Tag Archives: jamón

Seville | 10 Typical Tapas

People often ask me questions like “What is your favourite tapa?”, to which I usually answer “what’s your favourite song?”. Obviously it’s impossible to choose just one, but I can tell you about the most typical/popular tapas (or foods in general) that people eat here. And so, in response to popular demand, this is a list of 10 very typical – and delicious – Spanish tapas. It’s not definitive. It has a regional bias towards Andalucia (no Pulpo a la Gallega, no Paella, no Fideuá), and some personal biases too (no Ensaladilla Rusa or Callos a la Madrileña). And there’s plenty of common dishes not included because this is a top ten, not a top fifty.

jamonjamón Ibérico de Bellota

Cured ham Jamón is close to being a national obsession in Spain. Hams can be seen hanging from the rafters in all the best bars, and every tapeo should begin with a plate of it served in those wafer thin slices. The best quality is Iberico, made from the Spanish black-footed pig (pata negra), but Serrano is good too.

Fresh Anchovies (boquerones) The Spanish and Portuguese are said to eat more fish and seafood than any other people on earth, except the Japanese and Icelanders. One of the most popular fish is boquerones, which are either fried in batter al limón, or marinated in vinegar. Delicious either way and nothing like the tinned variety you may be used to.

Tortilla de Patatas I was in two minds whether to include this as it’s so not exotic, but it’s so typical I felt I had to. A traditional thick potato omelette, though it can be made with other vegetables too, cooked to a firmer texture than a typical English omelette (although some people prefer a more runny centre) and cut into slices. Comfort food goodness.

tortillatortilla de patatas

Croquettes These really don’t need much explanation, except to say that they are unlike the French variety, with bechamel instead of potato, and various fillings (ham, mushroom, cheese etc), rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The best are satisfyingly crunchy.

Pavia de Bacalao  Bacalao (cod), usually salted, is one of the staples of Spanish cooking. Pavia is a traditional battered cod (a bit like the fish in fish and chips), crispy and crunchy on the outside and flaky on the inside, but bacalao can be served in dozens of different forms.

Solomillo al Whisky Pork sirloin grilled and served with a whisky and garlic sauce. Can be served with other sauces, but this is the best.

Gazpacho is the best known of the Spanish cold soups that are so refreshing on a hot summer’s day, although I’m making it do duty here for cold soups in general. The majority of these are tomato based (my favourite is actually salmorejo, served with a garnish of chopped boiled egg and jamón), but you should also try ajo blanco, the white garlic and almond soup that’s the oldest known cold soup variety.

gazpachoa cold cup of gazpacho

Gambas al Ajillo Prawns in sizzling hot oil and garlic, with the odd red chili pepper thrown in for a bit of bite. Prawns are ubiquitous in the tapas bars, and come in all shapes, sizes and methods of preparation, but I think this is the most “Spanish”.

Meatballs (albondigas) Usually pork, sometimes beef, and quite often (albondigas being broader in meaning than meat balls) seafood, especially chocos (cuttlefish), served in a thick sauce, either gravy or tomato based. Like a lot of traditional dishes it was originally an economical filler- and nothing wrong with that.

Pork cheeks (Carrillada or Carrillera) Possibly my favourite tapa (though it’s a close call), pork cheeks are braissed on low heat for three hours or more until they’re super tender, and served in a sauce made from their own juices, garlic, and whatever else the bar’s secret recipe calls for. Miss this one and you’ll regret it forever.

Find out more about tapas and the art of the tapeo over here.

The Secret of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

If you’ve ever been to Spain, and been out for tapas, you have probably already sampled the delights of genuine Spanish Iberico ham for yourself, and discovered its unique slightly nutty, slightly sweet taste (and if you haven’t it’s almost worth making the trip for this alone). Either way, though, you may have asked some “meaning of life” style questions, such as, What’s the difference between Iberico and Serrano? What’s the significance of bellota (pronounced bayota)? How do they make this wonderful stuff? And Can I have some more, please? Well we’re going to answer these questions for you. Except the last one – you can ask the barman.

The Pig, The Whole Pig, and Nothing but the Pig

While both Iberico and Serrano (literally mountain ham) are both free range cured pork, Iberico refers exclusively to products made from the native Spanish black pig (also known as pata negra), which has been around in Spain at least since the stone age, while Serrano is usually made from the  European white pig. The Iberico is considered superior for cured meats because its higher fat content, especially on the outside of the ham, allows for longer curing and a richer flavour.

Bellota and the Dehesa

Bellota is Spanish for acorn, and the appearance of this term in the name tells you that this came from a free-range pig fattened on acorns, which is the key factor in giving the fat in the meat its melt-in-the-mouth quality. It also makes it very healthy, as it’s rich in oleic acid, the oil that you find in olives. The Dehesa is the open hillside pasture land, studded with oak trees, mostly holm oak and cork, where the pigs are turned out to forage and fatten about six months before slaughter. To ensure room to roam and plenty of acorns, pig populations are limited to just two per hectare. This also limits supply, and helps keep prices, as well as pigs, healthy. Maintaining this high quality through all the stages of production is the responsibility of the controlling bodies of the four Denominaciones de Origen (D.O.s). The main production areas are in Extramadura, Huelva and Seville in the southwest of Spain, and in recent years tours of the farms and the Dehesa to see the pigs have become increasingly popular.


After the slaughter, or matanza, in January or February, the parts of the pig that are to be cured – the legs, of course, but also other cuts, including those used to make caña de lomo – are separated and buried in salt for two to three weeks, and then hung up to dry in the mountain air in special warehouses. The curing process lasts for around two years, and sometimes longer. The hams may lose up to half their weight as the fat sweats out of them (which is why you often see those little cups under the hams hanging up in bars), while the salt prevents bacteria from attacking the meat. Natural antioxidants in the meat also help to break down the fats, giving it its unique texture and rich medley of flavours that increases with the length of the curing process. And there you have it!

Where you can find it

You can find it in almost any bar, and it’s actually a good idea to try a tapa or ración of Jamón Iberico de Bellota at several different establishments as every jamón experience is a little bit different. Not only does the quality vary from place to place, but so does the cutting technique (there are actually competitions) and, of course, you will be getting meat cut from different parts of the leg. The meat should be eaten at room temperature and accompanied by a fino or manzanilla sherry. Que aproveche.