I thoroughly enjoyed meandering the streets of the old town area where my Spanish host family was living. We'd pop into one bar, have a small local beer (called "una caña" pronounced KAHN-ya). and a tapa (TAH-pah), and then move on to the next bar. The locals really have it down. They socialize in small groups of friends and spend the evening walking, drinking, and sampling different tapas --similar to hors d'oeuvres, coming in a mind-boggling array of intriguing dishes! Those Europeans are smart! They get their exercise AND food all at once. No wonder they're so svelte...
In the tapas bars, you can sample everything from wedges of the famous Spanish potato omelette to croquettes, to breaded sardines and steamed snails (that you pick out of the shells with a straight pin), to puntillitas (battered and fried baby squid). There was never a dull dish! My personal favorite was the pulpo (POOL-po) or boiled octopus tentacle, cut into small chunks. A bit rubbery, but had a nice flavor. Not quite like chicken, but hey...gotta try new foods!!
(Read more about the culture of tapas here.)
La Bodega on Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City is the closest thing I've seen in the area that captures the spirit of the Spanish tapas. It is however, more of a restaurant than a true, walk-in, stand-around, eat-drink-and-leave type of Spanish pub. Still, it's got the goods when it comes to the food! Their jamón serrano (thinly-sliced, dry-cured ham) reminds me of the true essence of Spain, right here in the Midwest! Where else in KC can you order "Toasted red peppers & anchovies on tomato bread?" And their Spanish omelette is to DIE FOR!!! Ahhh, and to wash it all down with a fine red Spanish Rioja wine or a cold glass of cerveza! This is the life. Oh, and if you go to Spain, the pronunciation of cerveza (sair-vay-suh) gets a little complicated. In the northern half of Spain, the accent becomes more of a lisp, and cerveza is pronounced "thair-BAY-tha." I know you're trying it out. Go ahead. Say it out loud. You'll feel very español--muy macho--but your cubicle neighbor might think you're gay. Nothing wrong with that though.
The portions of tapas, by tradition, are small. They are not meant to be a main course (although they can be). When you go to La Bodega with friends, my recommendation is that you order five or six different tapas for your table to share. If you're not sure what to order, the wait staff is always great to choose the top favorites for you! (That's what my group did last time, and we weren't disappointed!)
Anyhow, I was completely ravished with hunger, as I'm sure were the other three at my table as well, and I thought to myself....simply ordering rounds of tapas will NOT fill us up. I remembered how small the portions were in Spain and I assumed we'd spend quite a bit of dinero and still be hungry upon leaving. The portions at La Bodega were perfect, however. Just the right amount of food, at a decent price. Great for enjoying with friends!
After a relaxing couple of hours of talking, drinking, and sampling all of the different tapas, we found ourselves quite full! We ate slowly, drank leisurely, and completely absorbed ourselves in the conversation at hand, allowing the flow of the night to carry us along. We were very satisfied with our meal, and were not sick afterward for over-eating. It was the perfect evening. Great atmosphere. Great service. It was like being in España! ¡Olé!