Eating Out Paleo – Spanish Tapas


What I love about the Spanish cuisine is not necessarily the flavours or the ingredients but the method of consuming food in a form of tapas. Sharing small plates of cold and warm snacks, grilled skewers and meat slices while downing a cold cider and socialising with friends is hands down the best way to spend an evening. And if you happen to be in Spain, the best thing about tapas there is that you don’t have to commit to one place for your evening meal fix. Instead, you hop from bar to bar exploring different house specialties along the way. Outside of Spain, not everyone will have access to a Spanish restaurant but if you do, here is a quick guide to the most Paleo friendly way to tapas it up.

Before we begin, please remember that you can’t know or control what fats are used during the cooking process. Although Spanish love their olive oil, the chances of local kitchens using hydrogenated or seed based oils is fairly high so you just have to make piece with it if you want to eat out…ever.

You should be able to find these common tapas dishes in most Spanish joints although the size, variety and quality will differ from venue to venue.


Things you will have to say no to:

– Bread – yes, I know, soaking sauces and garlic infused olive oil with a piece of warm crusty bread sounds delicious but it’s wheat, carbs and a whole bunch of empty calories that will simply fill you up and make you tired. Decline politely and move on. The same goes for anything served on top of bread, unless you just eat the topping.

– Sangria – unless you make it at home with dry red wine, loads of fresh fruit, soda water and mint (YUM!), you will most likely end up with a sugar loaded concoction made with cheap wine.

– Beer, also known as cervesa in Spanish – this one is a no brainer. Have it if you really, really want it but cider is a better option. Best stick to gorgeous Spanish wine or clear spirits, soda and fresh lime.

– Basically anything that contains grain based flours, creamy dairy based sauces and loads of sugar. That means no to paella, churros, cakes, other rice based dishes and anything deep fried and battered.

Tapas you can party with all night long:

Aceitunas – olives, often stuffed with anchovies or bell pepper.
Albóndigas – meatballs with tomato based sauce.
Alioli – commonly known as a garlic mayonnaise but you can often get it as a side sauce made with olive oil, garlic and salt which is used to pour over meat, fish and other dishes.
Bacalao – salted cod, usually cooked with tomatoes, olive oil, peppers and fresh herbs.
Banderillas – skewers of pickled items like olives, baby onions, baby cucumbers, chilies and other vegetables.
Boquerones – white small anchovies in vinegar sauce, sometimes deep fried.
Calamares – grilled squid rings, stay away from battered varieties.
Pincho moruno – spicy meat skewers with either chicken, beef , lamb or pork.
Spanish Chorizo – paprika spiced sausage that can be grilled or cooked slowly in wine or cider.
Gambas  – prawns sautéed in salsa negra  (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (garlic oil) or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).
Pimientos de Padrón – deep-fried chili peppers sprinkled with sea salt and sometimes chill, super delicious but not frequently found outside of Spain.
Setas al Ajillo – fresh mushrooms sauteed in oil and garlic.
Grilled octopus – usually served with olive oil or tomato based sauce.
Cured meats like Jamon SerranoJamon Iberico or salami.
Mussels cooked in tomato sauce.
Grilled asparagus with toasted almonds, grilled red peppers, eggplant rolls.

Cheeky Paleo but ok in moderation:

Patatas bravas – fried potatoes with spicy, garlicy tomato sauce and often with aioli.
Tortilla de patatas – Spanish style omelette made with potatoes and onion.
Manchego cheese – sheep milk cheese from La Mancha region of Spain.
Gazpacho and Salmarejo  – both are cold soups made with tomato, red peppers, lots of olive oil, garlic and spices. Gazpacho is often made with white bread so please check before ordering.

When it comes to sweets, the friendliest Spanish options are turrón (Spanish candy made with honey and almonds), crema de limon (contains dairy but no grains), flan (vanilla egg custard with caramel sauce), crema catalan (like crème brulée, contains dairy but no grains). Again, these are SWEET things and contain sugar so they’re not strictly Paleo but if you order to share then you’ll only have a couple of spoonfuls.

So next time you’re planning a night out, consider taking a group of friends for some Spanish tapas. If you’re in Sydney, try authentic En Casa in the city or Spanish Tapas in Glebe, or my favourite Argentinian influenced tapas at Bodega restaurant in Surry Hills. In Melbourne, you can’t go past MoVida in the city or Robbie’s Stein in Brunswick.  And if like me, you want to get your tapas fix at home, you can re-create famous morsels in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Do you have a favourite tapas dish? What about a Spanish tapas restaurant in your city that you would recommend?

Irena Macri
By Irena Macri

About the author: Hi, I’m Irena Macri. I share delicious recipes that I have cooked and loved. I am a published cookbook author, have been food blogging for over 10 years and have a Diploma in Nutrition. You will find many healthy recipes as well as my favourite comfort food. More about me here | Subscribe to my newsletter and freebies

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  1. As a new-ish experimental paleo eater, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this article!! i am heading to Spain for a month next week and was having a slight panic attack about what to/what not to eat!! you are a superstar! I have just discovered your blog and can’t wait to tuck into it!!

    1. How exciting for you! I absolutely love Spain, they have such an amazing attitude to food, although their eating times are a little hard to adjust to 😉 I’m going to Spain myself at the end of August, as well as France and Italy, so I will do a little more investigation into all Paleo friendly options.

      Enjoy your time in Spain and thank you for your kind compliments.


  2. Definetly a very good review of the Tapas (This is a Spaniard talking, I mean writting)!
    Congrats and thank you!
    Just a few more tips: 99% of deep fried tapas are made in sunflower seed oil, including gambas al ajillo, and watch out, sometime even alioli!
    Don´t miss lomo ibérico and almonds…
    And if you want to make very good paleo (I should say: real, bread is used to thicken and soften…) gazpacho, check out this video I made!

    Hope you like it and very nice blog, by the way!

    1. Yeah, the thing about oils in general, and that’s something I mentioned at the start, is that you just won’t know what they use so you just have to take it as a given that in most cases it won’t be a healthy oil. Wouldn’t be nice if it was stated on the menu? 😉 Thanks for the video share. I love Gazpacho but as you said, it is often made with bread so you have to check with the staff or make your own. And how could I forget almonds!!!

  3. Great assortment of tapas. I just wanted to point out the most peculiar tradition on the tapas thingy.
    Did you know you get a free tapa for every beer in some destinations in Andalusia? Both in Granada and Jaen, for example, there is this traditions. The more beer, the bigger the tapa. Thats why I love Spain!!!

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