Luke´s Europe Trip: Dispatch 4 (Holy Andalusian Tapas! By Decree Of The King!)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I tend to consider myself a wholesome, PG-rated person. But in looking back at my first three Expeditioner dispatches from my Europe trip, the themes were not exactly the stuff of church homilies. They included: Selling cigarettes in London, The Devil, and illegally visiting Paris’s catacombs.

To redeem myself, I was resolved to make my fourth dispatch filled with family values. I wanted to inform and inspire. My hope was that after people read this dispatch, they would be inspired to give money to charity, forget old grudges and call their mother to tell her that they loved her. And I might have written this, had I not ordered that first beer in Granada Spain.


“Tapas” is the name given to a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks in Spanish cuisine. They abound throughout Spain, but in the Andalusia region, specifically the city of Granada, they will blow your mind.

The word “tapa” comes from the Spanish verb tapar, or to cover. The act of eating tapas now has its own verb, tapear. As in, let’s go out tonight and tapa every bar we go to. I used to associate tapas with thimble-sized portions of food that might taste like something were their enough of it to trigger a taste bud. Then I had my first tapa in Granada.

In Granada the people have tapas, beer and life figured out. At the majority of bars, pubs and cafes, you are given a free tapa with every beer (called caña by the Granadians). These are not the Santiago-are-you-kidding-me-it-is-so-small type Tapas. Often a tapa is a whole plate of food. Order two beers and you feel that you have had a whole meal. Order six beers and you have become a glutton, running a high caloric bill and a lessening state of awareness.

While much of Europe seems to be stuck paying 5 Euros (6.5 Taco Bell soft shell tacos) for a beer, Granada’s prices for a beer with an included tapa tend to run about 2 Euros (1 Taco Bell Chicken Quesadilla and a medium soft drink).

The economics of the whole Granada tapa operation continue to blow my mind. How do they do it? Why do they do it? Well, according to legend, the tradition started when King Alfonso X recovered from an illness by drinking wine and small dishes between meals. After his recovery he decreed that taverns could not serve wine without providing a small snack to go along with it. He was a king who cared deeply about the alcoholics in his kingdom and for that he will always be cherished.

It pays to drink in Granada. Because the King’s order is still headed,  the elderly no longer need to make the decision between their prescription drugs, beer and food. It is now a much simpler dichotomy between prescription drugs and beer. And, let’s be honest, unless they start serving prescription drugs with beer, Spanish drug companies might soon be taking out a second mortgage.  Some students can only afford to eat beer. But unlike college students across the world suffering the same dilemma, college students in Granada never go to bed hungry after a night on the town.

Granadians have come to view their tapas as a basic right. A Spanish friend of mine explained to me how hard it is to go to bars outside of Granada. She feels slighted when the bar tender gives her only beer with her beer.

For budget travelers, gluttons and alcoholics, Granada offers much more than stunning views from the modern wonder of the world, The Alambra fortress. It offers beer with free food, by order of the king. And I think this is something that we can all agree is a good thing.

Variations of Tapas are diverse, but here is a sample of what you could be up against if you order a beer in Granada and elsewhere in Spain:


Salted cod loin served very thinly usually served with bread and tomatoes

Carne mechada

Slow-cooked, tender beef.

Empenadas or empanadillas

Large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables.


Prawns sauteed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (with garlic), or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).


Pulpo means Octopus, and it is usually served in small chunks in the oil in which it was cooked. In its most basic form, salt is also added.

Tortilla de patatas, also known as Tortilla española

A type of omelet containing fried chunks of potatoes and sometimes onion. A variety containing vegetables and chorizo is known as Tortilla paisana.

By Luke Armstrong


About the Author

LukeArmstrongLuke Maguire Armstrong lives in Guatemala directing the humanitarian aid organization, Nuestros Ahijados. His book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” (@lukespartacus)

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