What I love about the Spanish cuisine is not necessarily the flavours or the ingredients but the method of consuming food in a form of tapas. Sharing small plates of cold and warm snacks, grilled skewers and meat slices while downing a cold cider and socialising with friends is hands down the best way to spend an evening. And if you happen to be in Spain, the best thing about tapas there is that you don’t have to commit to one place for your evening meal fix. Instead, you hop from bar to bar exploring different house specialties along the way. Outside of Spain, not everyone will have access to a Spanish restaurant but if you do, here is a quick guide to the most Paleo friendly way to tapas it up.
Before we begin, please remember that you can’t know or control what fats are used during the cooking process. Although Spanish love their olive oil, the chances of local kitchens using hydrogenated or seed based oils is fairly high so you just have to make piece with it if you want to eat out…ever.
You should be able to find these common tapas dishes in most Spanish joints although the size, variety and quality will differ from venue to venue.
Things you will have to say no to:
- Bread – yes, I know, soaking sauces and garlic infused olive oil with a piece of warm crusty bread sounds delicious but it’s wheat, carbs and a whole bunch of empty calories that will simply fill you up and make you tired. Decline politely and move on. The same goes for anything served on top of bread, unless you just eat the topping.
- Sangria – unless you make it at home with dry red wine, loads of fresh fruit, soda water and mint (YUM!), you will most likely end up with a sugar loaded concoction made with cheap wine.
- Beer, also known as cervesa in Spanish – this one is a no brainer. Have it if you really, really want it but cider is a better option. Best stick to gorgeous Spanish wine or clear spirits, soda and fresh lime.
- Basically anything that contains grain based flours, creamy dairy based sauces and loads of sugar. That means no to paella, churros, cakes, other rice based dishes and anything deep fried and battered.
Tapas you can party with all night long:
Aceitunas – olives, often stuffed with anchovies or bell pepper.
Albóndigas - meatballs with tomato based sauce.
Alioli – commonly known as a garlic mayonnaise but you can often get it as a side sauce made with olive oil, garlic and salt which is used to pour over meat, fish and other dishes.
Bacalao – salted cod, usually cooked with tomatoes, olive oil, peppers and fresh herbs.
Banderillas – skewers of pickled items like olives, baby onions, baby cucumbers, chilies and other vegetables.
Boquerones – white small anchovies in vinegar sauce, sometimes deep fried.
Calamares – grilled squid rings, stay away from battered varieties.
Pincho moruno – spicy meat skewers with either chicken, beef , lamb or pork.
Spanish Chorizo – paprika spiced sausage that can be grilled or cooked slowly in wine or cider.
Gambas – prawns sautéed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (garlic oil) or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).
Pimientos de Padrón - deep-fried chili peppers sprinkled with sea salt and sometimes chill, super delicious but not frequently found outside of Spain.
Setas al Ajillo - fresh mushrooms sauteed in oil and garlic.
Grilled octopus – usually served with olive oil or tomato based sauce.
Cured meats like Jamon Serrano, Jamon Iberico or salami.
Mussels cooked in tomato sauce.
Grilled asparagus with toasted almonds, grilled red peppers, eggplant rolls.
Cheeky Paleo but ok in moderation:
Patatas bravas – fried potatoes with spicy, garlicy tomato sauce and often with aioli.
Tortilla de patatas – Spanish style omelette made with potatoes and onion.
Manchego cheese – sheep milk cheese from La Mancha region of Spain.
Gazpacho and Salmarejo - both are cold soups made with tomato, red peppers, lots of olive oil, garlic and spices. Gazpacho is often made with white bread so please check before ordering.
When it comes to sweets, the friendliest Spanish options are turrón (Spanish candy made with honey and almonds), crema de limon (contains dairy but no grains), flan (vanilla egg custard with caramel sauce), crema catalan (like crème brulée, contains dairy but no grains). Again, these are SWEET things and contain sugar so they’re not strictly Paleo but if you order to share then you’ll only have a couple of spoonfuls.
So next time you’re planning a night out, consider taking a group of friends for some Spanish tapas. If you’re in Sydney, try authentic En Casa in the city or Spanish Tapas in Glebe, or my favourite Argentinian influenced tapas at Bodega restaurant in Surry Hills. In Melbourne, you can’t go past MoVida in the city or Robbie’s Stein in Brunswick. And if like me, you want to get your tapas fix at home, you can re-create famous morsels in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Do you have a favourite tapas dish? What about a Spanish tapas restaurant in your city that you would recommend?
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