This looks good, what is it?” I ask the waiter in front of me. The answer gets lost somewhere between my limited understanding of Spanish and his strong Andalusian accent. It doesn’t matter really, I’m not even hungry. Hunger is irrelevant in Spain anyway.
Seeing the perfectly displayed tapas in front of me, a glass of Rioja in hand, I’m ready to devour it all!
This is my 3rd time in Málaga. A mere 10 km away, the resorts serve up stodgy paella and sickly sangria. But the city has managed to preserve its soul and I’m on a mission to find the best tapas in Málaga!
“Tapear”, “ir de tapas” or “ir de tapeo” simply means to go out for tapas. Nothing difficult about it; you just go from one bar to another and dive into an endless array of bite-sized food morsels, whether they are deep-fried sea creatures, grilled veggies soaking in garlic-infused olive oil or the traditional “tortilla de patata”.
On a busy evening “ir de tapeo” can be a bit overwhelming for a first-timer though, so follow these tips and you’ll soon be ordering your tapas like a local!
- Any time is a good time to go for tapas, but locals tend to go in the evening. I would suggest starting your tapas tour around 8pm. The crowds start gathering, but you can still move about. It’s a good time to ease into it, before the mayhem starts.
- Push your way forward. In a typical tapas bar there will be no table service, you simply order at the bar. All good, but you’ll soon notice that Spanish aren’t a big fan of the UK’s “queuing” system. It’s survival of the fittest here. Push yourself forward, shout your order over other people’s heads and you might be in with a chance. No need to be polite or wait till the waiter makes eye contact, just grab his attention, if not you’ll still be starving by the end of the night!
- Don’t stuff yourself all in one bar. Oh it’s tempting! After having spent endless amounts of time in Spain, I still struggle with this one! Some bars are just too nice to leave and you simply want to taste all the food that lies in front of you! Try not to. Discerning locals know where you can get the best jamón iberico, the best “patatas bravas”, etc and they’ll switch between bars to taste the specialties. Have a look what they order and follow their example.
- Share. Order a few tapas amongst friends and share so you can taste loads of different specialties! In most bars, tapas will come in 3 different sizes:
– tapas size: a bite-sized, small morsel
– media ración: half a portion
– ración: a full portion
Ordering a media ración or ración between a few people is the way to go!
- Look out for free tapas! Yes, you read that right. In some bars when you order a beer, you get a small tapa for free. You can’t choose it though and it can be anything from a few olives to a small onion soup! Needless to say you won’t find those bars in busy touristy areas, so as always, go where the locals go!
- If you are in a Basque tapas bar, the tapas are very likely to be “pintxos”. They are basically like tapas, except that pintxos are usually ‘spiked’ to a piece of bread with a toothpick. They are displayed on the counter, or brought along by a waiter on a plate, and you just grab whatever takes your fancy. Make sure to keep the toothpicks, you hand them in at the counter afterwards, where they are counted and make up your bill. Pintxos are usually eaten in the north of Spain, but in major cities you might come across Basque tapas bars.
What should I order?
Oh my, where do I start? You can probably fill a small book with all regional varieties but this post is about discovering the best tapas in Málaga, so I’ll focus on the tapas that you are most likely to find in an Andalusian tapas bar:
- Tortilla de patata. Let’s start off with a classic, which can be found all over Spain. The tortilla de patata is basically a potato omelette, often with bits of onion added into it. It should still be moist inside and is quite filling.
- Patatas bravas: another classic. Patatas bravas are small potato cubes, fried in oil and served with a spicy tomato sauce. The quality of the patatas bravas can vary greatly from bar to bar!
- Flamenquín. The flamenquín consists of a slice of pork or veal, covered with a slice of ham, rolled into a tube and then breaded and fried. Often cheese is added too.
- Rabo de toro: oxtail stew, usually braised or slow-cooked. Very rich!
- Gambas al pil-pil: prawns sizzled in olive oil, with garlic and chili. One of my favourites!
- Gazpacho/salmorejo. Gazpacho is a cold, blended soup made of tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and onion. Salmorejo is a thicker version. They can be very refreshing on a hot day!
- Ensaladilla rusa: potato salad with peas, carrots and onions, smothered in mayonnaise. Sometime ham or tuna is added. Not a fan!
- Pimientos de padrón: small green peppers, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. They vary from mild to really fiery!
- Secreto ibérico: the “Iberian secret”. A thin and tender cut from the famous “Iberian pork”. Cooked over a griddle or hot flame and sprinkled with coarse salt. Perfect food for carnivores!
- Cazón en adobo: bites of fried fish, marinated in oil and vinegar
- Riñones al jerez: kidneys (often lamb) cooked in Jerez wine. I’ve never tried them.
- Berenjenas con miel: deep-fried, crispy aubergine fritters, covered with honey.
The best tapas bars in Málaga
Málaga is situated on the Costa del Sol, but somehow very much overlooked by sun-worshippers heading straight for the costas. It’s a city that has managed to keep its local flair. All of the bars below are situated in the city centre and in walking distance from one another. Spend an evening in these bars and you are sure to taste some of the best tapas in Málaga!
1/ Cortijo de Pepe
This bar is situated on Plaza Merced. Go when the scorching afternoon sun makes way for a more balmy evening and the bars around one of Málaga’s main squares start filling up. Cortijo de Pepe is a firm favourite with locals. It’s a place where waiters shout their orders into the kitchen, where beer and wine flow abundantly and the grill is working overtime. This is the Spain I truly love!
Address: Plaza de la Merced 2
2/ Casa Lola
The bar specializes in vermut, a drink similar to Martini. The blue and white tiles on the façade give the place an old-worldly look. You could easily spend the whole evening on the terrace here, watching passers-by, nibbling on some olives and croquetas.
Address: Calle Granada 46
3/ Cervecería Los Gatos
You know a place is good when the crowd spills out onto the pavement! It is one of those few places where your drink is still accompanied by a free tapa. A bowl of crisps, some peanuts, a few olives, … depending on the waiter’s mood.
Address: Plaza de Uncibay 9
4/ Bodega Bar El Pimpi
The Bodega is an institute in Málaga! Included in every list of “best tapas bars in Malaga”, the place is a labyrinth of cellars where the walls are adorned with old wine barrels, bull fighting posters and signatures of famous Andalusians. It’s in every guide book, so it gets its fair share of tourists, but is still worth checking out!
It’s more a restaurants than a tiny tapas bar, so this might be the place to go for a bigger “ración”
Address: Calle Granada 62
5/ Lo Güeno
Another one of those frenetic tapas bars where the jamón is hanging down from the ceiling and where, during busy times, you have to fight your way to the bar to get your order in. Settle for a fino, accompanied by some Manchego cheese. A great way to finish off your tour!
Address: Calle Strachan 12
What are your favourite tapas bars in Malaga? Or elsewhere in Spain? Looking forward to reading them in the comments!