Tapas are a variety of snacks or appetizers. In Spain, these small plates are traditionally shared among friends, while standing around a bar. They represent a “culture that is largely about socializing and drinking, so there has to be something to eat,” says Olivella. “It can be simple, just a few olives or pieces of cheese,” or more complex, like Barlata’s five hour braised ox tail with red wine and mashed potatoes.
The focus is not about rushing off to a reservation or waiting for — or speeding through — a main course. It’s common for patrons to carry on conversations, often from one bar to another, while trying different, sometimes specialty appetizers. A full night of tapas-bar-hopping can translate into an unhurried, mobile, and intimate dinner, where the meal is served in miniature and disparate parts.
Tapas bars are still very much a part of day-to-day life in Spain, particularly in the north. Barlata serves many classics, including Patatas Bravas (friend potatoes), Tortilla Española (potato and onion omlette), Jamon Iberico (cured ham), Boquerones (anchovy fillets lightly pickled in vinegar), and Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp cooked in olive oil with garlic).
Integral to the Spanish tapas culture are latas, small tins of gourmet, ready-to-eat vegetables, meat or seafood, preserved in brine. In tapas bars latas are often sold alongside the appetizers that have been made in-house. Latas may also be the primary snack in bars without kitchens. In both cases, patrons point to their latas of choice, and the food in each tin, which, on average, costs £3, but can be upwards of £50, is served on a plate with a few slices of bread.
Pinchos, also called pintxos, are snacks similar to tapas. The primary difference is that pinchos (which translates to “spiked”) consist of a variety of ingredients – they could include, meats, stuffed peppers, anchovies, croquettes, or olives, bread, among others – assembled and secured by a toothpick. Pinchos are usually offered in individual portions and often categorized as tapas. Barlata serves Pincho Moruno, lamb brochette with a cucumber salad, and red pepper sauce. The bar will be expanding its pincho menu in the near future.