It was 5 pm on a particularly sticky Wednesday afternoon when we arrived in Granada after a three-hour drive from a noticeably sleepier town called Mojacar on Spain's southeast coast. We were hot, tired and hungry, and had heard nothing but mouthwatering things about Granada’s tapas. But we spotted a café on the nearest corner and decided just to chow down there. Luckily, this trendy, very un-Granada establishment was closed for food, so we had no choice but to venture further. And we’re glad we did.
A friend had advised us to stick to the big streets of the Reyes Catolicos district until we found our bearings. Nonsense. At 7 pm, lost in Granada’s back street maze after a couple of cañas, our tapas adventures begin.
After doing a bit of research, we knew where to start. There is an area called Realejo San Matia’s, or what I like to call "Tapas City." It’s a place where you can find some of the most authentic and local tapas bars and bodegas. So we figured this was as good a place to start as any.
First on our list was Rosario Varela. Initially tempted in by their choice of music, this calm, cool and collected bar offered us air conditioning, chilled out vibes and frosty beers. The staff were lovely and the tapas were delicious - grilled, serrano-wrapped asparagus on a crusty baguette and marinated anchovies on thinly sliced bread. The tapas trail was off to a very promising start.
Next stop and what turned out to be our absolute favourite for reasons I shan’t go into (wine, wine, wine!) was Taberna La Tana. We came back here three times on our two-day trip.
Although pretty touristy now, you get the sense that it was once a real ‘locals only’ type of place, and it still has that feel to it. We ordered three red wines and were asked by the lovely, somewhat motherly bar lady if we wanted a wine with a mild, medium or bold flavour. We figured we’d start at mild and work our way up. The first glass comes, and it’s a beautifully light, crisp and fruity affair. Then came the tapas - a plate of serrano ham, chorizo, manchego cheese, olives and salted tomato on sliced bread - big enough for two rounds of wine, but we made short work of it over the first.
We made our way onto wine number two. Medium bodied with a side of morcilla blood sausage on bread. We were getting pretty full by now, but like the troopers we are, we carried on!
We didn’t have far to go to our third stop. A somewhat classier affair with waiters in bow ties and waistcoats called La Botillería. With less character and more people, this wasn’t my favourite, but there was no arguing with the tapas - mini burgers and chips! This bar also boasted excellent wine and very fancy bathrooms. It’s the little things.
A small and much-needed stroll through the narrow streets and across Calle Reyes Católicos took us to a couple of Mariachi style guys serenading the patrons of Bodegas Cantañeda’s outside terrace. Decision made.
In we go to order drinks with an ever hopeful and always uncertain promise of free tapas. We still hadn’t gotten used to the idea of free food. We weren’t kept in suspense for long though as we’re presented with a big plate of mixed goodies similar to that of Taberna La Tana. Just what the mid-trail stomach required - pickies. This place was full of locals and tourists alike with a buzz of conversation and laughter. Definitely worth a visit.
Around the corner to our next Bodega stop. A place of contrasts in a wonderful way. The outside of La Mancha looks like something from a vintage furniture shop but when you venture inside it’s welcoming, very local, and packed full of hanging jamón legs and barrels of wine. Don’t let the local thing put you off - it means fewer tourists and better tapas.
This bar is one of the few where we had to pay for our tapa, but it was so worth it. The man behind the bar couldn’t be happier with our attempt at Spanish and graciously prompted us to order more when we asked for one tortilla or Spanish omelette to you and me. ‘¿Sólo una tortilla?’ he asked incredulously. We graciously obeyed. Speaking of which, order the tortilla. It is hands down the best one we had in Granada - nay - in Spain.
Juxtaposed against the tapas-for-tourists surroundings on Calle Navas, the seemingly dingier El Tabernaculo serves up a no fuss freebie tapas with a beer. Don’t be daunted by the thousands of religious artifacts; this place means bite-sized business. We munched on our warm Spanish omelette on toast and sipped our cervezas while pondering the madness around us. Definitely worth a visit! It had offered some momentary relief before we mustered up the energy to tackle our last stop of the night.
In the middle of the winding streets and Spanish delicacies, we stumbled across Poë. A tapas bar in one of the more student-filled quarters, husband and wife owners Matt and Ana serve up the most delicious international tapas. For our first free tapa, we chose Portuguese Piri-Piri, grilled pork and pineapple skewers and spicy chicken liver with coriander. Words cannot describe how tasty each one of these mini-meals were.
Having chatted with Matt over our second beer, he recommended going rogue for tapas round two. Out with a Thai chicken curry, Italian vegetables, and Brazilian bean stew. After round three, we had to call it a night. We were full as boots and landed Matt in the bad books with Ana for keeping him chatting instead of working. Sorry, Matt!
Kim and friends enjoy the hospitality at Rosario Varela.
All images courtesy of Sean Smyth.
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