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Our paper bag menu (and my notes) from Tapas 24. Photo by David Lansing.

First night in Barcelona and everyone (including me) is feeling a little groggy so we decided to blow off our reservation at Moo and go for finger good at Carles Abellan’s Tapas 24.

The menu comes on a paper bag. Eva passes it around and everyone makes a checkmark next to something that looks interesting: tortilla de trampó, pulpo a feira, buñuelos de bacalao. I pick the rabo de toro (oxtails). And the boquerones al limón. (I’m addicted to these white anchovies.) We also get Barcelona’s iconic coca con tomate, some bravas, croqueta de jamón—what else do we need? Ah, something to drink.

The waitress convinces us to try the house sangria de cava. It’s fantastic. Perfect with everything we order. I’m such a fan that I ask the waitress to write down the recipe for me. Here it is.

Sangria de Cava

Mix together 1 part white rum (or vodka, if you prefer), 1 part Cointreau, and 1 part brandy. In a large pitcher, add slices of lemon, orange, and peach. Add a can of Squirt or Orangina. Fill to top with cava.

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You know how in New York people argue over who makes the best bagels and in Chicago it’s over pizza? Well, the same thing happens in Madrid when it comes to tapas. Should the patatas bravas have a soft or crunchy crust? Should the boquerones be served in vinegar or deep fried? Wine or sherry? Bread or toast? It all depends on who you ask.

The other thing is that the tapas in Barcelona are different from tapas in San Sebastian which are different from tapas in Galicia which are different from tapas in Madrid. Even in Madrid, you will find huge differences in, for instance, that most traditional of Spanish tapas, tortilla española. Some make it with onion, some with green pimientos, and others with bacon. Who’s to say which is the traditional one?

That said, here is our list of the Top 10 Traditional Spanish tapas, the ones you must try before you start getting all experimental. Tomorrow we’ll list our favorite tapa bars in Madrid.

1.     Tortilla de patatas. This has nothing to do with Mexican tortillas. Rather, it’s an omelette with fried chunks of potatoes that we prefer in a wedge with ham and cheese.

Pulpo a la gallega

2.     Gambas al ajillo. Sauteed prawns with garlic. Or try them pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).

3.     Pulpo a la gallega. Galician-style octopus served in olive oil, lots of paprika, and sea salt.

4.     Jamon iberico. Paper-thin slices of the classic Spanish ham from Salamanca usually accompanied by toast with a tomato spread.

5.     Aceitunas. We love Campo Real olives or the big ones filled with anchovies.

6.     Bacalao. Salted cod loin sliced very thinly and served with toast and tomatoes.

Callos a la madrilena

7.     Solomillo. An old-fashioned tapa made from what we would call the fillet of beef although another traditional tapa, solomillo al whisky, is a fried pork scallop marinated in whisky and olive oil.

8.     Croquetas. One of the most common tapas, try the croquetas de espinacas y queso made with spinach and cheese.

9.     Callos a la madrileña. Okay, I’m pushing the boundaries a bit here—this is a traditional tripe dish slowly cooked in a broth with paprika, tomato sauce, and garlic. And it’s delicious.

10.   Salchicha. Simply put, these are sausages and will vary from bar to bar. We like the dried dark red spicy chorizo slowly cooked in red wine.

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