Iconic Tapas Dishes

The cultural tradition of tapas is one of Spain's culinary foundations. It is a legacy that has withstood time and trends to become a mainstay of cutting-edge cuisine.

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de la Gastronomía

MatrimonioReal Academia de Gastronomía

Spain has renowned, avant-garde chefs; products such as ham, oil, and wine; and regional recipe collections full of delicious dishes that blend flavor and tradition. But beyond that, Spanish cuisine is known across the globe for one concept in particular: tapas.

Patatas bravasReal Academia de Gastronomía

Tapas have evolved from simple slices of bread to become miniature versions of gourmet dishes, embodying an authentic gastronomic style that is surely the most universal of all Spanish culture.

Paco RonceroReal Academia de Gastronomía

From Tradition to the Avant-Garde with Paco Roncero

The rich variety of Spanish cuisine means that people can now enjoy delicious, classic tapas as well as their more elaborate versions. Taking us on this journey from tradition to modernity is the chef Paco Roncero.

Paco RonceroReal Academia de Gastronomía

The multi-faceted Paco Roncero is Executive Chef at the La Terraza del Casino restaurant in Madrid (with 2 Michelin stars), and he also has restaurants in Bogotá, Cartagena, and Ibiza.

He has also become a great champion of tapas, giving them a new lease on life by updating traditional recipes in his Estado Puro gastrobars in Madrid and Shanghai.

Paco RonceroReal Academia de Gastronomía

Roncero is reinventing Spanish cuisine's most traditional tapas, refreshing old dishes with surprising, original touches that play with flavors and textures.

The result, as we will see, opens up a new culinary dimension and shows that simple dishes made with quality ingredients, creativity, and imagination can become haute cuisine.

GildaReal Academia de Gastronomía


An olive, a chili, an anchovy, and a toothpick: that's all you need to make a "gilda," the classic "pintxo" from the city of San Sebastian in Gipuzkoa—home of these Spanish snacks.

Some say that it originated in Casa Vallés, others in Bar Martínez, but both are bars in San Sebastian. On one thing, however, everyone agrees: that it was named in tribute to the actress Rita Hayworth, who played the title character in the film "Gilda," because it's "green, salty, and a bit spicy."

GildaReal Academia de Gastronomía

It looks like an olive, but it's actually a "gilda." Paco Roncero has turned this simple appetizer into a delicate bite that teases the diner by transforming the textures of the dish. What appears to be a simple olive contains all the flavors of the "gilda" (anchovy, olive, and chili), creating a surprising explosion on the palate.

Patatas bravasReal Academia de Gastronomía

Patatas Bravas

Everything points to this tapas dish originating in Madrid, although exactly who created it is a matter of debate. Various taverns of the time are credited with its invention, including Casa Pellico, La Casona, and Vinícola Aurora Barranco. Nonetheless, it is a dish that can be enjoyed all over Spain.

The ingredients are diced potatoes cut into large chunks and fried, and a special sauce, the recipe for which is a secret closely guarded by many restaurants. Some of them have even registered their versions, but it invariably includes a touch of spicy paprika and has a creamy texture. There is some controversy over whether the recipe should include tomato, and in cities such as Barcelona and Valencia, the dish usually comes with aioli too.

Patatas bravasReal Academia de Gastronomía

Patatas bravas: the grown-up version. Roncero plays with the volumes, turning each potato into a 2-cm cube with a small indent in the middle that contains the "brava" sauce. They are slowly cooked in oil, and lightly browned before serving. "The idea is to achieve an incredible texture and to turn each potato into one single, perfect bite with just the right amount of sauce."

Soldaditos de PaviaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Soldaditos de Pavía

This tapas dish is typical of bars in Madrid, although it is also found in Andalusia, and is made with strips of deep-fried, battered cod that are usually served with red pepper.

Its name, which means "little soldiers of Pavia," comes from the fact that the dish resembles the uniform worn by the Hussars of Pavia regiment, who wore yellow and orangey-red combat jackets. The regiment was founded in 1684 but renamed Hussars of Pavia in 1844.

Soldaditos de PaviaReal Academia de Gastronomía

"We call this dish black coal because of how it looks," says Roncero. The classic batter is substituted with a tempura containing squid ink, which turns the cod black. It's served with a few drops of aioli, lemon jam, and powdered red pepper.

Potato Chips, Olives, and MusselsReal Academia de Gastronomía

Potato Chips, Olives, and Mussels

This is the most common tapas dish in any bar in Spain: olives, potato chips, and canned mussels. Early evening drinks would not be the same without some or all of these snacks, served with a beer or a glass of wine.

It's the slight saltiness of the olives, the crunch of the thin potato chips fried in olive oil, and the hint of paprika and vinegar in the marinaded mussels.

These are 3 elements that can always be found in Spanish store cupboards and usually kick off any tapas session. These simple, timeless flavors are still a staple in every bar.

Potato Chips, Olives, and MusselsReal Academia de Gastronomía

"It's a dish that looks elegant, has a lot of flavor, and is based on the simplest of concepts." The mussels are marinated using the traditional recipe (or a good quality canned version is used instead) and they are served on a base of green olive juice. A few drops of the emulsified marinade transform this very popular appetizer into a sophisticated tapas dish.

Tortillita de camaronesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Tortillita de Camarones

These shrimp fritters are a tapas dish from Cádiz, made from shrimps, wheat and chickpea flour, scallions, and parsley. It is called a "tortillita" (little omelet) despite the fact that it does not contain any egg and is actually a thin, crispy fritter.

Its likely predecessor was called a "gachuela," a type of fritter with fish or vegetables that was made in Cádiz. However, the use of chickpea flour is the legacy of Genoese sailors. They baked cakes using this type of flour and would frequent the port of San Fernando, where this dish is said to originate.

Tortillita de camaronesReal Academia de Gastronomía

"The ingredients are identical to those in the classic recipe, but we wanted to enhance their delicacy and crispiness by making the fritters seem almost transparent, bringing them into a new dimension."

Ham CroquettesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Ham Croquettes

These are one of the most popular tapas in Spanish cuisine, although they actually originated in France. Emilia Pardo Bazán wrote in "The Old Spanish Kitchen" that "the French version is huge, hard, and graceless. Here, on the other hand, they are well made. The croquettes are so soft and smooth that they melt in your mouth."

References to this little morsel of béchamel with minced ham fried in breadcrumbs were first recorded during the reign of Louis XIV, although it was apparently Antonin Carême who gave it its crunchy coating, in 1817. Nowadays, there are dozens of versions with different fillings.

Ham CroquettesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Roncero's croquettes are eaten with a spoon. "We decided to deconstruct them, giving all the ingredients a new lease on life." He recreates the béchamel in the form of a sphere made with Iberian ham stock, and replaces the fried coating with a topping of fried breadcrumbs. "All the flavors of a traditional croquette are there; we've just changed the texture."

Potato OmeletReal Academia de Gastronomía

Potato Omelet

There are a great many myths about this dish, which is so popular in Spain that it has become known as "Spanish omelet." However, the most likely story suggests that it originated in the late 18th or early 19th century, as a result of people falling on hard times.

It's made with eggs and potatoes: 2 modest and inexpensive ingredients. Later, onion was added, prompting the emergence of 2 opposing camps: the "sincebollistas" (the "without-onions") and the "concebollistas" (the "with-onions"). With or without onion, and cooked until solid or even "runny," as it is made in parts of Galicia, this simple, delicious dish is found in bars all over Spain.

Potato OmeletReal Academia de Gastronomía

A potato omelet served in a glass? The deconstructed potato omelet was invented by Ferran Adrià, Paco Roncero's mentor, and it broke the gastronomic mold in the late 1990s. At that time, a new avenue of exploration was opening up with a focus on transforming the texture, temperature, and appearance of traditional recipes, without changing their ingredients and flavor.

This "omelet" has 3 layers. The first is a base of onion confit, on top of which is runny egg yolk, and it is all topped with a potato foam and a generous dash of extra virgin olive oil.

Despite the fact that this dish was, at first, rather controversial, it has become one of his most imitated and adapted recipes.

MatrimonioReal Academia de Gastronomía


This is a small dish that combines one fish prepared in 2 different ways: salted anchovy and fresh anchovy in vinegar. These 2 flavors work so well together that they are known as "matrimonio" (marriage).

Canned anchovies are one of the most exquisite preserved foods in Spain, and fresh anchovies in vinegar are among the simplest and easiest to make: you marinate raw anchovy fillets in vinegar, garlic, and parsley, and add olive oil.

Together they form the perfect mouthful, and are commonly found in bars all over Spain, especially between April and late summer, when this tiny but tasty blue fish is in season.

MatrimonioReal Academia de Gastronomía

"Ours is a delicate, minimalist version of this dish that is completely respectful of its flavor." Thin slices of cured and fresh anchovy are served on a light tomato sponge, accompanied by the freshness of a beet leaf.

TorreznosReal Academia de Gastronomía


These pieces of bacon, generally fried and accompanied by their crispy skin, are little bites of heaven. They are experiencing something of a revival and have become the star dish on bar and restaurant menus.

To create the perfect "torrezno," you need to start with a high-quality bacon, preferably Iberian. When fried, the rind puffs up, giving it a crispy texture; the fat becomes creamy; and the meat acquires an incomparable juiciness— a combination of flavors that creates an unforgettable tapas dish.

TorreznosReal Academia de Gastronomía

"We wanted to lighten the concept of the 'torrezno' without losing its flavor or characteristic crispiness." To do this, they cook the bacon until it's tender, then roll it up, filling it with pigs' trotters to intensify the flavor. They then cut it into very thin, almost transparent, slices, which they grill until they become crisp discs.

"We serve it with Asian flavors: kimchi mayonnaise, which gives it a touch of spice, and yuzu jam, which lightens the fat."

Ensaladilla rusaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Ensaladilla Rusa

The first written reference to this "Russian salad" was in an English recipe book from 1845, attributed to Francatelli. However, by 1815, Antonin Carême had already written a recipe for a salad made from vegetables and mixed with mayonnaise. Although not originally Spanish, this cold dish has become one of the country's most popular recipes.

Cooked vegetables, tuna, egg, and mayonnaise are the ingredients of the classic, basic salad, although there is a version to suit every taste. Some regions even make it with pickled vegetables, for example in Murcia, where it's one of their main tapas dishes.

Ensaladilla rusaReal Academia de Gastronomía

"It doesn't look like a salad, but it does have each and every one of its ingredients and its flavor. We turned it into a different, more experimental dish, giving each ingredient pride of place."

First, Roncero creates a base of creamed potato blended with mayonnaise. On top, he places a confit of bluefin tuna, cooked at a low temperature, accompanied by pickled gherkin, carrot, olive, egg, and shelled peas, turning these unassuming ingredients into a gourmet dish.

Credits: Story

Text: Silvia Artaza.

Image: David de Luis. With a contribution from chef Paco Roncero

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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