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July 5, 2013

A postcard from Spain

I’m spending a few days in Spain attending some not very pleasant family business, but I thought I drop a few lines about something typical of the beer, or rather, bar culture of the region I am right now, tapas.

There are a few places in Prague that call themselves ‘Tapas Bar’. They are all a big lie. I’m not speaking about the quality of the food because I haven’t been to any, or about its “authenticity” because that’d be silly, anything can be a tapa, in Ávila there’s a beer bar that serves guláš and knedlíky, the problem here is conceptual. Let me explain.

First of all, tapas are not a “Spanish” thing, it’s something typical of the centre and South of Castilla and some parts of Andalucía. The way it works is very simple: you go to a bar, you order a drink and you are offered a snack with it with no extra costs. Let me say this again in another way, a proper tapa is FREE OF CHARGE. The tapa can range from the very simple, a plate of olives, to more elaborate stuff (the above mentioned guláš or the kidneys I had the other day). An alternative to tapas are “raciones” that are charged, but they are larger snacks and are usually shared. Of course, tapas exist elsewere in Spain, but they are mostly charged and reserved to tourist traps.

Beerwise, the scene in Spain is rather poor, there are two or three large companies that dominate the market and they have as flagship the same bland, eurolager stuff that needs to be drunk really cold. There is a booming micro brewing phenomenon taking place, but, and although it is getting more attention from the mainstream, it is still very much a niche within a niche thing; most brewers are too small to be able to have a wider distribution and, in many cases, the quality leaves quite a bit to be desired. Therefore, the fortunes of a bar can depend on how good their tapas are, and if you are smart and know where to go and what kind of tapa to order, you can have a light lunch for the price of a couple of beers.

The only problem is that the beer, as I’ve mentioned above, tends to be on the wrong side of crap (and with pretty high temperatures now, even though they are served ice-cold I was able to pick notes of beer that is far from its best condition). But I’ve found a mind trick to solve this problem, since the food tends to be pretty good, I pretend that it that what I’m paying for and what I get for free is the beer, and it’s not polite to bitch about something you are getting for free.

Anyway, the food at places like Room Tapas Bar might be really good, but proper tapas it ain’t.

Na Zdraví!

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Andrej Babiš
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