April 26, 2017

The Most Economical Meal in Europe?

Written by:
Maureen McKamey

Having just returned from my honeymoon in Spain, I've got plenty I'd love to share with our blog readers about everything I did, saw, ate and drank. This week, we're starting with the eating and drinking part!

When you visit Spain, you'll inevitably spend some of your time eating tapas. It's more than just a way to fill your belly, it's a cultural (and social) experience. Every night, starting at 9:00 or 10:00, you can watch Spaniards get together with friends and hop from bar to bar, sipping wine or beer and snacking on small plates. (Though, you shouldn't just watch. Join in!) There's even a verb in Spanish for the idea. Tapear literally means "to go out for tapas!"

Fresh seafood tapas at a market in Madrid, along with some Spanish cider

Each part of Spain has a distinct tapas culture. Sevilla is one of the best places for inventive, non-traditional tapas. In San Sebastian, in Spain's Basque region, they're called pinchos, are stacked on top of pieces of bread, and are often gourmet. In Madrid, you can find it all - cuisine from all over the country, and even "supersized" tapas meant for sharing, called raciones. But I'm here to let you in on a little secret.

In Granada, the tapas are free.

The little city in Spain's southern region of Andalucía is known for its rich history, Moorish architecture (including the famous Alhambra palace), and its beautiful backdrop: the Sierra Nevada mountain range. But it also may be the best place in Europe for a (good) cheap meal. That's because every drink you order in Granada is accompanied by a tapa...free of charge.

Now, there are some other spots in Spain where you'll find restaurants and bars boasting this "free tapas" concept, but trust me, it's not the same. In Madrid, you'll either end up with a plate of olives or some chips, or you'll find yourself in a touristy joint offering American-sized portions of mediocre fare. But in Granada, not only is your food complimentary, it's generous, and it's good.

One night, after climbing the steep, winding streets of the Albayzín, Granada's old Moorish quarter, my husband and I stopped at one of the best lookout points in the city with spectacular views of the Alhambra.

A nighttime view of the Alhambra from the Albayzín

After taking in the sites, we realized we were famished. So we wandered into a small taberna, ordered two glasses of wine, and voila! No more growling stomachs after that!

Delicious Spanish omelette at a Granada tapas bar

There are a few caveats - first, you don't get to pick your tapa. It's chef's choice. If you're a picky eater, you should probably just order off the menu. But for us, the surprise was half the fun! Secondly, the tapas tend to get better with every drink, so unlike other spots in Spain, where it's popular to get one drink and tapa and move on to the next place, there's an advantage to lingering in one spot for awhile in Granada.

All I know is that the experience is worth it. Eat a few meals made up of the "freebies" and then use the money you save to splurge on a nice restaurant in town with a stellar view. There are many, and that's exactly what we did.

So now that you've got a little bit of insider information, who wants to go to Granada? I'd love to help you plan your trip to Spain! And stay tuned for a few more blog posts over the next few weeks, as I continue to chronicle my time there!