, I found it hard to believe that an establishment would offer me a complimentary anything. Surely the cost will be tacked onto a bill afterwards? Or the proprietors will cajole me into buying something more expensive to make up for their freebies? Or, perhaps, it’s one of those urban legend situations, where I’ll take a bite and wake up in a bathtub of ice with fewer organs than I started the evening with…
Yet, when I finally explored Granada, a barman would sling out a Tortilla del Sacramonte alongside my drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and often the same price thanks to that grown up attitude the Spanish have towards booze). And I had the pleasure of knowing it wouldn’t be added to any bill, whether I stayed for one or a dozen.
And if, like me, you do carry on (and on), the food will keep piling up next to you. It’s tapas – but not in the terrible, overpaying-for-tiny-plates-of-greasy-muck way you get in British ‘tapas’ establishments. This is the real deal.
So here’s my experience with tapas in Granada – and how it served as an intriguing and delicious intro to tapas culture in general…
Image source: Chase Daley – Unspalsh
Tapas in Granada (and Spain in general), can be confusing to visitors. The most commonly asked question is ‘how on earth do they make any money?’. The answer to that is varied, and not always so nice. Generally speaking, the free tapas one receives is going to be about as gourmet as Burger King – and as salty and greasy to boot. It’s the type of food that is cheap to make en masse, and gets you nice and thirsty. so you’ll drink more, and therefore pay more. There’s also a whole other issue to do with Spain’s poorly paid hospitality workers, although given how low rents (and the general cost of living) can be in the south of the country, they still earn a more livable wage than cafe workers and bartenders in London. Make of that what you will.
Image source:Maddi Bazzocco – Unsplash
With that said, there are some places where the free dishes aren’t just cheap and cheerful. In some of the most vaunted bars in the city, you’ll get plates as interesting and tasty as the sort of thing rich people pay hundreds of pounds to post on Instagram about. For every student bar pushing out endless chips and burgers, there are fancier spots that send out wafer-thin slices of jamón de trevélez, or gravlax artfully arranged on freshly baked crackers. If you don’t want to load up on beer, wine, juice, or whatever else the free food comes with, you can usually get a portion of tapas for a minimal cost.
It’s not hard to find tapas in Granada, either. Almost every bar offers it (although during siesta hours there’s a chance you’ll be stuck with olives and bread). Generally speaking, and for your wallet, this is a good thing, but it does mean that using tools like the ‘Want to Go’ function on Google quickly turns your map into an endless sea of green. If you do stumble across one of the minority of bars that don’t serve free plates alongside your drinks, then you know their paid food must be incredible, or they wouldn’t survive.
Image source: Agent J – Unspalsh
So, where do you get the best tapas in Granada? Locals will have their preferences, but really the answer to that question depends on what you’re looking for. Generally speaking, the streets around the cathedral are buzzing with excellent bars that cater to all kinds of foodies, from the Italian delights of La Loca de Gandoca, to the cooler, modern Spanish dishes pumped out by Bar Fede and El Bar de Eric. The nearby Mercado de San Agustin is also a popular spot for locals, where you’ll see big family lunches alongside teens on first dates and old men settling in for a day of smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and playing cards.
Another unmissable dining area is the charming Calle Virgen del Rossario. The narrow street brims with life, with the upscale establishments that line it almost always full of customers. One of these venues is Taberna la Tana, which is considered by many folk familiar with the city to be the top tapas spot in all of Granada. While a little more expensive than other bars, the venues on Calle Virgen del Rossario are still incredibly good value for money compared to most hospitality options in the Global North. Then there’s the more laidback neighbourhoods and areas where a younger crowd congregates, like Plaza Albert Einstein and Pajaros, as well as specific venues like Bar Candela.
Although research and exploring will certainly net you some great snacks, without locals guiding you your tapas journey will remain incomplete. Granada’s labyrinthine streets hide an untold number of culinary pleasures, so meandering through them and trying to knock off dishes one drink at a time will only get you so far (although it’s definitely a worthy way to spend a day). If you can’t speak Spanish you might struggle to connect with the city’s inhabitants, but they are an incredibly friendly bunch, so even if you barely know your soy from your estoy you’re likely to make some new acquaintances as long as you give it a go. And, worst comes to worst, you can always ask your servers for their favourite places (just make sure they’re not the owners of the bar you’re sitting in!).
Vegans, vegetarians, and those with other dietary needs will have less of a choice when it comes to tapas in Granada, but even so there are plenty of specialist establishments dotted throughout the city to cater to them, especially the meat free. El Oju, El Higo, La Goma, and El Piano are some of the best vegan spots in the city. These bars utilise things like vegan meat and cheese, but also take inspiration from the heavy North African influence that runs through this region of Spain. That means plenty of rice, vegetables, and legumes – so lots of dishes that are naturally vegan.
With that said, if you are a vegan or vegetarian and you want to try tapas in Granada, you might feel rude asking the non-specialist venue to tailor your food; it’s complimentary, after all, and you don’t want to seem ungrateful. But the thing you learn pretty quickly is that tapas isn’t a gift, or something special. It’s a part of how the people in this city live and socialise, and you should treat it like any other part of hospitality. And while options may be lacking (prepare yourself for a lot of patatas bravas sin salsa if you’re a vegan) the will to get you fed definitely won’t be.
Image source:Nacho Carretero Molero – unspalsh
Many tapas bars offer bigger meals too, which can either be larger portions of the tapas or totally unique dishes. While tapas tends to be done on a portion-by-portion scale, these dishes are usually meant to be one of three or four, and to be shared betwen a group. This means going out for lunch or dinner alone in Granada can be difficult sometimes, as you’ll end up with a huge portion of one thing; usually deep fried fish or meat. There are a number of places where you’ll find some solo-friendly options, but if you’ve taken my advice and made some local mates, then chances are they’ll be more than happy to join you. When it comes down to it, that’s the greatest thing about Granada: people want to live, to have fun, and to eat well – whether it’s free or not.