Granada, Spain: Making a Meal of Free Tapas

Find the Best Free Tapas: Granada Spain

By Robin Graham

Pescaito Frito (fried fish) best free tapas granada photos by Robin Graham.
Pescaito Frito (fried fish) photos by Robin Graham.

What do you mean, you haven’t got any chips?

It’s not easy getting a square meal on Granada’s tapas trail, but as I discovered, it’s well worth the effort.

A visit to Granada without immersing yourself, at least once, in its tapas culture would be as absurd as omitting the Alhambra from your itinerary.

It’s one of the last spots in Spain where tapas are served for free when you order a drink, and where each successive drink will secure an ever more elaborate tapa.

The city boasts a number of streets lined with tapas bars, so if your timing is right in this country of strict mealtimes, there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Of course, the dainty portions and unpredictability of a tapas crawl simply won’t appeal to you if you’re the meat and two veg type, or a diet bod who wants the food groups accounted for. So is it possible to get a proper meal for free in this town?

Your two-course menu del dia:

Ensalata Rusa, (Russian salad).
Ensalata Rusa, (Russian salad).

Salchichon con pan, Albondigas de carne y papas fritas, con pisto y huevo de cordoniz, y un platillo de paella de verduras.

The starter

You know you’ve arrived at Bar Trastienda because it says “Bar Trastienda” over the doorway, but everything else is telling you to turn around. A little old glass-paned double door and a step down into a tiny and fluorescently lit chacineria; chorizos, salchichons hanging from the ceiling and a small gathering of neighborhood women deep in conversation as we squeeze through, and behind the antique till, into this cozy, surprisingly chic place, little shaded lamps by its tables and no music playing, just the hum of chat.

I’m keen to deploy the newly learned “tubo” which gets you a bigger beer, but as we’re just starting out it seems more prudent to order a caña.

Fish bar in Granada, Spain
Fish bar in Granada, Spain.

“Un tubo,” I say as K gets herself a clara con limon (lemon shandy), and our starter is a nice bit of salchichon with some fresh bread. It’s quiet and the walls are half tiled in green and white; we sit in our recess and admire the place but it is very quiet and, self-conscious, we don’t linger.

As we emerge into daylight we have our backs to the hill on which stands the Alhambra, its towers visible to us only as we descend into Plaza Nueva and turn to look.

11, Plaza de Cuchilleros, just off Plaza Nueva.

The (optional) fish course

A few steps across the square and down a side street, Casa Julio is known for fish, which is immediately apparent upon entering.

As we reach the crowded bar my initial reaction is one of sadness, as I look along it at the tapas in front of customers who’ve been here a while and had a few.

In Granada the tapas get better with every drink; there are platters of gambas (shrimp), rape en adobe (marinated monkfish), calamares (squid) and berenjenas (deep fried aubergines).

North African taste temptations.
North African taste temptations.

It’s all so beautiful, but we will only be here for the one drink, especially as K is not impressed with this standing only bar.

I soon cheer up when the boquerones (deep fried anchovies) arrive in their spiced batter to soak up my tubo. They are tasty enough to assuage some of the guilt I feel for keeping her here as I savor them. She won’t eat them; they have eyes.

5, Calle Hermosa, a side street where Calle Elvira meets Plaza Nueva

The vegetable side

The sloped streets of the Albayzin and neighboring Realejo are popular with mountain bikers.
The sloped streets of the Albayzin and neighboring Realejo are popular with mountain bikers.

Up the street now to Paprika, at the other end of Calle Elvira. It’s a long street, though, long enough to regret a second beer. We have time to see the Morroccan shops as we pass the Caldereria Nueva with its souk feel, the kebab joints, panaderias and pastelerias.

About halfway we pass Cafe Elvira which would have done but isn’t open. The street gets a bit shabby at this end, in a non-threatening way; nothing shabby about Paprika though with it’s smart canopied terrace and beatnik interior.

It looks too posh for tapas, but it isn’t, and we get a bit of vegetable paella with a glass each of local red wine. The place is also a sharp but relaxed sit-down restaurant, though for that of course you pay. The paella is packed with flavor, and the food here is largely vegetarian and very good.

3, Cuesta de Abarqueros, near the old city gate at the other end of Calle Elvira

More veg?

Around the corner and through the Puerta De Elvira, the original Moorish gate to the city, with its keyhole archway and parapets, across the plaza and left, then left again and back along Gran Via de Colon for a block until we cross the street and enter Bodega Espadafor.

This place has been here since the turn of last century, more or less, and looks pretty much as it always has; cavernous, with a long, elegant bar and the ubiquitous fluorescent strip lighting, the walls covered with ceramic tiles in a mud color and interspersed with hand-painted depictions of Andalusian life.

Interior decorating with the baking heat of the summer in mind. More than Andalusian or Spanish; this is the South.

Despite having mixed grain with grape I order another tubo, and K opts for a fino, a bone dry sherry. The tapa that comes a couple of minutes later is a little dish of pisto (a stew of mixed Mediterranean vegetables), topped with a fried quail’s egg each.

It’s quite possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and definitely the tastiest thing we’ve had. I celebrate by buying K another fino and adding one for myself.

On the corner of Calle Tinajilla and Gran Via de Colon.

What do you mean, you have chips?

Which means of course that we’ll be having our next dish right here, and conveniently enough it turns out to be the meat course. Albondigas (meatballs) to be a precise, in a rich, tangy gravy, perfect with the sherry and, wait for it, served with a side of chips! Carbs taken care of as well then.

An excellent meal that hasn’t cost us a cent, with a couple of strolls and changes of venue thrown in. Admittedly we’ve had a lot more to drink than would normally accompany a light lunch, but the beer, wine, shandy and sherry have only cost us €14.60 in total, not including a few small tips, and have done wonders for morale, it has to be said, as we totter out of Espadafor and, swaying in the Andalusian breeze, point ourselves in the direction of our hotel as best we can.

The Alhambra, Granada's most famous landmark
The Alhambra, Granada’s most famous landmark

It was the climate of course that gave rise to the siesta but a nap seems like a very good idea, even on this relatively cool November afternoon in Granada.

Finding Tapas in Granada for useful information on the province of Granada and for information on the city itself.

Granada has its own airport but is also served by the airport in Malaga, a two-hour bus ride away. When you get back home you will want to check out

Robin Graham.



Robin Graham is a freelance writer and photographer living in Dublin, Ireland. He has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, the US, and the Middle East. He and his fiancee, K, divide their time between Dublin, Bavaria, and southern Spain.

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