Tapas bars can be a joy to visit, but they can also be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you don’t have a great command of the Spanish language. “Real” tapas bars are plentiful in Lanzarote, as long as you travel outside of the resort areas, but the problem is that they don’t often have menus, and the owners seldom speak English, so in this article we’ll try to help!

But first, let’s have a quick look at the history of tapas. The idea was invented in Madrid (although people from Galicia will tell you they invented it, people from Barcelona will say them, and…… well, you get the picture!) A tapa is literally a small dish, and the tradition on the mainland is that when you go into a bar for a drink, you will get a little tapa with each drink you order. This serves two purposes:

  1. It encourages you to stay in the bar
  2. It might persuade to you order a “Racion” or a full portion of the dish

Nowadays in Lanzarote, a few bars serve free tapas in the traditional way, but most offer it as a paid treat. Generally speaking tapas bars offer whatever the chef has been able to buy and cook that day, which is why they don’t usually have a menu. If you’re lucky, they may have a blackboard or the tapas dishes may be on display in a refrigerated cabinet, so you can literally point to what you want. But more often then not you’ll have to ask for the dishes you fancy, and will be met with a simple “yes” or “no”.

Many people ask “How many dishes should we order?” As a rough guide you’ll want one and a half dishes each for a snack and probably two and a half to three as a full meal. It’s always safe to under order, as it’s easy to ask for more! The food will be served to you centrally on the table and you’ll each have a fork, a small plate and some bread. The idea is for you all to tuck in a share each dish.

Here’s a list of the most common tapas dishes which you’ll find regularly in Lanzarote:

Gambas al aljillo
These are prawns cooked in garlicky olive oil, served sizzling. Sometimes also served with mushroom, or championes.

Papas Arrugadas
The famous Canarian wrinkly potatoes, cooked in very salty water in their skins and served with green and red mojo sauce.

Papas Bravas
These are potatoes that have been deep fried or roasted and are served with a spicy tomato sauce.

Tortilla
Tortilla is a thick omelette, stuffed with potatoes, herbs and sometimes vegetables. Always a staple tapa, and the most common variety is Tortilla Española.

Pollo con pimientos
Pollo is chicken, pronounced POYO and in this dish is served cooked in a paprika sauce, with olives and onions.

Jamon Serrano
Serrano ham is served in thin slices and goes beautifully with some cheese.

Queso de Cabra
This is goat’s cheese and is usually served cut into wedges. Can be a little bland, so if you prefer strong cheese, ask for “Fuerte”.

Queso a la plancha
This is a chunk of goat’s cheese, which is grilled until it’s melting, and then smothered in mojo sauce.

Paella
Most tapas bars offer a paella dish. The fishy one is Paella marisco and the meat one is paella Valenciana.

Pinchos
Pincho is the word for a kebab, and they are grilled on skewers with vegetables. The meat is usually pork or chicken.

Setas
Setas are quite big field mushrooms, which have a delicious, meaty flavor and are served cooked in butter and garlic.

Puntillas
These are deep fried baby squid, which are served in a light batter.

Estofado
A meat stew made with paprika, saffron, carrot and potatoes.

Ropa Vieja
A stew of chick peas chorizo sausage and pork served in a tomato sauce.

Pescado a la plancha
Fish of the day cooked on the grill. You may be asked if you want it cooked in garlic or not.

Calamare
Squid rings – the usual style is “A la Romana” which is battered and then fried.

Pimientos padron
Local speciality! These are small green peppers, seared in very hot olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

Chorizo
Cured sausage served cold and sliced.

Of course there are many more, and one option is to ask your host to decide for you, in which case tell him or her: “Un seleccion de tapas de la casa para cuatro persones, por favor” which means “A selection of tapas of the house for four people, please.”

We regularly review restaurants on the island and you can read them here: Lanzarote restaurant reviews.